Tag Archives: crocus

First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


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

campus sun

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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First Flowers of 2019 Arrive


March 23, 2019–First flowers of spring include this crocus in my backyard.

The creek behind my house has returned to its banks, and the Cedar River is dropping for now. We’ve been lucky in my area, I hope my western Iowa and Nebraska neighbors can recover from this sudden, wet spring.

Today was the final Saturday of spring break, and I spent a fair amount if it indoors vainly battling with the mountain of grading Which Must Be Done By Monday.

But for a while this afternoon, I was in the backyard, cleaning debris of winter off of gardens, giving the barren yard a quick rake and scattering grass seed.

Spring may be extraordinarily busy, but it’s still a season of hope. And today, the colors started to appear. I saw a crocus in bloom in the yard, and I know others are poking up. In the garden by the rock wall, some snowdrops are showing their pretty white selves.

No squib yet, but I’m sure it’s on its way. Many daffodils and tulips are starting to push through the thawing ground, and some hyacinth look ready to bloom in a few days.

The world is still largely brown and the ice hills by the parking lots have not yet melted. Flood risk is still with us, as snow north is still melting and rain may fall on sodden ground.

But for today, I saw flowers, and that’s something. The brown season is coming to its end, and everywhere, green is poised to emerge and colors are ready to appear.

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Finished with Fall Planting


Pretty fall oak leaf seen in my backyard during bulb planting this October.

If all goes well, there will be new Crocus, tulips, Daffodils and Iris in my gardens and yard come spring. I think I actually finished the bulb planting around the end of October or so, and followed that up with some additional seed planting.

My RAGBRAI Team Joe pals, in honor of my missing the final two days of the ride this year with some health issues, had saved me some Milkweed seed balls from the ride. I had also retrieved a seed balls few at the Indian Creek Nature Center during a fall event there.

Besides the clay balls loaded with Milkweed seeds, my wife had also collected some seeds directly from plants growing in the ditch outside our son’s apartment building when we visited him during fall break.

I planted the clay balls in late October when the bulbs when in the ground (Milkweed is sewn on the surface—“planting” clay seed balls meant just placing the balls on the soil surface). On Nov. 5, I separated the seeds from the fluff and proceeded with planting. The balls has already been placed either in gardens or at the edge of woods along Dry Creek behind our house. The seeds went in the same areas—gardens and wood’s edge.

I have high hopes for most of the bulbs. Come spring, crocus will be poking up in the yard, while Tulips and Daffodils will appear in gardens. Iris? I plant them pretty much every year and have very limited luck. Not sure why, but it’s just the way the garden grows. Still, here’s hoping for some new Iris next year.

And the Milkweed? I try to plant some every fall. I do have a few “butterfly flower” plants I put in last year that came back this year, so my gardens aren’t totally free of Monarch butterfly habitat, but I want to do more to aid those majestic insects. Maybe, with some luck, some of these Milkweed seeds will push up next spring. We’ll see!

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Some Spring Flowers Before The Snow

Crocus blooms March 23, 2013. Snow will fall tonight,k but spring is underway.

Crocus blooms March 23, 2013. Snow will fall tonight,k but spring is underway.

We are to get a dusting of snow, maybe 1 to 3 inches, in the next 24 hours, a strangely fitting end to this rather cool and wintery spring break from school.

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But even if the temperatures have seemed, well, “brisk” for this time of year, the spring sun is shining, and I saw the first flowers in my garden blooming today. So I guess it’s official—despite a few more blasts of snow, spring is here.

Another view of blooming crocus cluster in my back garden.

Another view of blooming crocus cluster in my back garden.

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What Will Bloom When Mitt Wins? Who Knows?


Crocus on the cusp of blooming in the wood chips at the base of my tree. I'm sure this bud has bloomed since this shot.

I shot these images Tuesday, I think, and they seem pathetically out of date. Daffodils are not just budding anymore, but many clusters are adding splashes of yellow to gardens in Cedar Rapids.

Crocuses are in full bloom. Project beautify the yard was, I think, a smashing success. I worried a bit because when I first stated planting crocus bulbs last fall, I did it one at a time, but quickly grew tired and bored and started planting them in groups. Then I worried that come spring, the odd scattered patches of color would make the yard look like it had some weird sort of crocus mange.

Although I also hoped it would look cool. It’s dangerous for me to pass these judgments, particularly on my own plantings, but I’m gonna come down on the cool side. The flowers look nice.


Daffodil just about to bloom.

Anyway, I shot the flowers Tuesday thinking that I would comment on the southern primaries. So far the mid nation, from Iowa down through Mississippi, is looking like a solid slab of Santorum purple. Yippee. Apparently Midwestern Republicans are way more interested in ideological purity than electoral success, and Mitt’s inevitable ascendance to the GOP crown has been put off a bit.

At least Newt didn’t roar back.

Anyway, Santorum is a bit like the Sarah Palin of 2012, to me. He’s passionately supported by people who seem more than a bit on the fringe. And I find myself barely able to listen. With Sarah, it was her gosh-darn, heard at Wal-Mart folksy Midwestern/Alaska voice forming those rolled weird syllables that never seemed to string together in complete thoughts. With Santorum, it’s his whiny sounding, peevish bluster that seems a bit like a rather nasty gym teacher or unpopular football coach.

Not, I concede, that the sound of politicians voices are fair or important ways to judge the content of what they say. By all accounts I’ve read, Lincoln’s voice was high and rather unpleasant. So it’s not of any great consequence that I always think Rick Santorum is disappointed in my blocking.


Another of the pretty yellow crocuses, this one in the garden.

So, here are some flowers. Out of date, as any analysis I might offer of the Republican race is. I give up.  I don’t know why Newt is still running. I don’t know why anybody would consider voting for Mr. Sweater Vest Crazy Guy. I don’t know why the Romney Robot is both the only likely nominee, but also the man Republicans just can’t bring themselves to embrace. I don’t know why some seemingly bright young people embrace the 18th century ravings of Ron Paul. Dudes, this is the Republican field?

I need to tune out. I think I’ll just go smell some flowers.

Crocus bulb

Crocus that has since bloomed, shown as a bud at the base of a magnolia bush.


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Happy Garden New Year’s Day!

Our calendar is pretty arbitrary and there’s not much of a good reason to celebrate New Year’s Day Jan. 1, other than, I suppose, it’s far enough from the Winter Solstice so the coming of new seasons is obvious in the Northern Hemisphere.

When the actual New Year starts in a garden is a bit harder to say. Snowdrops bloomed in February in my back garden, but I think of these pretty little white flowers as a signal from Mother Nature that spring will eventually arrive—a foreshadowing of the future rather than the opening notes of the actual performance. A prelude.

To me, the New Garden Year begins with the first splash of real color, when the tiny little green spikes  pop open, and, suddenly, there they are.

Yellows and purples and whites and blues—the crocus, the crocus, croaking out the message. “Spring is here!” There is cold in the air, there may still be snow that yet falls, but forget about it, winter. Your time is done. Today, a new gardening year is underway in east Iowa.

Before hoping on my bike this morning, I did a quick look in back. I was wondering if I should grab my good camera later if there is still light this afternoon—if there is any growing things to snap photos of.

And there it was. One yellow crocus already open in the garden by the house. New Year’s Day is today! I took the image with my little point-and-shoot, but yup, if there is still light when I get home, I’ll be hunting more blooms with my Nikon.


New Year's Day arrives in my back garden.

So here are my New Year’s Gardening resolutions:

  • I will create a new garden by the lilac bushes in the backyard. That process is underway already—I planted bulbs in an area where not enough sun shines in summer for grass, but before the trees shade that area, there is plenty of sun for spring flowers. I will have to edge that area off and consider a few later-blooming, part-shade plants.
  • I will try to talk Audrey into a front garden. She’s been after me to move peonies that I planted in the yard there. I won’t. I don’t mind peonies in the yard, and rather than move them, I’d prefer to create a flower garden around them. Why not? There is little sunshine in my yard, overall, and this is a sunny corner.
  • I will plant more trees. I don’t need to, and I know it. But 5 of the 10 Arbor Day trees in my home office are starting to awaken, and I’m thinking some of the others that are asleep may wake up (the oaks are holding back). I can’t use all of them (Cate, Pat, Katy, Mimi—anybody want a tree?), but I can plant some of these behind the fence. And I will fit a few of them in the crowded, woodsy backyard. I really, really want to keep the sweet gum, but know it’s a problematic tree, too. Stay tuned for the future sweet gum saga.
  • I will trim the back bushes around the deck before going to England. Time to cut those suckers down to size, before they leaf out and hide my pretty backyard.

Well, a new year is always exciting, a time of hope and renewal. This is the year when we’ll find out if planting crocuses in our yard was a good idea—although, of course, it was. Some plant catalogs have arrived and Audrey and I have agreed that we’ll hold steady and not order more plants.

Except, if I sweet talk her—maybe I’ll have two gardens to put plants in? One can only hope.

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Sore. Very Sore. The Ducks Shout “Winning!”


Daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs ready to plant. Sadly, some of the these bags are not very empty yet.

How does it feel to plant 1,000 flower bulbs?

Judging by planting around 500 of them, pretty awful, I would say. As I write this, my throat tickles, some ibuprofin is keeping a very tender back at bay, my arms ache, I’m dead tired—and half the bulbs did not make it into the ground and I may have to store them for a week or so before I have time to finish the job. Although, in all honesty, I didn’t have time to start the job either, but that’s life.

There are some up sides, including the hope for a pretty spring. While I would rate myself as feeling fairly miserable, it’s not from one cause. I have a cold, a minor one, and it appears that the dust from my very dry yard very slowly accumulated in my breathing system, which was already slightly inflamed. The result is a sore throat that makes it painful to talk and significant sneezing and coughing. Yet, the underlying cold is still better than it was—my neck glands are not as painfully swollen as before, for instance.

The back pain is an ancient injury that acts up now and then, particularly if I spent three hours digging with shovel and trowel. Amanda, I think it dates from when you were Tristan’s age and I bent over and picked you up and must have bent wrong or twisted wrong or something—cause that darn muscle in the lower left side of my back has sent me occasional pain-o-grams for more than two decades. It just so happens that when it cramps, it also sometimes attacks the giant nerve running down my left leg. Today, it hurts, but it’s not an immobilizing, shooting pain, nor has it squeezed the giant leg nerve to convert it into a river of lava. My back hurts, but only in a mild, you-probably-overdid-it-Joe, way. Trust me, at points in my life it’s been much, much worse. And carry no guilt, eldest daughter—I’ve never felt in the faintest way that you had any responsibility for my sore back. Memory is a tricky thing, but I don’t think you were even complaining or whining, the fatal moment was a perfectly natural “daddy pick me up” time that went horribly wrong due the technique or lack of it used by the adult in the scenario, who has only himself to blame. But watch it when picking up ZZ. Bend your knees, not your back.

Anyway, on to more old-person whining. I know it’s late October, but despite my ugly gardening Joe hat, I managed to sunburn myself. Sunburns always make me feel generally yucky. On the other hand, since it was late October, not only is only a limited area burned (just my face), but it’s probably not very burned. I’m reasonably certain there’s no peeling in my future—in fact, in the morning my now warm, uncomfortable face will probably be back to normal.

My knees hurt. I noticed it will digging the last few holes—when I hit the shovel with my foot, my knee would whine and send a “hey, what did I ever do to you” twinge of pain up my leg. Then again, my knees have been really sore in the past, and this is pretty mild.

No one complaint has got me down. But I do feel a bit like I’m being pecked to death by ducks, and they are getting annoying. Such is the life of a gardener of advancing age (unless I live to 106, I guess I can’t really claim the moniker “middle aged” anymore, but it’s only when I’m sore like this that I admit it).

Enough of the complaining. Ask me in spring if it was worth it. I hope so, and actually expect so—the part of the planting I got done today was putting crocuses in the lawn, and it just seems like such a good idea that I’m anxious to see the results of. I also planted tulips and daffodils with crocuses around the base of the front trees. I still have lots of tulips and daffodils to plant—but I put 400 of the 500 crocuses in the ground and a smaller percent of the tulips and daffodils.

The slit.

Fingers poised to keep bulbs in place, Will draw out shovel after snapping photo This is the "slit."

Anyway, with the lawn planting, I used two approaches, first mixing them, but then switching to the one that put the most bulbs in the ground at a time as I grew weary:

  • Method one was the slit. Did a slit with a shovel, poke in 3 crocus bulbs, hold the bulbs in place with fingers as you withdraw shovel. No, did not hurt any fingers, but several near misses were a reason beyond my tiring body to give up the slit.
  • Method two was the lid. Dig a slit, but then push the shovel horizontally and tip over the “lid.” In the resulting hole, put 5 or 6 crocus bulbs and then shut the lid. At the end, I would dig 5 to 10 holes in a set and quickly place the bulbs.

I had wanted to follow the catalog advice for naturalizing, where you toss bulbs in an area and plant them were they fall, but tried that only once—when I couldn’t find all of the bulbs, I decided I can be comfortable with slightly less random clumps.

The plan, of course, is for the crocuses to bloom and fade in the spring before the first mow. I’ve seen others do it, including a house adjacent to Mount Mercy and my own sister Cate in her yard, so I’m confident it should work.

The lid.

The "lid," my more common, and by the end, only, planting method.

Anyway, besides placing crocuses in the lawn, I also ringed three small trees in front with tulips, daffodils and crocuses. Next year, I may have to slightly enlarge the “mulch” area around the trees, since not all of these flowers will fade by first mow, but that was my evil plan all along. I used a variation of “the lid” method, first popping back a lid of soil, then going deep in two places for one tulip bulb and one daffodil bulb. I would cover them with loose soil and put in two crocuses before shutting the lid. I did it in a roughly cross pattern so the crocuses are never on top of the other flowers. I did either 3 or 4 of these “groups” around each tree.

I expected some trouble from the Hawthorne. Thorn is part of its name for a reason. I need not have worried, the tree has grown fairly tall without branching out much, and it was very polite when I planted around it with flowers. The Hawthorne didn’t even try to toss a root in my way.

The crabapples, on the other hand, were crabby, poking me with little branches, sticking out roots in each of my holes, generally taunting me while I worked: “Hey, jerk, just try to plant a freaking flower near me.” I’m bigger than them (even if they are taller) and basically just slapped them around and planted the flowers anyway. So there.

I doubt I’ll have any planting time tomorrow—between schoolwork, family stuff and church, the day is totally booked. It may be a week before the remainder of the bulbs taste dirt, and I hope they don’t mind.

One minor other complaint—and no, this isn’t a scratch or itch or ache that I’ll blow out of proportion. The bulb company did not sent any bluebells or hyacinth, both of which I thought I ordered—and did send 100 iris bulbs which I know for sure I did NOT order.

Oh Iris! Didn’t plant any yet because Audrey will contact the bulb company to see what they want us to do. No, I don’t object to Irises—love them, in fact, but I suck at growing them. It will feel mournful and bittersweet for me to inter 100 iris bulbs, thinking that I’ll never see pretty flowers from the likes of these.



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Crazy Fall Planting Day Has Arrived

Donnelly Roses

Roses near the side entrance to the Donnelly Center, MMU.

When I got home Friday, the box of doom was awaiting. It’ didn’t look huge, but I know that is has more than 1,000 flower bulbs in it, and I know that my extensive need for hours to do homework this weekend (that’s right kids, like many college professors, a lot of my weekend is spent grading or prepping, so it if makes you feel any better, the pain I inflict on you is shared).

I’m glad to do some fall bulb planting. It’s almost always rewarding. Not all of the bulbs I plant will sprout, but from experience I know that enough will that I will be looking forward to more bursts of color this spring.

As for fall, it is 27 degrees this morning in Cedar Rapids. We’ve had some frosts already, but I think this is the one that’s really going to kill all the morning glories and start to convince even the mums that life as we know it means hunkering down in the roots.


Roses in the front "wall" garden at my house.

At both the MMU campus and my house, several rose bushes have had a very nice late season bloom. Here are photos of a few of them before the cold fall takes them away.

The nap bear

The nap bear

And the final image? The bear? It ended up in my office after the Times open house. Audrey claims she’s going to get it because she wants a prize for one of her classes. I, on the other hand, don’t mind it where it is. Several times a week, for only about 20 minutes each time, I “measure my futon,” which means I take a nap. And yes, now I have a nap bear. If I can hide it from Audrey .

I’ll update you later on Project Crazy People Fall Planting Day. And 10 trees are still to arrive from the Arbor Day Foundation!

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Peonies Prove Spring Is Here As I Post First Garden Flowers


Frilly peonies, traditional ones are coming up too. Spring is here!

I missed the first round of crocuses in my garden, which bloomed while we were in Seattle, but worked for a while today cleaning the leaf thatch from the gardens and saw many more flowers.

Crocus, of course, but a few others, including hyacinth and snowdrops. There are also a few early once that clearly I did plant, but just as clearly I can’t identify anymore. Such is gardening.

Anyway, any words of mine would be redundant, so enjoy the garden images. Although they aren’t much to look at yet, I’m particularly pleased to see the frilly early peonies coming back—when you start to see peonies coming up, it really feels like spring is taking hold. True, there are always frosts after the peonies start, but also true, the ground has to have started to warm up before they will show themselves.

Happy early Iowa spring!

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Springtime for Sheller in Cedar Rapids

Corcus.  Croci?

Afternoon light was fading, they had been more open. Crocus by mailbox.

I hope a tune from the “Producers” is going through your head.  First views of Spring 2010 gardens.

Burning love and catalpa

Small pot is burning love, which is fading. Big pot is catalpa, which are fading. But, where there is life there is hope.

Overall, some nice springy things happening before the cold snap.  I have not “cleaned” the gardens–removed the leaves from the fall, and will wait, because colder weather is coming.  But first flowers are here, as you can see.

Starting stuff indoors has been mixed. As you can see in the big pot, a couple of catalpa tress sprouted, but in the little pot, most of the “burning love” bushes that sprouted died, and the catalpa are fading.  It’s hard to keep things wet enough to germinate, but not so wet that young roots don’t rot.  Darn.  I partly inherited my mother’s Irish green thumb (mama barely kept any green growing thing alive, gardening was always daddy’s job).

I’ll put some Hollyhock photos at the end, they are looking better.


Snowdrops bloom even before crocus. Should plant more ...

Outdoors, I’m amazed at all that is already growing.  I love the snowdrops, the little white flowers.

Anyway, Audrey is almost ready to go for a walk, so I’m going to publish now.  Update later.

It’s later now.  My original plan was to clean off the gardens during spring break, but we’ll see what I think of that plan next week–it will be getting into the 20s at night, and I’ll have to consider of the lack of sun is a good trade for protection.

Not that I would necessarily know.

Anyway, I have a lot of work to get to for tomorrow, so I’ll round out this blog post with a selection of early spring garden photos.  (I do wish I had a better digital camera, an SLR that would let me focus manually–many pictures did not work when auto focus insisted on making the background in focus).


Note the flowers just coming up in the "new" garden between houses. What are they? I don't know. Not daffodils or crocus. Planted bulbs in the fall, who knows what they are now?

Two perennials

The garden in front by the fence of neighborliness seems pretty perky for early spring. Foxglove and winter creeper (not sure I'm remembering all those names correctly but they are tagged) recently emerged from three months of snow cover, and are already looking "springy."

More snowdrops

The snowdrops are in one of the back gardens--the one by our retaining wall. The bush behind it is fairly new and looked pretty sickly last year, but already seems to be waking up. It's a blooming bush that hasn't bloomed, hope it does this year.


A "Moscow" lilac, is only 6 inches tall so it won't bloom this year. When it does, it will have pretty white and pink flowers, which will be a nice contrast to the purple, pink and blue lilacs we have elsewhere, and a nearby dwarf purple lilac.

Ground cover

Don't remember the name of this plant, some creeping shade-friendly ground cover, but I know it's not a weed, it is something we planted. Back garden by fence.

Crocus in back garden

This one bloomed a couple of days before the ones by the mailbox in front. I think the tulips in the background may regret being in too big a hurry to pop up next week when the lows dip into the 20s.

Hollyhock finale

And the hollyhocks, pink and white, I think. Some will go in front, a few will get mixed in with black hollyhocks in back. I like the black ones, but if these live, I'll like these happier colors, too. These are growing by a window in my laundry room--you can tell in what direction the window is.

Well, that’s it for the first actual outdoor (and a few indoor) photo gallery of the year.  By the way, the absurd tags on my previous post, or perhaps my announcement of absurd tags on Facebook, or perhaps both, did bring a spike in blog traffic, though not as much as the inexplicable spike earlier this year with my bells post.

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