Tag Archives: garden

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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Update on Project Milkweed


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Common milkweed seeds, gathered from a ditch in Ames Iowa next to the apartment building where my son lives there. I separated these out Friday and also planted them.

I haven’t coordinated a planting effort on the Mount Mercy campus, so I’m not sure there will be many milkweed planted there this year—although I do have an envelope of seeds saved, and may inquire about at least planting those in a few established garden spots.

The final three workdays of this week were fall break at Mount Mercy, and they flew by. On Friday, we invited four grandchildren over for a sleepover party—they spent all day Friday with us and will go home midday Saturday.

I want to describe part of our Friday—but first, a minor word of caution. This post will end with some fall photos, and my cohort in crime for the garden milkweed planting did point out an arachnid, which I did photograph. So the very end of the post is not spider safe. If you are averse to spiders, go ahead and read the post, just don’t scroll to the end of the photos.

Our busy grandchildren day included trip to Half-Price Books followed by Thomas Park, lunch at McDonald’s and them home to pack up bicycles, which we took down to Cedar Lake for a ride (it was warming by then, I’m happy to say). After that, some of the grandkids walked up to HyVee Drugstore with grandma to get bread sticks to go with pasta for supper, while I stayed home with the others.

Amelia, a 5-year-old granddaughter, wanted to help me plant after she saw me separating out milkweed seeds from the bag Audrey and I had collected near our son’s apartment in Ames, Iowa.

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Amelia, ready to plant seeds.

I had two sets of milkweed to plant—an envelope with a generous supply of seeds (I kept a second one for possible MMU use) and a bowl of all the white fluff and leftover pods, which also had many seeds left in it.

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“Extra” seeds and pods. I did not try to be very efficient gathering seeds–I knew I was going to scatter all the rest behind my fence anyway, in the hope that Mother Nature’s way of planting milkweed will yield some results.

First stop was the woods behind our fence, where I scattered the “extra” seeds and pods, mostly at the edge of the tree line, hoping that sunny spot will promote milkweed growth.

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Seeds in the air, edge of the woods behind my house.

After that, Amelia brought the seed envelop down to me so we could plant in the gardens. But when I opened the envelope, only about 1/3 of the seeds where there.

Amelia looked a little sad. “Some of them blew out,” she said. I interpreted that to mean she spilled some, because the seeds in the envelope didn’t have their white silky wind catchers attached, and it wasn’t especially windy.

No matter—1/3 of the seeds was still quite a few, and in the back of my mind was the thought that I did not have to save my second envelope. So, we planted—basically we used a trowel to scape soil in several small areas, scattered some seeds there, and then covered them with a very thin layer.

Milkweed seeds don’t go deep into the soil, and are best planted in fall. The seeds want to overwinter before germinating, or so I’ve read on the internet. Honestly, I’m not the person to consult on this—although I’ve tried for several years to get milkweed going, I don’t have much success.

Anyway, after we got done I didn’t bother to get the second envelope right away. Instead, Amelia and her brother and I simply enjoyed the later afternoon in the backyard, playing various games. When it was starting to cool and I thought it was going to be time to go in soon, I have them the usual 5-minute warning.

Amelia went off by herself and sat on some stone steps that lead from the upper to lower yard. “Grandpa,” she called. “Come here!”

I ambled over, and asked what she wanted. “This is where the seeds spilled,” she said. I moved some leaves on the steps—and sure enough, hundreds of milkweed seeds were just laying on the steps.

So I swept them into my hand and we did planting, round two. And I didn’t feel the need anymore to break into my second envelop. Maybe a small-scale planting at MMU can still happen this fall.

To finish the story, here are some random fall photos taken while Amelia and I were planting, with the caveat that this is where the spider sensitive need to leave this web page:

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Fall mum in bloom in garden (and Amelia and I planted some milkweed next to it).

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Vine creeping over fence is turning colors (above). Oaks (below) starting to look like fall (maples and tulip tree don’t have the memo yet, crab apples are taking on fall hues).

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“There is a big spider,” Amelia said. I looked, and sure enough, right on the gate handle, this big spider was sitting. The board it is on is the one I just slid to lock the gate. I was a bit startled at first–but it’s kind of a pretty looking hunter. And I always figure spiders outdoors are good news–anything that eats mosquitoes and flies is welcome in my gardens!

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So What Three Should I Plant Now?


Bird that lives  in a birdhouse next door was watching me work today.

Bird that lives in a birdhouse next door was watching me work today.

It did not seem happy to see me.

It did not seem happy to see me.

I got all hot and bothered in my backyard today. I was hot because it was humid and hot white I was working pretty yard, and I was bothered because dirt and sweat and hungry blood-sucking insects are bothersome things.

But I did get the first project of summer well underway. We have swing sets in our backyard for grandchildren use, and, naturally, that’s not great for grass in that area. Plus, part of that areas in in deep shade, which does not promote grass either.

So, we decided to edge off part of the lawn and put wood chips where the grass won’t grow because the sun doesn’t shine. Today I dug a long, curving, shallow trench in my yard, put some plastic edging in it, and then filled it back in.

I dug a hole. It did not fill with water.

I dug a hole. It did not fill with water.

That was almost an all-day project, which is unfortunate because I didn’t get many bike miles in, and I need to really start focusing on biking. But is fortunate, too, because now it is over halfway done. We had 10 bags of wood chips, but those were laughably short of what we need, so this evening we purchased 20 more, and the rest of the project is to cart the bags and open and then spread the wood chips.

Trust me. It will be a bit of work, but not as much work as digging even a shallow trench and installing the edging.

Anyway, that’s pretty minor in comparison with the Big Garden News Headline: The Tree Is Dead.

Dead, dead, dead.

OK, I’ll give it another week or so, but it’s getting ridiculous. The Sweetgum tree, only 6 inches tall, will never get taller. It has expired. It is a small twig of rotting wood. It has ceased to be.

Given the number of lives trees in my yard (not counting the big ashes in front that the city owns, it is around 35), I don’t plant a new tree unless an old one expires.

Well, the Sweetgum has expired. So what shall go in the hole? I rule out Oak or Maple, because I have several varieties of each elsewhere in the yard (Oak is the second-most common tree in my yard—Crab Apple is the most common). I have a Gingko now, and I do not need two. No Hawthorn—this tree is in the backyard, the play zone. Hawthorns are cute trees, but have nasty spikes.

The Sweetgum spot is one where a medium or large tree can go. Here are my ideas:

A Sweetgum tree. That would not be very imaginative, I know, but one reason I planted the Sweetgum tree there in the first place is colors in my yard in fall are a bit dull. Sweetgums have a reputation of nice fall colors. They also have a reputation of numerous slightly obnoxious seed balls, but no tree is perfect.

Some other tree. Preferably one that would bloom early summer or late spring after the Crab Apples and Redbuds have faded. In Iowa, there is some large tree with fern-like leaves that puts out large clusters of small, sweet smelling flowers in late May. Any idea what it is? There is also a similar looking tree with big pink flowers. And there is yet a third kind of tree with kind of snowy clusters of white that is blooming now. (And I do not mean Catalpa, which are just starting to bloom—the flowers on Catalpa, while white, aren’t really “snowy.” Not that I dislike Catalpa trees—in fact, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular since I admire them a lot—but I have one already). Help, blog fans. I have consulted my “Trees of North America” book and am drawing a blank. Any idea what any of these trees might be?

Please let me know what you think should replace the Sweetgum. Feel free to make your own suggestions for a tree I should plant.

Planting a tree will seem an easy task after that garden project!

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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.

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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.

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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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A Comedy Of Planting


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So, this came today. Jack, is that you? Jack-in-the-pulpit root, I think. It’s huge–3 inches long. How would you plant this slug?

OK, so something strange came into my life today. My wife and I had already agreed that most of the flowers that I bought this spring (not all, but most) will go under our clothesline, where we are establishing a few garden “holes” in a gravel area.

And, to cap a busy and cultural week, the first flowers arrived in today’s mail.

It was very warm—around 80—today, and I already planted some grass seed in my yard. I had also purchased, heaven knows why because past experience suggests it is a foolish gesture, a bag of “wild flower” shade garden seeds, and planted some here and there, about half in my gardens, half in the woods behind my house (trying to give garlic mustard something to compete with).

Anyway, I thought I was done gardening for the day. I like to garden, but don’t have much time for it at this time of year. For example, we’ve had a busy week, as spring often brings:

On Tuesday, my wife and I attended a speech by Cesare Frustaci. I, and the MMU handbell choir, played to open and close the program, but it was clearly all about Cesare and his compelling story.

As he noted, it’s a strange and sad thing that there are people in the world who deny the Holocaust, and his presentation about his experience in Hungary in World War II brought a packed crowd to the Chapel of Mercy.

Art wrapped in art. Sculpture tied with ribbons near Warde Hall.

Art wrapped in art. Sculpture tied with ribbons near Warde Hall.

On Friday, there was an “art invasion” of MMU, as high school art day was held. Part of the event was an outdoor installation involving lots of orange ribbon. I don’t’ know, somehow it just lightened the mood. Among other things, a giant sculpture behind Warde Hall was wrapped up, which improved its looks, I think.

More of my photos on Facebook.

Then, Saturday, we attended the excellent MMU production of “A Comedy of Errors.” I’ll never look at the sports editor of the MMU Times the same. If you read this before Sunday afternoon, there is a 2:30 matinee, and I think you would like it.

Anyway, so gardening was a bit of a quiet break from the pleasing cacophony of culture that attends being part of a university campus.

But, right before we were to go out on our date night, which included church, a restaurant meal and the play, the box arrived in the mail.

Containing a big, honking, enigmatic root seen at the top of this post.

I wasn’t even sure what it was, but because I am a little more familiar with the other plants I ordered, and because it was the one I’ve never planted before, I’m assuming this is Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Blog pals, and I right? In the right neighborhood? A small label said to plant it 6-inches deep. But it did not say which end to stick in the ground first. Which way would you say is “up?”

I spent a few fruitless minutes searching the Oralce of All Knowledge, but neither Ms. Google nor Mr. Wikipedia was all that helpful.

Oh, OK. the green probably points "up." I hope.

Oh, OK. the green probably points “up.” I hope.

Then I unpacked the other two roots. Oh. A giant green thing is emerging from one end. In my experience, that way is usually “up.”

It was 10 p.m. by then, and the radar said rain is west of us. So I decided to take flashlight in hand and plant these in a hole.

So I did. I just nestled them in among the wildflower seeds I had put in earlier—these are plants that tend to grow in shady areas anyway, so co-planting them with “shady” wildflower seeds seemed like a good move.

We’ll see. Some early flowers are in bloom already, check out these images.  And now, since our land is so dry, if only that rain would come on down …

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Coneflower Season: Summer is Nearly Over


I like coneflowers, and have planted a number in my gardens. At the side of the house, where they get about two hours of sun in the middle of the day, they thrive.

Much of my gardens are too shady for them. And while I have tried a few other variations, such as pink, frilly coneflowers or double coneflowers, it’s the common purple ones that thrive.

These are native flowers that I like, so I’ve tried to get them going at the sunny edge of the woods behind my fence, but to no avail. They can spread like mad in the garden, but they can be finicky, too. Or many garlic mustard is just too fierce a competitor.

Anyway, in the final two days of July and today, the first day of August, I’ve photographed many of the flowers blooming in my gardens, which I present in the slideshow.

Besides flowers, I shot some crab apples growing on a new tree I planted this year, and some random leaves just because I liked the late afternoon sun on them. I also shot an apple leaf damaged by Asian beetles, although the beetles are not causing as much havoc this year as in most years.

I’ve in a mellow mood, but summer is ending and I won’t have much more time to contemplate the blooms in my gardens. Oh, well. Fall will bring a big bulb order this year, so there will be future planting.

And there was one recent, accidental planting. The week before RAGBRAI, I had stopped at HyVee to buy healthy food (doughnuts) for breakfast, just to surprise Audrey, and I noticed that they had only 4 trees left for sale,  for $5 each. These were trees originally priced at $50 or so.

Yes, I know. I don’t need more trees. But two were crabapples—trees that would remain fairly small. The other two were cherry trees that will grow big, but come on–$5.

So I told Audrey. Her reaction was, “let’s go look at them.” We decided we could plant some and give some to our daughters, so we bought them. When Audrey paid, the cashier asked if that closed out the trees, and Audrey truthfully said “yes,” and the cashier said “that’s another 75 percent off.”

So we got $200 worth of trees for $5.

We ended up giving one to a daughter, and planting three in our yard. We now have a new Prariefire crab apple, Coral burst crab apple and a Yoshino cherry.

We have many crab apple trees—there are two in front and four in back already, so this is crab apple numbers seven and eight. But we had none in our lower yard, and planted the other in a garden by itself.

I have no excuse for the cherry tree. It’s just crowded into the yard like a tourist on a Paraguayan bus. It may or may not survive—this Iowa climate is probably the extreme end of where it can live—but the Japanese maple and weeping cherry trees in back have survived, so maybe this will, too.

Anyway, I know it’s a bit crazy for us to plant more trees. But the ash borer has just been spotted in Fairfield, so if you feel the urge to plant a tree, just make sure it’s not an ash and plant, plant, plant.

Anyway, summer 2013 has been a blur. It’s over too soon. I actually have to work next week, and will spend much of the rest of August catching up on overdue reports and prepping for the fall semester.

It is some small comfort to look forward to what these new trees will do in the spring.

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