Tag Archives: butterfly bush

Some New Perennials In The Garden

Butterfly bush planted this week in back garden.

Butterfly bush planted this week in back garden.

Let’s just forget Tuesday’s primary, shall we, and get on with gardening. This week, I put some new perennials in the garden, purchased mostly on a whim at the local HyVee Drug Store. The new flowers include:

  • A second butterfly bush, this one planted in back. These are iffy bushes in this part of Iowa, they die back to the ground each winter, and if the winter is harsh may die back farther. I had to replant the one in front this year, but I really like these plants because they are pretty and because they live up to their name—if you have a butterfly bush, you should see lots of butterflies.
  • Hollyhock, three of them, planted in the same general area, the sunniest part of the garden by the deck. I used to have interesting black hollyhocks, but bunnies ate them. Putting in some new ones and hoping. I’ve pretty much just planted pink ones for now. Definitely would replant blacks ones if I find them.
  • A miniature rose bush to keep the butterfly bush company.
  • Some interesting lilies, blues ones. I have plenty of day lilies, and a fair number of Asian lilies. The ones I planted were ones my wife picked out, they should bloom in interesting blue colors.
  • A purple columbine. Most of my columbine is the common orange kinds, just branching out a bit.
  • Two poppies. I had a poppy in my deck garden, but didn’t see it come back this year, so I’ve planted two more.
  • Tall phlox. It should be more tolerant of shade than most flowers, and I’ve certainly got lots of shade for it to tolerate.
Marigolds, planted by my wife in pots on the deck.

Marigolds, planted by my wife in pots on the deck.

I still have some cleanup to do. I purchased some wood chips for mulch and spread them in front, but have not in back yet. Some dead branches and limbs from the harsh winter still need to be taken out. I would welcome some “putter time” in the garden, and maybe will get some later this month.

For now, it’s actually be a very nice summer, so far. Ideal weather, which we can appreciate after the winter of 2014. There have been awful storms this season—one of my daughters suffered plenty of hail damage to a car and her home not long ago—but we’ve been lucky so far to get the rain without any severe weather.


One spent iris and one iris bud not get open (above). Asian lilies (below) that grandchildren helped plant earlier this spring are now getting to bud stage.


The gardens are looking nice. Very buggy—gnats are terrible this year—but nice to look at. Here is a slideshow of some of my garden photos from this gorgeous morning:

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Defying Certain Death In Three Acts

Please, no autographs right now. I know I star in this blog, but I have to go play. Or climb something. Or both.

Please, no autographs right now. I know I star in this blog, but I have to go play. Or climb something. Or both.

Well, Memorial Day weekend got off to a big start Friday, with three death-defying acts:

Act I
When Amelia Shows She Can Climb

We had three grandkids overnight, and no, exciting as that is, it does not count as a death-defying act. After a morning bike ride with Amelia, Audrey picked up Nikayla at preschool, and we headed off to Willow Park in Marion for a picnic lunch/child handoff.

Where Amelia, unsurprisingly, defied death.

They have a climbing wall thing at that badly named park (badly named because there was no willow in sight at Willow Park) that consists of four plastic climbing walls, and two different types of side ladder things, one a metal spiral, the other I don’t recall but it doesn’t enter our story anyway.

The climbing walls lead to a platform perhaps 5 feet off the ground. The walls seem built maybe for kids ages 5 to 8. Amelia turns 2 today, and is small for her age, but nonetheless, she had little trouble scrambling up the climbing walls, even if it was a bit scary to watch her. Still, that was not yet defying death even if the action sequence was a bit exciting.

Once she was atop the mountain, the idea was to get down and repeat. The metal spiral ladder thingie was her chosen route. Now, we’re ready to defy the ultimate demise.

Amelia grasps poles on the platform with either hand, and slips her body off of the platform. She’s now hanging there by her arms. She stretches her legs out and finds the spiral with her feet. It’s a rather long reach for her peanut-sized body. The first time she got into this position, she accepted her mother’s help to move her arms to the spiral metal ladder, which she then descended on her own.

Of course, having survived once, her goal was to do it again immediately. Up the climbing wall, onto the platform, over to the spiral ladder, precariously hang there, swing your feet out, barely reach the spiral and then prepare to move a hand across the abyss, which requires you to stretch your arms to their maximum reach.

Amelia’s mother offered her aid, again. “No!” Amelia declared emphatically, and shook her head for emphasis—then she groped across space, finally securing a finger hold on the spiral. She then used said finger hold to lift her whole torso so she could move her other arm. All onlooking adults were poised for disaster, breaths held—but Amelia was unconcerned. She latched on, and quickly scrambled down, climbed, hung, groped, reached, scrambled down, climbed, groped, reached … etc.

Death was successfully defied. At 2, she has not learned the meaning of fear. Everyone who knows her has.

Amelia at park.

Amelia on the platform. In front of her are the two poles she will hang onto and dangle from. It may be scary to watch, but she’s not worried a bit.

Act II
An Act That Is Not Toni Safe

Fair warning, there definitely are creatures with multiple legs.

That afternoon, Audrey suggested that we take the kayaks out for the first time. It was a cool morning, but it was a nice afternoon, so Ben and I agreed. Ben and I loaded the kayaks and equipment while Audrey packed sodas. And we’re off to Pleasant Creek Recreation Area Lake near Palo.

The water was super cold and the lake a bit choppy. Ben and I went out first, and we headed west to the cove where a canoe rental area was once located.

We don’t know if it’s because the water is high this spring, but Ben and I found that the western cove extends to a narrow waterway that is apparently this lake’s turtle club. We saw multiple turtle sunning themselves on partially submerged logs—about a dozen in all, including one log crowded with six turtles. Many of them slid into the chilly waters as we neared, but we still got pretty close, and it was pretty cool to see.

The waters of the lake were very clear, and we could watch many fish swimming around. We saw a rabbit guarding the woods, a lone goose that we wondered about (others seeming to be more social) and a large bird that at first we thought was a hawk, but as it got close appeared not to be a hawk, but was fun to watch, whatever it was, anyway.

All in all, a fun first kayak outing. And, despite chilly waters, wind and some waves, not really death defying, but it serves as prelude. Cue ominous music.

After Audrey and Ben went kayaking, we drove home, and while Ben and Audrey went inside, I unloaded the kayaks. Ben came out to help carry in the other stuff, such as the towels.

Then, I went into my bedroom to change into a lawn-mowing outfit. My plan was to mow before taking my post-kayaking shower. As I was picking out my blue jeans, something tickled my right ear. I reached up to brush off the ear, and felt something moving on my neck. Again, reflexively, I brushed my neck with my hand, and something plopped to the ground at my feet.

Something with eight legs. Something that was rather large with eight legs. Sorry, Toni, but true story.

Now, the odd thing is that I didn’t scream like a girl or like a bonobo or like an owl or like any other creature. For some reason, the appearance of a Very Big Spider that had, let me remind you, been crawling on my neck didn’t disturb me at all. My reaction was to call Ben—not for rescue, but because I knew: A) He would want to see the spider and B) He’s a more experienced spider wrangler than I am.

That’s right, blog fans, sometime between my childhood and now I’ve become so blasé about arachnids that when I find a huge one which has been tickling my ear, my first reaction is: “How can I safely release this one?”

So, armed with a magazine and Tupperware, Ben trapped said spider, which he then released on our deck. And post release, I snapped its picture as it was escaping to the other side of a planter.

Yes. The spider defied death. Honestly, I was not at risk. It was not a brown recluse or black widow, blog pals, so I was really never in any danger. It was.

Spiker on planter.

Yes, it was big. Yes, it was on my neck. Yes, it was safely released in the wild. Later, we watched “Ruthless People.”

When I Mow and Plant and Trim The Dangerous Tree

We’ve arrived at our final death-defying act, friends. I mowed. Ben and Audrey, meanwhile, went to Home Depot to buy geraniums, and while there were kind enough to get me a new butterfly bush.

I had two in the front garden, but neither survived the winter. Butterfly bushes are touchy plants in this climate—they normally die down to the soil line, but usually come back. Not this year.

But, I do like this kind of bush, partly because its flowers are cute, but mostly because it does live up to its name and attract pretty summer fliers. I can’t say the butterfly bush defied death since it actually died, but hold on, blog fans.

The drought last year, followed by a long winter, was a bit rough on some plants. Of 10 Arbor Day trees planted last year, three survive this spring—a maple, a sweet gum and a dogwood. That’s OK, because I am not short of trees.

The butterfly bushes expired. Some other bushes in back survived, but have more than the usual level of dead limbs. It was a tough year. See more of my May 24 garden photos here.

And in the front yard, 2/3 of the hawthorn tree bit the dust. So, after mowing and planning my new butterfly bush, my goal was to cut off the dead top of the tree.

With old rusty bush trimmers, which meant holding the tree and gnawing at it for a while. It’s a hawthorn tree, so called because “haw” is an old name for “berries,” and this tree is supposed to bloom and produce decorative fruit. The other half of the name is because this pretty flowering tree sports 2-inch spikes of death, which I defied by cutting 2/3 of the top of the tree off.

Luckily, no blood was shed. And yes, I consider cutting the top of a hawthorn to be a much more dangerous act than having a giant spider climb on my neck.

Hawthorn tree.

The tree, trimmed despite it’s thorns of death.

So there you have it. Friday was a good day. The grass is mowed, the turtles seen, the spider released, and Amelia still showing her monkey skills.

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Mixed News From the Spring Garden

It was an odd year, last year, with a withering summer drought that tested many things. We’ve been lucky to have a “slow spring” this year, with no post-warmth hard freeze to harm the waking plants.

It got down to 32 last night and frosted, but 32 is not a “hard freeze,” and frost alone won’t damage much.

Most things are coming awake in the garden. The first round of flowers are over, and we’re heavily into tulips now. Peonies are coming on, and the frilly early ones will bloom soon.

The big lilacs are at their peak, perfuming the air and nicely masking the odor of the pear trees. Crab apple, too, are actively in bloom.

Which brings me to mixed news. First, good news—the Sargent Crab Apple finally has a few blossoms on it this year. From the look of this small sample, it will be a pretty white crab apple, which will be nice.

The Moscow Lilac is getting tall, but did not bloom again this spring. Saddest of all, some young trees have not come back. An oak and several maples did not make it through this rather mild winter, and one thinks it must mostly be the drought that did them in.

The sweet gum is coming back, as is the Catalpa, so I’m not really hurting for trees. But the hawthorn in front, while not dead, is having a hard time of it—sprouting new growth from low on its trunk while all its upper branches are barren.

Saddest of all is the butterfly bushes. I had two nice ones in front, and I love butterfly bushes because they live up to their name, attracting nice late summer visitors. It seems neither is coming back this spring, which is too bad.

I’ll have to replace them, if they continue dead (it’s too early to know for sure) with butterfly bushes. I can’t do without them!

Anyway, the weather is fine now, with some genuine heat coming this week. Maybe we continue to have rains, as we sure do not want to test more of the young trees with another dry summer!

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All Creatures Rare and Small


Monarch on my Butterfly Bush.

I felt lucky today, just before 1 p.m., when I happened to glance out my front door and saw a Monarch Butterfly visiting my older and larger Butterfly Bush.

Granted, a visit by a Monarch on a summer day in Iowa is not exactly rare–‒indeed, the banner image of my blog is a Monarch I shot several years ago with a little point-and-shoot camera in my garden.

But, this has been a very odd summer, and I have not seen usual things and have seen things that are unusual. Although I have noticed several Monarchs around Cedar Rapids, for some reason they have not been visiting my garden as often as in the past.


Side view of lady as she drinks.

So, I was pleased to see this little lady, the first of her kind to grace my yard this year that I know of, and to take her picture. I also shot the butt of a bumblebee as it flew away from me, and a nearby common visitor, a Red Admiral butterfly. For the record, I don’t try to take bee butt pictures, it just flew away as I was clicking the shutter.

As I shot these visitors, common and uncommon, I saw on the nearby, smaller Butterfly Bush something that really sent shivers up my spine.

It was a Honey Bee.

Yes, some family members are allergic and I react badly to Honey Bee stings, but that wasn’t why I was all agog at the sight of this little lady. (Of course, all worker bees are girls. As some readers of my blog might conjecture, that rule that the productive work is done by females seems to hold true for humans, too). It’s just that it seems like years since I’ve seen a dainty lady of this type in my own yard. Honey Bees were a common feature of my childhood in both Iowa and California, but these European imports have become scarcer in recent years, due to general hive collapse.

And, here she was, drinking nectar from my flowers like she does it every day. Well, you’re welcome to it, little bee, and may you tell your coworkers where these sweet flowers are found.

Honey Bee

Tiny, brown, sweet sacks on rear legs visible–Honey Bee!

I don’t know why certain insects have positive personalities, while others are mostly creepy. We like most butterflies, but can be disturbed by moths. A bee is a friendly flower visitor, but a wasp puts us on edge. I am a little intimidated by bumblebees, which looks very menacing and make lots of noise—but, honestly, I don’t think a bumblebee has ever harmed me, and I’ve suffered several painful Honey Bee stings. Yet the Honey Bee just makes me happy to see, compared to its native counterpart.

Saturday was even National Honey Bee Day, so maybe this was just a late pretty party bee.

Well, whatever. I enjoyed seeing these garden visitors, both the Monarch and the Honey Bee, and even as the summer season comes to an end, and the Monarch gets ready for a long trip south and the Honey Bee gets ready to hole up in a hive, I’ll be hoping to catch a few more glimpses of them while I can.

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New Summer, New Garden

The new garden, from the landing next to the front stoop. Lily of the valley and hostas on the left, bushes and redbud tree straight ahead.

Last year, it was the wall built by the neighbor that caused us to put in a new garden.

This year, I don’t have such an excuse, the garden was mostly our idea. To be fair, Wally did have an indirect influence on it—we had both cut out some overgrown evergreen bushes last year, and he noted that every 20 years or so you have to replace evergreen bushes by a house because they become overgrown.

Anyway, we had large evergreen bushes on the north side of our house. I liked them, but they were becoming ungainly huge, and seemed to be a type that did not respond well to trimming—just had dead stumps where I cut them back, did not form attractive new foliage the way a regular-leaved bush often does.

I am always a bit troubled by removing a mature plant (in fact, despite her hatred of the smell, Audrey is dithering right now about the pear trees—doesn’t want me to cut them down). If a plant is not causing problems, I would rather just let it go—particularly trees and bushes. But, our house came with several problematic patches of evergreen—one a gnarly short tree in back that we cut out when we added gardens back there (by “we” I mean the royal we, I cut it out, I guess I can say “we” because the boss approved).

The redbud, mainly, part of the new garden seem from the lawn.

And, this year, the evergreens in front went away. They put up a magnificent two-day epic battle, but a small electric chainsaw, limb saw and hedge clippers finally had their way.

When we (“we”—ha!) removed the bushes, I (or we) was (or were) amazed at the space that was left. The old bushes were over 5-feet in width, although they were shorter than that. There was a lot of garden room!

Although it’s on the north side of the house and thus shaded for parts of the year, during mid-summer there is a fair amount of sunlight on much of the patch. We (the real we, nothing funny about it) picked out some shady plants and some sun/shade plants for the spot. Audrey and I chose them on a whim at Menards for no particular reason other than we happened to be there to buy paint for other projects.

So, what did I put in the new garden?

The main feature is a redbud tree in the “far corner,” the part farthest from the house. It was the only redbud we saw at the store, but looks pretty good, and is more than 6-feet tall. As you can see, it’s much smaller than that height might suggest since it hasn’t spread out at all. We have two redbuds in back, but none in front, and redbuds stay small enough that there should be room for this tree in this spot.

Foilage of the new dogwood bush. The bush itself will also provide a bit of interest in winter, particuarly when it snows--it's called "red twig" becuase it has smooth red bark, a nice contrast to white snow.

I like dogwood bushes, and Cate noted that a variegated one had done well in a previous house she and Paulette had near Mount Mercy, so (despite arguments from Audrey who didn’t think it looked vigorous enough) one of the bushes is a “variegated red-twig dogwood.” We also agreed on a Black Knight Butterfly Bush, just because it looked and smelled nice (and it was Audrey’s favorite, a deal that helped me get the dogwood). Both of those bushes require some light, so I put them on the far north end of the garden—the more south one moves in the garden, the closer to the house and shadier it gets. In an area nearer the house, I planted two “ruby spice summersweet” bushes, which are labeled as shade friendly. I also moved two volunteer dwarf burning bushes which were further west in front, but really had no room to grow there.

Finally, right next to our front stoop, on the north side and around the corner on the west side, I planted some less original plants—an “autumn fern” in the shadiest spot, followed by three hostas (all three slightly different from each other, as you can see) and then some “donated” lily of the valley from our back gardens.

Black Knight Butterfly Bush. Pretty blue flowers that smell nice to humans, too. Note foot--promised in earlier blog post not to feature my feet, could crop it out but it snuck in ...

Since these photos were taken, I’ve added some more river rock (and probably will get another couple of bags). In addition, we will probably plant either one or two more rhododendron bushes—have two beside the front steps now and want to complete the line now that the evergreens have made way.

It occurs to me that rhododendrons are about the only evergreen we have left. When we first moved into the house, I cut out some overgrown evergreens on the east side and planted hostas there—primarily because the evergreen bushes were so large it was hard to get our back yard gate. After Wally’s construction of his wall made access even more difficult, I moved the hostas and made the area a walkway.

And, as noted earlier, the one evergreen tree in our back yard was eliminated several years ago.

The thing about evergreens is that they are space eaters. I like them, but have slowly been driven to eliminate the ones I have. Odd, how a gardener like me who enjoys crowdin

g plants comes to that conclusion. But I do.

Anyway, I love redbuds and hope this one on the north side manages to do OK. I have some hopes it will—there is a redbud on the north side of the Stello Hall wing of Warde Hall that is quite old and tall. Redbuds seem to do OK in semi-shady areas, the only question is what will the north winds do to this tree?

Nothing too bad, I hope. We’ll see.

Ruby Spice Summersweet bush, one of two I planted. Not sure what they will do, with the exception of the two volunteer dwarf burning bushes, the bushes are new to my gardens.

Sorry for cutting you out, evergreens. But, after several days of getting used to

it (today is Tuesday, I cut out the bushes Saturday and Sunday and planted Monday) I am liking the look of this new garden.

By the way, when we finish it off with a rhododendron or two, a volunteer maple will have to go.

It’s a bit more than a foot tall. It looks just like the one that I moved four years ago from the side of the house to the back yard—the one in back is about 12 feet tall now, so if this little tree isn’t eaten by deer or bunnies, it probably will grown quickly.

It’s a family tradition to move and plant volunteer maples, but I don’t want to moved it to our woods behind the fence because I’m trying to get cottonwood, oak and walnut going there, and maples manage to invade all on their own.  And I really have no spot at all for this maple.

If you want it, let me know soon.

Up for grabs-volunteer maple that had been hidden by evergreen bushes. Act fast, it will be coming up before week's end.

West side of front stoop, autumn fern and a new hosta.

Other two new hostas on the north, or front side, of front stoop, with lily of the valley in background.

Detail of redbud. Despite being gnarly, dwarfish trees, I like redbuds for leaves and pretty early spring pink flowers. Why red bud and not pink bud? No idea.

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