Category Archives: Garden

Iowa Spring Enters Phase 2


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Thursday morning–the first tulip blooms.

Green!

March in Iowa is usually a spring month, but one that can have lots of winter—and in some years, winter lingers well into that month.

This year was a cool, but mild March. Both snow and rain fell, but we tended to rain with no persistent snow pack. All month, signs of impending spring were around, with flowers poking up out of the thawing grounds, and, a bit over halfway through the month, early flowers bursting forth.

Now it is April, and although snow would still not be abnormal, spring is taking hold. They are small and not terribly numerous yet, but on a warm afternoon you notice that there are insects again in the world—gnats on a bike trail or tiny spring bees darting among the squill.

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Small bee on flower.

We have entered phase 2 of Iowa spring. In my garden, April 2 is the day that the first hyacinth, daffodil and tulip all bloomed. Most tulips are not even showing buds yet, and some in front have been eaten by rabbits, but the early ones are in bloom. Many more daffodil buds, but just one flower today.

The trees are bare, but many are showing swelling buds. The magnolia has not yet bloomed, but its buds are cracking. Lilac bushes are staring to have the “bunch of grapes” look of flower buds. Crab apples are pushing out their first early spring leaves, which have not really unfurled yet.

I am pleased to see lots of clover in the muddy back yard that features only limited grass. I had almost no clover there last year and planted a bunch. I hope this summer features a blooming lawn. All around, the brown world has shifted, as yards are starting to show that the grass is waking up.

And in this season of isolation, enjoying signs of new life is especially important. Nature carries on, so will we!

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First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


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The first flowers to bloom early this March–the snowdrops I found when I raked the gardens.

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Early March morning sun at MMU campus.

Earlier this month came the snowdrops. The first blooms were actually hidden in my gardens under last year’s leaves. On March 9, I cleaned the gardens in back off, there the first flowers were.

Tulips and daffodils have been emerging slowly, pushing their leaves above the thawing ground. No flowers, yet, but the plants are getting taller.

It was a while after the snowdrops bloomed before the first crocus in my yard flowered. I saw some first at Mount Mercy University, and for days the buds in my gardens almost seemed to be mocking me—there, ready to bloom, but not opening.

Now, on sunny, cool March days, there are pockets of colorful flowers. Hyacinth are starting to bud. I have not seen bluebells yet, but they can’t be far away.

And it won’t be all that long until the daffodils and tulips kick in.

I am running low on bird seed. I stopped buying it early in March—which is usually when I taper off feeding. The open ground, the return of insects, the first signs of plant growth—birds will find other sources of food. Still, it has been a comfort seeing them—one of my sisters once called them “winter flowers,” and as this slow spring wakes and yawns and stretches towards the green world that is coming, I’ve enjoyed watching the little dinosaurs.

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COVID-19 has robbed us of a lot. I’m lucky—my job is relatively secure, so far (knock on wood) I and my family are healthy. I can work at home, even if I’m not all that good at it.

But as we hunker down in this winter of the virus, which seems likely to be with us for some time, seeing nature go through her rhythms and begin to come to life. I like the coming of the flowers every year, but somehow, they seem more important in this weird spring.

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Filed under Environment, Flowers, Garden, Mount Mercy, Weather

The First Flowers of Spring


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March 8–snowdrops in back garden. My first flowers.

On Sunday, while raking leaves off of the back garden, I noticed the snowdrops in blooms. Other bulbs are starting to come up, tulips and daffodils rising up from the cool earth. In front, by the mailbox, some crocus are also poking up.

The crocus will bloom first, but you see the daffodils emerge first, or at least that’s what I’m used to.

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Daffodils emerging March 6 on Mount Mercy University campus. It’s still brown and dormant overall here in Iowa, and the last few piles of snow are still about, but spring is starting.

Spring! It’s early spring, still brown, just a few swelling buds in the trees and the slightest hints of green in the mostly dormant lawns.

But, flowers! The very earliest are here, and great to see.

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I Am So Ready to Leap Into Spring


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Seeds purchased at a local store. My spring planting this year will be from what I find in town.

Iowa in February can be a cold, bitter place. We’ve been lucky in 2020. There has been plenty of winter cold, not but bitter arctic cold. We’ve not been exposed to weeks of harsh winds nor many temperatures with a hyphen before the number.

The month was a bit gray and dreary at times, but the final week was dry. There was also snow this month and nasty cold rains, but not oodles.

So, as Februarys go, this is not the worst one to have an extra day in it. Happy leap day, and a special happy birthday to all those who turned 4 today and are getting their driver’s licenses.

For Christmas 2019, my wife wrapped a seed catalog and told me I could spend $100 on ordering spring flowers. I never got them ordered—I’ve been busy. And we’re traveling over spring break this year, and worried a bit about the possibility of an ill-timed delivery.

Then, just a week ago, stopping at a local farm-and-home chain store that we call the “popcorn store” because it’s where we go after church for popcorn, we saw that seeds were on sale. On a whim, we bought a packet of climbing annuals. I am unsure about when exactly I am planting them, but I like all these flowers and will put them somewhere.

My wife reminded me this week that I had not ordered any plants yet, and she thought I had missed the deadline. I told her no, that I knew one catalog had a March 1 order deadline (and the same company just sent me another catalog with a later date), so time had not run out on my gift.

“Why don’t you just buy plants locally,” she then asked.

Hmmm. Well, I like pink lily of the valley and have not seen any locally—but honestly, beyond my yearning for that one particular flower, I kind of liked her thinking. I am not starting any new garden this spring, so I don’t need a bunch of mail order plans. And if we buy plants at local stores, we would be in total control of when the flowers were “delivered” and could plant them right after acquisition. We would also be putting actual plants in the ground and not hoping for results from mailed roots.

True, we’re also planting seeds. But for the spring plants, I think you see my point.

So, no online flower ordering for me this spring. We’ll instead wait to see what Mother Nature brings and when we have time to shop and plant.

I like that plan, or lack of it. I don’t always mind when aspects of my life are not mapped out. So I’m not sure what my garden plans are this year; they are more organic then they sometimes are. I’ll let them form on the fly.

Like a flower.

Happy leap day to you all, and it looks like March this year will begin on a fairly nice note in Iowa, too—the lion is being polite, at least for the first week.

We’re almost through with February. Moving into early spring. And I’m ready for the change.

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In the garden area by the house yesterday. It’s on the south side, the warmest garden we have, and daffodils and tulips are starting their growth even while there is still snow elsewhere. It’s not really here yet, but spring is coming!

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Sounds of Hope During Fall Planting


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Whimsical street signs in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s a stressful time for your gardener correspondent. Mid-term hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’m swimming hard to dig myself out of my work hole.

But what else is new? It’s the rhythm of life for a college professor. And my students would hasten to add that I can reduce my own stress by reducing theirs—fewer assignments would make grading a lot easier.

Anyway, in between grade binging, I took a recent trip to Madison, Wisconsin—a brief fall break getaway to a nearby city I had not visited before. My wife and I went, along with one of our daughters and a young grandson.

The 3-year-old grandson, for the most part, had a blast. The daughter was ready to smother her father in his sleep. My snoring, apparently, is not a restful background sound. Sorry about that.

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View of Madison from observation deck high on the Capitol.

Anyway, now that I’m back, I have found a few minutes for things other than school work. Starting last weekend and continuing this weekend, I’ve been planting bulbs—the usual suspects, some tulips and daffodils and crocus. The young grandchild has been “helping,” and his grandmother even got him his own gloves and trowel today.

Well he used them for a few minutes, then wandered off to the sandbox. Despite a cool, wet day, he removed his boots and socks—because, for unknown reasons, it’s a rule to him that the sandbox is a no-shoe zone.

Anyway, I haven’t gotten all of the bulbs in the ground yet, and may not tomorrow. I’m over halfway done, however. I also have some milkweed seeds to put out. A few of my milkweed were, I’m afraid, completely consumed by hungry caterpillars, killed by the butterfly that I’m trying to aid. I’ll plant more.

Although I never have enough time for it, I always like fall bulb planting. It seems like an investment in future hope, and I need that.

Also, I was watching four grandchildren for a daughter whose babysitter was not available, and tonight after supper, one of those grandchildren volunteered to play a tune on the piano. That piano originally was my mother’s. I owned it for a while, but had to give up piano lessons because I didn’t have time for them. I gave the piano to this granddaughter, who wanted to take lessons.

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Small hands pick out a tune on an old piano. These hands are small I know, but they are hers they aren’t my own and I enjoyed what they did. (Yes, I’m quoting a Jewel song, why not?)

And it was nice to hear the old piano make some music. Again, it’s a connection to the future. The future is uncertain and sometimes a frightening place, so it is good, I think, to have some positive ties to it through music and flowers and Madison.

We’ve talked about taking more grandchildren on short trips next summer, if time and our lives and theirs allow it. Madison isn’t the only place we may go, but based on my our first trip there, it won’t be our last.

Among other things, I am thrilled that the city is committed to having public places publicly accessible. We wandered into the state Capitol and were astounded at how open it was—entering the Iowa Capitol feels like going through airport security by comparison. The zoo in Madison is fine and free. We paid to get into a botanical garden and a children’s museum, but the entry fees were ridiculously low by 2020 standards. And we didn’t have any bad food experiences in Madison; we enjoyed our every meal there.

Well, cool. And again, something from my past that I can also look forward to in the future.

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Celebrating My 61st Birthday


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Aug. 31–Just in time for family birthday party, the Monarch caterpillars have a party, too.

Another year on the globe. Besides mowing the lawn, I’ve also dedicated part of this Labor Day weekend to celebrating my 61st birthday. The actual day was Friday, while a family party was Saturday.

It’s been good. My wife got me a cool GPS bicycle computer and an interesting-looking grammar game. My children got me a copy of the class board game Risk, a hibiscus bush which should have huge, pretty pink flowers next year and a birdhouse for my backyard nature oasis.

Friday featured some breakfast scones that my wife got up and made for me. Lunch was in the school cafeteria at the university where I teach—which does not sound all that special, but I take my lunch most days and consider eating in the cafeteria a special treat. Supper was Thai food at a nearby restaurant we like.

And Saturday’s birthday feast featured the last summer day meal—brats, hot dogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans—and brownies and ice cream for dessert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was great to have my youngest son, who is headed overseas for a couple of years for a post-doctorate position at a university in China, home for it, and it was great for my other nearby kids to make it.

Thank you, universe, for another year. I’m not much into resolutions, I don’t typically make them at New Years, but I think birthday resolutions make as much sense as any others, so here are some resolutions or goals for my 61st year on this planet:

  • Vote for a Democrat who wins. That way Tangerine Hitler can fade into the trash heap of history. Really, I know, suddenly this happy birthday post got all political—but the Dunce-in-Chief said today that he’s not heard of a Category 5 hurricane before. Someone please check his meds? And vote him out.
  • Re-watch a substantial part of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I started with season three the day after my birthday. I won’t be able to re-watch much more during the semester, but these are annual goals, right? And that show just so often make me smile, even if it is very ’90s.
  • Learn something new. I just downloaded a new language ap, and plan to work a bit on my rudimentary Spanish. I also may try to learn to count in Hungarian—my father’s family were all Hungarian, and I would like to visit that country. Can’t make that visit a goal yet for this year—it probably will be a retirement trip and I’m not there yet—but I can start learning a bit of the language. And I’ve already visited some Spanish-speaking places—it seems like I would not be hurt at all to improve on language skills.
  • Get some kids to like Tessa Violet. To be fair, not all college students go crazy when I start playing my Tessa tunes in the newspaper office—one editor a few years ago learned to love Tessa when she went through a tough breakup and saw herself in “Sorry I’m Not Sorry.” But I’m always a bit surprised so few of the new generation listen to her I like the idea of her.
  • Learn to appreciate some new cuisine. I like many international foods—Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian. But there’s a lot of the globe that, culinarily speaking, I have not explored. I like to try new foods and want to find the next taste. Any suggestions, readers?

Well, that’s it, for now. I may be getting older, but I enjoyed myself this weekend. But I still want to have more fun. Maybe it’s time for the next episode of Buffy.

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England Day 1: A Pleasant Zombie Walk


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On the walk to school–pretty, familiar looking northern hemisphere sky, somewhat less familiar street scenery.

The luggage showed up quickly, and that was a blessing.

We flew from Detroit to Amsterdam to get here, and then from Amsterdam to Norwich. We had a fairly tight layover in Holland—but our overnight flight landed a few minutes early, and the connecting gate to our next flight to the UK turned out to be in fairly close proximity to our arrival gate.

But our bags did not make it with us, and we were not alone. At the Norwich Airport following the morning flight, there was a bit of a queue at the lost baggage desk. Sigh.

Still, entering the UK these days is pretty easy. There used to be an odd little customs card to complete, and a separate line for non-European passports that involved a bit more questioning. Monday, we were in line with all the British passports, there was no customs form and the questioning was concise.

We were picked up by our daughter, and met the toddler grandson who we have seen before, but mostly know via WhatsApp video calls. He was a little confused at first—those people from the computer can step out of cyberspace? —but quickly warmed up and even allowed me to carry him about the house a bit in the afternoon.

Our daughter had to leave on an extended errand, which was OK because my wife and I had at best only dozed on the long overnight flight, so we both took a 3-hour nap. And in the afternoon, we walked with her and the grandson to go meet out two granddaughters, who attend two different nearby schools. I felt a bit fuzzy headed on the walk—I’m afraid I was a bit of a living zombie—but the sky was pretty, and company pleasant and it was nice to be out. The strong cup of coffee my daughter made for me did not hurt, either.

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Bikes at school as we arrive to pick up granddaughter. It is nice to be in a country were bicycles are “normal” transportation.

I’m not yet used to the local geography. I sort of knew my way around Norwich before, from a previous house that my daughter and son-in-law were renting. They have since purchased a house. It’s in the same general neighborhood, but right now the streets are a bit of a confusing mess in my jet-lagged mind.

Still, despite being very tired, it was exciting to again see our Norwich family. The grandchildren didn’t appreciate my dad jokes, but nobody does, and that’s OK. After all, a dad joke (my oldest granddaughter is studying the Romans, which I suggested were named for their penchant for oars) is at best measured in a scale from “I don’t get it” to outright groans.

England is an interesting mix of familiar and alien. Roses are blooming here, as they are in Iowa. I saw bees among very familiar flowers—my son-in-law and daughter have very pretty foxglove in their tiny back garden, nice colorful blooms you can see from the kitchen window. At the same time, everything is different here. They speak English, but it’s not American English—you can understand them, but there is a bit of work to it. I suppose they feel the same about us. Their tiny row houses are all crowded together, which seems like a more space-efficient way to construct a city, but is not the familiar American ranch home on individual quarter-acre lots. When we were waiting at one of the schools, I looked out over a nearby hillside in view, and the rows of chimneys we could see looked very “Mary Poppins” or “Yellow Submarine.”

We were blessed with a nice day, warm and sunny, and are even more blessed with the warmth of familiar familial re-connection. The grandchildren are bigger and older, and I’m betting we will have some fun over this visit. The luggage, as it turned out, made the afternoon flight from Amsterdam and was delivered to a neighbor while we were doing the zombie walk to school.

UK! I’m tired, and I’m typing at 3:30 a.m., but that’s OK. We are here in Norwich, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.

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