Tag Archives: gardening

Friday Floral Feature: Dandelions Rule


dandelion

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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Sometimes Gardening Drives Me To Drinking


Which, of course, is one huge advantage of gardening. I spent much of today doing relatively hard labor in the back. Among other things, I:

  • Cut down the top of a dead tree in the woods. A tree that has mostly died was overhanging our backyard fence in what I considered a menacing manner, considering the number of grandchildren we have who often play back there. My wife suggested that I cut it down. Lacking a chain saw, I thought that this would be a big job. I was right, but between a limb saw, crosscut saw and hatchet, I was able to perch on a ladder and hack the top half of the tree away—enough so the remainder poses no imminent threat to backyard munchkins. How much do I love my grandchildren? If you know me, you know it’s a lot. I don’t do well on ladders. Standing atop a ladder and cutting away a portion of a dead tree had me daydreaming about why they often call such trees “widow makers.” And yet, I did it, and no widows were made, I’m happy to report.
  • Cut out various other dead portions of trees and bushes. The top half of the new cherry tree? Dead and gone. Most of one hibiscus bush? In the yardy cart. I left the one dead garden crab apple tree, just because I’m giving it all opportunity to come on back (I do like that tree and am sad at its passing). Still, the back gardens are cleaner and clearer now.
  • Sprayed for moles. Mole spray is a deterrent, caster oil doesn’t hurt moles, they just don’t like it. Anyway, I’m not one to try to kill all grubs in order to get rid of moles, for several reasons. I don’t like spreading a bunch of poison on a children’s play area for one. And the fact the moles eat mostly worms and not grubs anyway, for the other. In my experience, harmless mole repellent spray works fairly well anyway. That part of the job, by the way, was much harder than it sounds because it involved untangling my garden hose, a tricky, difficult job.
  • Mowed the lawn. Since the back has been very sparse in grass, I’ve only mowed twice there this year so far. Today, I mowed both front and back, and back is getting into the condition where I’ll mow more often for a while. The new grass is actually looking pretty good.
  • Rescued a bunch of trees. Oak, mulberry and walnut trees were dug from my planters and gardens and planted in the woods. The ash back there will die, so I’m busily and pointlessly attempting to reforest. Busily because I can and I like those trees and am trying to give them a chance. Pointlessly because almost every plant I put in the ground in the woods is doomed. That’s because the woods are a deer salad bar, and I’m merely providing deer snacks. I also moved some catalpa tree volunteers and some trumpet vine. We’ll see if any survive. Some will succumb to transplant shock, and those that do come back will, sadly, look mighty tasty to Bambi.

The day was perfect—a bit cloudy, but that’s OK for working outdoors, warm and pleasant but not hot, so I could wear blue jeans comfortably. Given the nature of what I was doing, I would have worn jeans even if it was hot—some jobs are just not meant for shorts—but luckily today was a day when jeans were quite comfortable.

I didn’t get it all done. I still need to mulch my trees and gardens, and do more weeding. Sadly, by the way, the new cobra lily appears to have been murdered by the tromping of a passing animal (and the only animals that are big enough to do that and have access to the garden are all human). Oh well. Maybe next year I’ll get some native American jack in the pulpit and try again.

Despite the tragedy of the walked upon flower, and the ongoing saga of what bushes and trees are still struggling to recover from the winter of 2014, I think it’s looking pretty darn nice back there. I’ll have to go to the new CR library as soon as I get my regular bike (the one with a basket) back from the shop, because I’ve got a nice spot for summer reading.

Tonight, however, I celebrated the end of the gardening day in a more immediate style.

Miller time? I don't think so.

Miller time? I don’t think so.

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What It’s Like To Plant With 3-year-old Helpers


One of my helpers. Not 3 yet, but master of her universe. She has a cousin of about the same age, and he and she helped me plant today.

One of my helpers. Not 3 yet, but master of her universe. She has a cousin of about the same age, and he and she helped me plant today.

Well, I don’t think they are technically 3 yet—since both have birthdays later this month—but they are 3ish. They are certainly a dynamic pair, my two young garden helpers today. I had met the grandkids at a park and given one nearly 3 something a ride home on my bike, then took the other on a short ride before sprinkles called us home.

And then it was planting time. Phlox are still on the way, but pink Lily of the Valley and a bag of 25 Asian Lily bulbs had arrived in yesterday’s post. I don’t know where my not broken trowel is, so I had instead a handle less blade from a broken trowel, a shovel, a hoe and two energetic “helpers” as I headed out to the back door.

She: “I want to hold the scoop.” Apparently, “scoop” is 3-speak for “broken trowel.”
He: “Where is MY scoop?” He looked at me suspiciously when I suggested that instead he hold the flowers, and merely marched off toward the garden empty handed.

We arrived at planting site number one. It was lucky there were three Lily of the Valley, so I give one to him, one to her and put one in the hole myself.

That went well. The hoe cleared gravel, the broken trowel make a narrow, shallow trench, and into the ground went the hope of future pretty pink flowers. I’ve got a lot of white Lily of the Valley, which I really enjoy, but I’m looking forward to the variety of these pink ones.

The Asian Lilies, which involved deeper holes (rather than going 1-inch underground like the roots for Lily of the Valley, these bulbs were to be buried 6 inches deep) proved a bit more problematic to plant with ornery children as my posse.

Me: “Dig here.”
He: Digs in random place 6 inches away.
She: Tromps through daffodils to stand next to him and demand: “When is it MY turn?”

Actually, she had a bit more focus than he did, so her turn came up way more often than his since he was off randomly playing during some of the planting. I almost laughed out loud when he came up once, huffing with indignation that she had gotten to put all the bulbs in one hole. I hadn’t sent him off, he had wandered off, and it wasn’t her fault that she stuck around and got to do more planting. Anyway, he was quickly mollified when he got to hold the scoop and randomly fail to dig before I got my turn and actually made a hole.

It’s a bit of a trial planting stuff with young children. On the other hand, it’s totally worth it. There’s something deeply binding about planting with kids, and both of these young rascals are a bit more in tune with nature due to experience gardening with parents and grandparents.

He even has asked for flowers to plant for his third birthday, a request that seems unbearably sweet. I’ll have to find an actual trowel to take to his party along with some flowers.

And, in the end, the plants are in the ground. Here’s hoping they will produce more than rabbit chow!

I liked this bee image so much, which I shot Friday afternoon at Mount Mercy University, that I'm using it on both blogs. So there.

I liked this bee image so much, which I shot Friday afternoon at Mount Mercy University, that I’m using it on both blogs. So there.

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Before They Can Nest I Take Out The Bush


Corner of the deck, the bush before I start.

Corner of the deck, the bush before I start.

Well, the bush has been cut back to an impressive collection of stumps. There was an overgrown hedge-style bush by the corner of our deck. It was very tall, and over the years has spread out so that it overshadowed the steps leading to the yard, especially if it had rained.

Now, I didn’t particularly dislike that bush, and my philosophy where most trees and bushes go is live and let live. I liked the fragrant white flowers this bush has in June, and I liked that it was a frequent nesting spot, sometimes for robins or cardinals.

But, it was getting too big to manage. I could not trim it easily, and it was crowding other growing things. So my wife and I had agreed last year that it should come out.

But when? I didn’t want to take it out last year, since there might be young birds in there. So it was to be a winter job. And what a winter it has been. I assumed I would take it out over Christmas break, but that break came and went so quickly and so coldly that it didn’t happen.

With the calendar saying “March,” I was getting a bit antsy. I have already ordered some new flowers for this garden, partly under the assumption that it would be more open with this bush gone. And robins have become more visible again, a sign that, ever so slowly, spring is coming.

Grandkids were around Saturday, but after lunch I went out and got my limb saw, branch pruner and hatchet. And I attacked.

The bush put up a pretty good fight. It turned out that the limb saw was the most useful tool. As I worked, I gained a chorus of watchers. The grandchildren, armed with cardboard swords their grandmother crafted, sallied forth to observe and comment. Amelia kicked snow at me and giggled and chatted. Tristan was more direct—waiving a sword through the bars of the decks, announcing that he was helping, and hacking at the branches with his cardboard.

It took a bit more than an hour to reduce this old bush to multiple stumps. And longer to drag the branches to the back fence and toss them over. I had planned to drag them farther into the woods, but snow and ice have the back gate sealed.

I don’t like to see a pretty bush go, but there are five others of exactly this type growing in my yard at various places, and the birds have many nesting sites to choose from.

And I am happy that it was done on time. The only nests I saw were old crumbling ones from past seasons—nobody had tried to move into this bird apartment house yet this spring.

And now the Rose of Sharon and the Prairie Fire crabapple that had been crowded by this bush have room to grow.

An hour or so later. Lots of branches to drag away.

An hour or so later. Lots of branches to drag away.

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Gardening Seems Good Near Mother’s Day


Butterfly

Red Admiral in our yard, visiting the day Audrey finished planting her petunias.

I married a great mom. I know that’s hardly an unbiased opinion, but a snapshot of our six kids suggests someone did something right.

Nina just graduated from Creighton University and has a job as a social worker. Ben is doing well at Iowa State. And all of the others of our children are college graduates. Jon works for Microsoft now, but in less than a month is off to Paraguay with his wife Nalena as members of the Peace Corps. The three daughters who are married are all, currently, staying at home to care for young kids—an interesting development, in this day and age, for such a group of liberated, educated women, but as my daughter Katy recently blogged, there is no such thing as “just” a housewife with young kids.

All of us have bumps in the road of life, and none of my kids lives a perfectly happy, idyllic existence. But, who does? Anyway, both Audrey and I get along pretty well most of the time with all of our kids, and that’s saying something.

Parenting and gardening aren’t the same. You can grow lush plants and be a cad. Similarly, you can have a brown thumb, but be wonderful with your own offspring. Still, it’s possible to be a decent parent and good gardener too, and I do see some parallels between caring for plants and the care you give to other growing things that you love.

Audrey and I have recently completed round one of our spring gardening. Grass seed has been sown and has sprouted, broken trellises in the front garden have been replaced and four new clematis plants have taken the place of morning glories. One rose bush died last year and has been replaced. Five new little trees have edged their way into our crowded forest of a back yard.  Petunias peek from planters on our rear deck and from pots on the fence, courtesy of Audrey.

Garden stuff

About a week ago–back from garden shopping trip to Menard’s. Rose and four clematis, along with five tiny Arbor Day trees, were planted by me, several flats of geraniums and petunias were given spots by Audrey. She did much more planting than I did.

Somehow, all this planting seems motherly. Audrey referenced her mom when she asked me about my methods for tree planting—she noted that her mom always filled a hole with water for tree planting. I do that, too, with larger trees, but didn’t bother with these tiny Arbor Day Foundation twigs.

My mom loved roses, so planting a rose bush honors her. Planting the trees would be something my dad would do, but the tree mania is primarily something that Audrey and I share, so I would say it’s mostly for her this Mother’s Day.

For Mother’s Day, we bought a swing, and need to assemble the stand. It will sit out in our back yard and probably be used. We enjoyed our treeish little corner of the world, and will soak in some of the warm spring glory on this Mother’s Day in our new seat.

On this lush Iowa Mother’s Day, may some growing thing remind you of how it wasn’t just the universe, but also a particular woman, who gave you life. May you recall her fondly, even if your relationship wasn’t or isn’t perfect. And to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day.

And for Audrey, happy Mother’s Day, dear. The tomatoes and peppers and herbs and petunias all look up to you, but they can’t compete in your heart with Amanda, Jonathan, Theresa, Katy, Deanna and Benjamin. The garden of our life seems to be yielding rich fruit, and for that, you and I both can be grateful.

Iris

Iris, in bloom, in my garden, almost a Mother’s Day miracle.

Audrey and Amelia

Audrey with her granddaughter Amelia. Happy Mother’s Day to both Katy and Audrey!

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Killing Weeds, Finding the Dead Duck and Planting Grass


Pulling weeds

Audrey and Stephanie, an MMU student, pull weeds in a garden on the back side of Sacred Heart Convent next to MMU.

Well, Saturday was quite a gardening day. Audrey and I had volunteered for a day of service at Mount Mercy University, and we were assigned with a group that was going to clean up some flower beds around Sacred Heart Convent, which is just east of MMU.

There be lots of weeds in those gardens! Or there were …

For much of the morning, we worked our way around the convent, first working alone with an English student named Stephanie, then joined by other students and staff. The first hour passed very slowly, and when the chapel bells rang the hour, it was hard to believe that it was only 9 a.m.

But the day got a bit sunnier and a bit warmer and the pace of time picked up a bit. It’s nice on one of these service days to have a gardening chore—I like working outdoors anyway, but you can see the impact of your efforts in a patio swept of leaves, a trimmed bush and the weeds that aren’t there anymore.

One of our favorite moments was when an MMU maintenance worker explained one plant at length—how the Indians double boiled its leaves, how the birds love the berries that are not edible for humans—and then noted, “yeah, it’s a weed, pull it.”

When we had completely circled the convent, we were pulling weeds in some rocks by the back side of the building when we noticed a bit of an odor. Then a pile of feathers. Than the owner of the feathers, a long-deceased duck lying next to the convent.

The maintenance men came to the rescue and carted poor Daffy away. Stephanie took a bouquet of spent flowers I had cut and presented to her and Audrey and laid them in the spot to honor the poor departed Donald.

But really, the deceased mallard didn’t cast much of a pall (or smell, thank goodness) over the day. We felt pretty good at what we had done, enjoyed a hearty lunch and ice cream social, and then the day of gardening at MMU was done. I stayed on campus for a bit to print some papers to grade, and when I got home, Audrey was gone to visit our daughter Katy. No matter, I mowed the front yard and gathered the clippings to scatter on new grass I was planning to plant on bare spots in back.

Before I did so, Audrey arrived with Tristan and Nikayla, our under 2 grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter. They both assisted with the grass planting—Nikayla even grabbing a small plastic rake to help me, with my bigger cultivating rake, work the seeds in a bit.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory in bloom in my front garden on Sept. 24.

It was a satisfying day.

Not the last day of gardening. Sunday night, Audrey and I got online and ordered bulbs. Lots of bulbs. I think it was 500 crocuses? Maybe 100 tulips and a couple hundred daffodils, plus 100 or so grape hyacinth. Watch out, Cate and Katy. If we run out of room, there could be guerilla plantings going on …

We took it easy last fall on bulb planting. Obviously, that’s not the plan this year.

Last time I did much bulb planting, it was the fall that Lizzie was born. Amanda is again pregnant, and we’ve got a bunch of bulbs arriving in the post soon.

Coincidence? I don’t know. But I am going to enjoy lots of new flowers next spring!

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A Trumpet Will Sound Soon


Trumpet flower bud on clotheslline. No leaves nearby because, before Audrey draped it on the line, this particular vine branch was on the ground, where Mr. Rabbit ate all the leaves. First flower on vine years after it was planted.

No, it’s not the end of the world, no matter what GOP Tea Party candidates might say. It’s the biggest news in my gardens since, well, since I discovered how photogenic coneflowers are.

Anyway, despite Cate’s experience at her and Paulette’s previous house, were neighborhood trumpet vines attempted to take over most of the Plain States, I planted a trumpet vine near my clothesline.

Around 2003 or so. Maybe 2004. A while ago.

I was hoping I can keep it contained, since it’s isolated from other gardens or ground. It stubbornly keeps sending up numerous root sappers, but—and this is the only good think I’ll say about Mr. Bunny—they apparently taste good to rabbits and have not been hard to control. True to form, the trumpet vine has been a vigorous grower. However, it has never bloomed, until now. There are now two isolated clusters of buds swelling, and, as you can see, the vine will officially bloom this year. My vine is blooming a month later than every other trumpet vine in Cedar Rapids that I’ve seen, but I am comfortable with late flowers.

A tree addict can’t be too picky about when things bloom.

No butterflies, but some pretty coneflowers. Gallery below will feature day lilies and more coneflower shots.

Anyway, I have a minor bit of camera envy. A former student posted a pretty butterfly picture on a coneflower as her Facebook profile photo. She used a Nikon SLR to capture a butterfly perched on the flower. Nice shot, Mickey.

I would love to have a digital SLR. I’ll have to do something really impressive to get one for Christmas or birthday next year—and, unfortunately, it’s not the only beyond-regular-gift budget item I’ve been coveting these days (ever since the Continental died, I’ve wanted a racier bike, which would cost as much if not more than the swanky camera I also want).

As Sheryl Crow sang, however, it’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have. My little auto Kodak digital toy doesn’t do everything I would like, but it’s a game little camera.

Of course, I’ll have to post some trumpet pictures later when the vine actually blooms—I hope it won’t wait until I’m at camp in Tennessee. We’ll see.

No cute butterfly on the coneflowers. There’ve been a lot hanging around, but I’ve not captured them in a digital file. Today, I was reading a biography of William Randolph Hearst while swinging in the backyard, camera at the ready, glancing up just in case now and then, but no dice.

And Hearst needs more direct attention than that.

Hanging in a swing, waiting for a butterfly that never showed up, being berated by a small bird—what a great way to spend some time on a warm summer afternoon. Afterwards, I’m afraid, probably comes lawn mowing.

Still, I hope you enjoy yet another set of flower pictures from my gardens.

Daylilies in back yard, similar shot later of simliar lilies in front by mailbox.

Hydrangea in front. One by oak in back is not blooming yet, but the hydrangea tree Ben gave me last year is.

Daylily in the side "wall" garden in front.

Daylilies, same type as in back, but by the mail box. Also below.

This bird may be nesting somewhere in my side gardens or in a very nearby tree. When I approach the east side of my back yard, he's there to berate me. Fear not, young dinosaur, you are immune from any harm. If you were a wasp on my deck, I would wait until sundown and then kill you. Luckily, you're not a wasp--something that makes both of us happy.

Coneflower, final image. A butterfly would have come in handy.

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