Tag Archives: flowers

Finished with Fall Planting


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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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Friday Floral Feature: Dandelions Rule


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Phases of dandelion in my back yard–and yes, there is lots of creeping charlie, too.

I surrender. Dandelions were deliberately brought to the Americas by Europeans, so why fight any more?

Pretty yellow flowers of spring, summer and fall—I may spray now and then to knock you back, but that’s more for show or to get along with the neighbors. I can’t get rid of you, so I may as well learn to like you.

The gardens seem more summer like, these days. Early peonies have bloomed and quickly faded; the later smaller varieties of pink lilacs are getting ready to bloom. I’ve had one clematis plant spring forth in flower, and another that should break into flower soon.

And dandelions, which seem to be everywhere, offering their tempting pom poms to grandchildren who can’t resist the temptation to puff the fluff. Even the yellow flowers can turn chin or nose a fetching vermilion.

You win, dandelions.

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The First “Real” Spring Weekend


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When he was a feature writer for the Des Moines Register, Ken Fuson did a front-page “brite,” or happy feature story, about the first warm weekend day in Iowa in March (“What A Day!”). It was one long, joyous sentence.

I won’t try to mimic Fuson’s style—but this was such a day today. Granted, there has been nice weather in 2017 already—sunny, unseasonably warm weekends early in March. And it’s April now, so maybe nice weather is not such a jolt to the system.

But it still topped 70 degrees today. The sun was shining down, and it felt like the first true foreshadowing of the Midwest late spring yet to come. We’ve even had warmer days before, but the flowers and green and spring are just far enough along the road today towards true spring. In our minds, we could imagine June, the month of the year when Iowa can be the most pleasant spot on the planet (as long as it’s not rainy and flooding). Today, we could picture June.

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Grandson removes shoes late in morning. It had been cool, was was starting to hint at warm.

The day began windy and cloudy, a bit on the cool side. I spent the morning at a soccer pitch in Monticello, Iowa, watching a kindergarten-age grandson studiously ignore the rather random soccer game that languidly swirled around him without disturbing his great concentration on whatever it was he was so deeply focused on.

Well, the athletic gene runs shallow in the Sheller clan.

After that, there was a playground at the fairgrounds (where the soccer fields in Monticello are). The sun peeked at us now and then, there were a few random bug sightings, but we kept our sweatshirts (if not our shoes) on.

Then came lunch. Then, the afternoon. The afternoon! After our midday pizza feast, many of us started to warm up in the backyard of my daughter’s home. Coats were forgotten, ladybugs were everywhere, and my sweatshirt was draped over the cross bars of the swing set as I fulfilled a grandfather’s burden for a shifting cast of grandchildren (I pushed).

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Tired and exhausted by running, tossing and swinging in the increasingly warm, sunny, pleasant day, we headed back to Cedar Rapids. After a rest (the grandkids watched “Zootopia,” of which I saw only the snippet of opening credits and final 5 minutes—I suspect there was mid-movie snoring in the family room), I went upstairs. My 15-month-old grandson was up from a brief nap, so we donned shoes and headed in back for a flower photo safari. Within 5 minutes, several other grandkids joined us, so I did a fair amount of ball tossing and swing pushing between photographing flowers.

The cool morning had turned to a genuinely warm afternoon, milky sun beating down, buzzing bugs flying about—it had the smell and feel of the next coming season. The trees are still shaking off their winter slumber, but at the ground level, the annual hoedown of life is already do-si-doing.

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Early peony bud.

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First tulip.

I shot lots of images of crocus, early tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers. Bluebells, AWOL until now, have suddenly popped up. They are not super early spring flowers and are not blooming, but suddenly, like little garden salads, clumps of bluebell leaves have poked up all around the shady gardens.

Then, late in the afternoon, the dam burst. The bicycle would not be denied. I had taken my main commuting bike that I call “Clarence” and assembled the bus Friday by putting on the toddler seat and attaching a Tag-A-Long. I met the kids at a park Friday and took two home with the bike. The oldest grandchild had been lobbying for a bike ride all day today, and it was time.

The original plan was for her to ride her bike and for two other grandchildren to ride Clarence with me, but for some reason plans morphed. Recognizing we would climb some hills, the oldest granddaughter shrewdly shifted plans to the Tag-A-Long.

What followed was a series of bike rides of 2-3 miles each with a shifting cast of grandchildren. On ride number two, with the oldest grandchild, we paused to inspect a garter snake basking on the trail. Many birds, puppies, cats, birds and the one snake were all inspected or commented on during the rides.

Tomorrow, I plan to put in some grass seed and trim a few trees, as well as spending hours grading. I supposed I could have graded today, but the sun was calling, there were many, many grandchildren to play with (we had seven with us for most of the day) and it was THAT Saturday, the First Summer-Like Saturday, a day to drink nature in with no thought of tomorrow and no regrets.

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Hoping Monticello & MMU Learn to Love Milkweed


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Swallow-tail butterfly on shore of Cedar Lake.

When they sell a variety of Milkweed at a flower shop, they rename it “Butterfly Flower.” It’s a better name for PR than a plant name that has “weed” in it.

But Milkweed is not really a weed, in that a weed is an unattractive, unwanted plant. Milkweed is a very tall, robust native flower, pretty when it’s blooming, and very much wanted because it’s the only kind of plant the Monarch butterfly will lay eggs on.

I read in The Gazette this morning, in an article by our excellent local environmental writer Orlan Love, that the city of Monticello is sending warning letters to a resident due to the Milkweed plants on his property.

I made me think again of a project I would like to get started at Mount Mercy University where I teach. The U planted a community vegetable patch this summer. Why not an MMU butterfly garden? It would feature Milkweed, but also other plants that benefit pollinators.

MMU already has plenty of Coneflowers, which Monarchs love, but no place for baby Monarchs. Maybe the planters near Basile Hall would be a good spot?

Anyway, I need to find a group at MMU that’s interested in such an idea—possibly the Bike Club or Science Club or an alliance of the Bike and Science clubs? What do you think, MMUers?

Anyway, the Gazette story made me a bit sad. My heart is with you Michael Felton. May Monticello wake up and smell the nectar. Cities need to encourage Milkweed planting, not demand its removal. Just say “Butterfly Flower.” It sounds nicer, and is pretty accurate.

This afternoon, on my way home, I bicycled down to Cedar Lake. I was in the mood to see a Monarch butterfly, and knew from previous rides that the lake is a local hot spot for the orange flyer. There is a fair amount of Milkweed on the lake shore, and all I can say is, hooray for Milkweed.

I didn’t find what I was looking for. A pretty Goldfinch darted ahead of me on the trail, way too fast for me to unlimber my point-and-shoot camera. On the lake, a large white egret was looking quite fetching. And I did take some pictures of a pretty butterfly by the lake–a Swallowtail.

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Egret or heron on Cedar Lake.

I didn’t feel too bad about my failure. Despite the muggy heat, it felt good just to waste some time by the pretty waters. So I turned my bike north to pedal home, but just after I had crossed the bridge at the north end of the lake, I noticed flashes of orange in some white flowers west of the trail.

Yup. Monarchs. Not one, but several were flitting about—and not just Monarchs, either, as some pictures I took are clearly of Viceroy butterflies.

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A Monarch, above, and Viceroy, below, on same clump of flowers on trail north of Cedar Lake. Viceroys are smaller (despite the appearance, the insect below is only about 2/3 size of one above) and feature a dividing line on hind wing that Monarchs lack. Species didn’t seem to mind hanging together this afternoon.

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Well, cool. Monarchs are not as common as they once were, which is why Monticello’s war on Milkweed is misguided. I was glad to see some near Cedar Lake. More of my photos are on this Facebook gallery.

So this fall, I am going to try again to sew some native Milkweed seeds in my gardens. You don’t plant Milkweed in spring like many other flowers, because the seeds have to experience winter cold before they will sprout.

I doubt the city of Cedar Rapids will object if I succeed and get some plants going next year. And maybe I can be part of getting some Milkweed planted at MMU, too?

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In The In-Between Springtime


Ants busy on a peony bud. My garden, May 21.

Ants busy on a peony bud. My garden, May 21.

The jury is still out on the sweetgum tree. For some reason, that’s the one tree that didn’t come back yet this spring, and as May enters its third week, the death watch is well underway.

It might still come back. There was an 8-foot tall hibiscus bush in back with three branches—one leafed out already, and the other two had not. I thought of trimming it before I mowed Friday—but then, surprise, surprise, I noted the swelling green of baby leaves on the two “dead” branches.

They weren’t dead at all, they just were in a deeper winter slumber than the rest of the bush.

So maybe May is a bit too early to call things. The early riot of color of spring is over, as all but the last few daffodils have faded, and tulips and crocus are long gone. Lilacs and early peonies have come and gone, while the smaller pink dwarf lilacs are blooming and the “regular” peonies are on the way.

Columbine is in bloom now, too. Photo from May 21.

Columbine is in bloom now, too. Photo from May 21.

I’m not fond of ants in the house, but unlike some people, I don’t eliminate peonies to keeps ants out of my yard. I would consider a campaign against outdoor ants to be pointless and probably dangerous to me—when they come in, I kill them with blunt force and poisons, when they’re outdoors, they’re part of nature’s order and I leave them unmolested.

Which, of course, has to do with peonies. Certain ants love the waxy coating of the buds, and they are having a feast during this in-between time before the many flowers of summer appear and the early flowers of spring have faded.

More ants on buds.

More ants on buds.

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Not that nothing is in bloom. There are three pink lilacs perfuming the yard right now. Several other bushes are in bloom, although I don’t recall their names—a pretty red one in a shady corner of the back yard, a variegated one in front that is obviously planted for its leaves—the flowers are not very showy. Lily of the Valley are in full swing.

But the peonies and the iris are still just budding. One iris in back is in bloom. I’m not particularly good with iris—I’ve planted hundreds and have just a handful of plants to show for my efforts—but I do have some that are ready to roll.

Iris getting ready to bloom.

Iris getting ready to bloom.

As usual, my garden is behind the times. I’ve noticed a cascade of irises in town, and even some of the traditional peonies are starting. That’s all foreshadowing for my gardens. A few more of my May 21 photos.

So this Memorial Day weekend, get out and enjoy the world. As we recall those who have gone before, it seems appropriate that our day for memorials falls right as the gardens are on the brink of riotous life.

And maybe there’s still hope for the gumball tree. We’ll see.

Just before I mowed May 22, I see this--one iris in the garden at the bottom of the rock well is in bloom. I also noted a profuse stand of poison ivy, which I pulled (wearing gloves, although luckily I don't seem particularly sensitive to poison ivy).

Just before I mowed May 22, I see this–one iris in the garden at the bottom of the rock well is in bloom. I also noted a profuse stand of poison ivy, which I pulled (wearing gloves, although luckily I don’t seem particularly sensitive to poison ivy).

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What I Saw This Weekend


I saw grass. And I cut it. First mow of the season was Sunday, and most of the cute flower images on this blog were from that day.

But days before I saw and cut grass, and planted flowers and enjoyed other flowers–on Friday I went to a musical at Mount Mercy University. It was “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a very nice musical that was very well done. Here is a snippet from the 2006 Tony Awards that does do well in showing the spirit of the show:

Well, that was hard to beat. But after a rainy Saturday, during which I did not see much, came a much nicer Sunday. And today was full of biking and mowing and planting–of mid-spring warm Sunday stuff, and this is just a sample of what it looked like:

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Around 9 a.m., Krumboltz Trail, Marion. Blue bells in bloom.

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Still on the morning trail bike ride. Why did the duck cross the stream? I’m not shore.

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Blues bells and tree.

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Back home, waiting for afternoon bike ride with my wife. Tulips by ash tree in front yard.

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Some daffodils are done, but some are still in bloom.

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Redbud!

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Just starting–crab apple. Spring is about to smell really sweet.

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Clematis in bike basket. I planted and then mowed.

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The State of Joe at 56


We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in later afternoon image.

We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in late afternoon image.

I just checked—a line of severe thunderstorms is headed my way and may hit before I get done writing this blog post.

And yet, the thing that makes me most anxious is not that a tornado may swoop down, but that it’s 10:03 and I have not started watching “Project Runway” yet and I want to get it watched tonight before I go to bed.

So I’ll have to make this quick. Because, you know, either tornado or Heidi. You decide which is the bigger factor.

What is the state of Joe at 56?

Well, busy. Labor Day weekend comes just as fall semester starts taking off—and after just four days of classes, I have a lot of grading. Labor Day will mostly be a day of labor, because so far this weekend, I’m proud to say, I’ve done virtually nothing school related (unless you count piano practice, but I don’t suppose I should).

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Friday I went to my first MMU track meet, which was a bit of unexpected fun. When my kids were in junior high track, a track meet meant hours of dull unexcitement in a cold and damp stadium in some featureless small town. The Mustang Gallop, however, was hanging out in a county park—and waiting for just two races, which started and ended very quickly. That’s not a bad way to have a track meet.

Saturday I had a bike ride with my wife. It was 23 miles, which is a substantial, but not very long, ride for me. Since she is not a biker, it was a big commitment to my birthday wishes on her part.

Then again, she goes to the gym a lot more than I do. She didn’t suffer any ill consequences, as far as I know. She did announce a desire to own biking shorts, which I think would be a good move.

I also mowed and planted some grass seed. Tonight’s storm may do some good.

Physically, I’m doing well. I’ve bounced back, I think, from my RAGBRAI exhaustion. My weight is not down, but not up. The struggle to control it, and thus keep my blood pressure down, is more important in my 56th year, but then again, I’m about 10 pounds lighter than my peak, so I’ve slowly started to lose some pounds.

Work is a mixed bag. I love being a professor and am thrilled with the reaction to the World War I series. On the other hand, I sure wish I had more PR and journalism students, and a newspaper editor would be nice.

So I guess the state of Joe is not too bad. And it only took me 10 minutes to write this. My birthday celebration got an early start Friday when a daughter was confused at the date and called me a day early. One of my sons was also confused and called me a day late. So, I guess that means my birthday this year was a 3-day season.

That is fine with me. Not a bad way to turn 56.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

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