Tag Archives: iris

Friday Floral Feature: The Week the Tick Magnet Appeared


An awesome opossum visits the yard.

Not the chick magnet—the tick magnet. I was eating a late breakfast in the sunroom that overlooked our back yard, when I noted a freaky, scary looking creature casually ambling across the yard.

Behold the opossum. North America’s only marsupial, and about as ugly a critter as you would ever hope to see.

I went and got my 4-year-old granddaughter, who was staying with us for the day, and we watched the possum. It noticed the attention and darted off. Although they look fierce, most sources say the nocturnal opossum is generally shy and tries to avoid people. This one was certainly true to form.

And of all the native mammals to spot in my yard, honestly the freaky looking possum probably is about the least problematic. Squirrels dig up blubs and sometimes even bite holes in your eaves to set up house in your attic. Woodchucks chew woody plants. And rabbits—don’t get me started. As I’ve written on this blog before, if God were a gardener in the Midwest and Eden was in Iowa rather than Iraq, it wouldn’t be the serpent who messed up paradise. To an Iowa gardener, our native snakes are benign, helpful presences. No—in the Iowa Eden, the Devil is personified by that destructive critter second only to Bambi in its capacity to wreck havoc in the garden—the bunny.

That rascally rabbit.

Anyway, so what we saw was a possum. And, if it were a rabbit, I would immediately go outside and sprinkle around that kind of animal repellent that seems more like a prayer ritual than anything that has an actual impact on the universe, but we do what we can. For a possum? Meh.

It’s a tick magnet. Possums don’t pose any threat to plants, but are insect eaters, and, according to Iowa lore, their favorite snack is the tick. So you’re welcome to hang around my yard as much as you want Mr. (or Ms.) Possum. Ticks carry disease, and Possums eat ticks. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Anyway, in other garden news this week: Snow! Not winter snow, summer snow. Early each summer, the cottonwood trees release their seeds, and we have the faux snowfall that heralds warmer weather. Tuffs of fluff are in the air.


Cottonwood seeds on front porch rocking chair.

Also, most peonies are still in the bud stage, but a clump in front picked this week to bloom. I know some gardeners don’t like peonies because they are associated with ants, but ants are everywhere and I don’t quite get that attitude. I don’t do anything to prevent ants on my peonies—they in fact are eating nectar the plant is producing with the intention of attracting ants, so I let nature be. The theory on the Iowa Extension site I consulted is that ants helps prevent pests. They are not required for peonies to bloom, but helpfully remove the waxy nectar film, and thus promote blooming—mostly, they are a neutral presence the plant may have evolved to attract just because other bugs don’t appreciate crowds of ants.

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And Irises are in bloom. Both Peonies and Irises appeared around town a couple of weeks ago, but my gardens are in a strange time zone where everything seems to bloom a little later. That’s OK with me, as long as the plants boom!

I’ve also been impressed with the bloom time of a Clematis in front that produces giant blue flowers. They flowers are in no hurry to fade, and there are many more buds. The Clematis season should go on for a while, since some plants in back are just starting to bud.

Anyway, it’s another rainy day today. I hope you enjoy some of the flower images from sunnier days this week.

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What We Planted On Monday

A pot spray painted by my wife, who is planning to plant petunias in it soon.

A pot spray painted by my wife, who is planning to plant petunias in it soon.

Monday: Go to the office? I should, but my daughters, who plan to ride a day of RAGBRAI with me this year, are coming over for a bike ride this afternoon.

And I have plants to plant. The neighborhood HyVee Drug Store is starting to cut the price of its plants. My wife got some planters from her sister, who is going to put on a house on the market and is downsizing , getting rid of “stuff,” and so she wanted to get some annuals.

Me, I had my eye on some perennials. She bought a flat of petunias. I’ll list what I purchased below.

I don't think she planted these today, but here are some of the flowers my wife has put in the pots that decorate our deck and front stoop.

I don’t think she planted these today, but here are some of the flowers my wife has put in the pots that decorate our deck and front stoop.

So my free time this morning was spent doing one of the most pleasant of tasks, the season for which is coming to a close: Putting new flowers in the ground.

Monday morning--ready to plant.

Monday morning–ready to plant.

Here is what I planted:


Siberian Iris, above, Dwarf Yellow Iris, below.

Siberian Iris, above, Dwarf Yellow Iris, top

Four Irises: two blue Siberian Iris, two Dwarf Yellow Iris. As long-time blog readers may know, I have a somewhat troubled relationship with the Iris. I’ve planted many bulbs over the years, but have only a few clumps to show for the effort.

However, I have had more luck with plants than bulbs, so there is some hope. I put the Iris in a garden next to a pear tree by the clothes line. At this time of year, it only gets dappled sunshine, and Iris love sun. However, Iris also bloom in spring, and this is very sunny in the spring, turning shadier as the trees leaf out. And the garden does get some afternoon sun, even in the shady times, so I hope that’s enough.

This year's Holllyhock. Has buds so it should bloom this year. Please come back and bloom again.

This year’s Holllyhock. Has buds so it should bloom this year. Please come back and bloom again.

A “Queeny Rose” pink Hollyhock. I used to have some pretty black Hollyhock that bloomed in the garden by the house, but Hollyhock apparently is tender and tasty to rabbits, and in a couple of seasons they nibbled the old Hollyhocks to extinction. I planted some Hollyhock last year, and have not seen them this year. I feel duty bound to plant at least one each year and hope. This one went in the garden where the old Hollyhocks thrived. I have not seen a bunny in the yard this year—knock on wood.

Tag says butterflies like it. So we'll see if this flower can grown and bloom.

Tag says butterflies like it. So we’ll see if this flower can grown and bloom.

A Bradbury’s Monarda. I don’t know much about this plant, I have none of this in my garden, so this is an expteriment. It’s also in the garden by the house.

“Bloom in fall,” the tag on this Brown-Eyed Susan says. Yet, it is blooming now.

A Mini Brown-Eyed Susan. I have some Black-Eyed Susan in other areas, and assume this is pretty much the same, with a lighter center flower and slightly smaller growing habits.

Coral Bells failed to take off in this spot. We'll try again with a new flower.

Coral Bells failed to take off in this spot. We’ll try again with a new flower.

A Goldstrike Lady’s Mantle. This is marked as being a bit shade friendly, and I put it in a slightly shadier part of the garden where I put the Iris.

Eight plants, in total, in two adjacent gardens. We’ll see how this goes!

In other garden news, I noticed a Coneflower coming up in the Pear Tree garden. I’ve tried introducing this plant in that garden several times, using rogue plants, seeds and purchased roots. I don’t know whether this plan is from seed, a recent planting or the purchased roots, but I’m glad to see this flower in this garden. I’ve noticed lots of Coneflowers blooming in town, and some of my gardens, especially the east one beside the house, are going to be glorious with Coneflowers soon, although none of mine have bloomed yet.

At least this wet, strange summer seems to be friendly to my trees and flowers.

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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.


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 Think I Ordered For Spring

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s Seal



Toad Lilies

Toad Lilies

When the package arrives from Ohio, it might have a few surprises inside.

Last year was a “light” planting year for our gardens. I did put in one new garden patch, but pretty much just let grow whatever grew and weeded and watched.

I planted trees instead of garden plants.

This year, it looks we’re back to flowers again. We got a rush of spring catalogs, and decided to order some perennials that we had talked about for a while. Trouble is, true story, I’m not 100 percent sure what we ordered.

We had a sale catalog from a company called Spring Hill Nursery, and photos that I show on this post are from their web site: springhillnursery.com. I am certain we placed an order. I just get fuzzy on details after that. The first three plants I list? OK, I’m pretty sure we did order those. The fourth plant? We might have ordered it, but I’m less sure. We probably ordered some other things too—I recall us looking for a while at an Application violet, but I don’t recall if we purchased it. I might have been dissuaded because we do have a profusion of native Iowa violets in our gardens already.

Anyway, we used my wife’s e-mail address, so she could look up the order confirmation. Me, I’ll just wait and see what comes. Here is what I think is probably coming:

1) Toad lilies. We ordered, I think, a couple of sets of this toad lily mix. Toad lilies are just a spotted variety of day lily, but can be a bit shade tolerant, which is a huge plus in our shady gardens.

2) Variegated Solomon’s Seal. I don’t know much about this plant, but the pictures looked interesting, and again, it’s a shade-OK plant, and we’ve got lots of shade for it to be OK in.

3) Virginia Bluebells. I planted some bluebells several years ago by our back gate. They reliably come back, but have not spread at all, so I’m getting some more.

4) Dutch Iris Mix. Given my poor history with irises, this is a huge gamble. Honestly, I’m not totally confident that we took it, but we might have.

Well, that’s all I recall, and as you can tell, what I do recall, I don’t recall all that well. I don’t think that’s all that we ordered, but I do know that we did not order a bunch of stuff, so if I’m missing plants, I’m only missing a few. All I can say of the quality of my memory is what my sister wrote on Facebook following her experience of waiting a half hour in an empty classroom for students who never came because she was waiting on the wrong day—I, too, am an old fart.

But, I bought a trowel just yesterday. So now, even if it snowed today and will get down to the 20s tonight, I’m an old fart standing by and ready to do some planting!

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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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Some Pretty MMU Flowers


Pretty Iris in MMU grotto, view 1.

I have only a few Irises in bloom, so I have some Iris envy these days when I’m on campus at MMU. Lots of pretty ones in the Grotto, as you can see.

And, apparently, the peonies are trying to make a break for it through the construction fence!

Too bad we don’t have more summer courses and students on campus. They miss our nice summer flowers.

Rain on Iris

Took photos late afternoon June 2, 2011--a rainy day. Drops in Irises.

Pink Peony

Pretty pink Peony at MMU--I have a darker pink one at home that bloomed the next day.

Peony escape?

Peony attempts to squeeze through MMU construction fencing.

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Big News Today–Both Good and Bad

Iris in front

One Iris blooms in front on June 1--four or five years after plant first planted (it predates the wall garden where it is by several years).

Irises! Not many—not compared to the number of plants I’ve planted—but still.

Two is a big number, for me. I wrote some time ago that evidence suggested that an evil witch had cast a no-iris spell on my gardens. Maybe training for RAGBRAI (see my other blog) has slightly melted that spell.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the baby Catalpa, which awoke to its second year of life this spring, appears to have died. I sprayed for weeds and tried to be careful not to touch that tree, but it’s low to the ground and I think some poisonous mist must have drifted onto its leaves. I have a backup Catalpa in a nearby garden—but, sadly, it appears a bit sick, too—probably due to the same cause.

Iris in back

An Iris in back is getting ready to open the morning of June 1.

Well, darn. It was hard to germinate Catalpa seeds and this project has been two years in the making. I hate to go back to ground zero.

But if they both die, I will. I really do like Catalpa.

Irises, too. Now, if they would only like me back …


The frilly early Peonies are all done, the traditional type not yet open. This pink one, which didn't bloom last year, is getting ready to this year with some help from ants.

Black Columbine

Sadly, I think the bunnies last year killed all of my black hollyhocks. Still one blackish flower in my garden--this dark Columbine.

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