Tag Archives: iris

Results May Take Years


Trowel ready for digging. Used it a lot this spring.

The planting in my gardens this spring has been like most springs—a bit spontaneous, not well planned. When I see a plant I like, I tend to buy it and bury it and hope for the best, which I’m sure is not the most effective gardening strategy.

Sometimes, although I try to pay attention to each plant’s needs, results are poor. The year before last I planted some new peonies—I like the peonies that I have, but they’re all pink and I want some variety. The plants came up last spring, but did not bloom—and I figured, oh well, next year. This spring? Oh well, they’re back, they’re bare and I can only hope for some peony variety in 2021.

Don’t get me started on the dreaded iris. I’ve interred many an iris bulb in what must be the ancient iris burial grounds of my gardens. The iris bulbs decompose and become fertilizer for sterile peonies, I suppose. I had a small cluster of Siberian irises that I liked and hoped would spread. They were pretty, but instead of growing and spreading, they acted like any passing fad or craze. They were hot one year, faded the next, and now, AWOL. The only irises I have are ones shared by my sister—Cate, what is your iris secret? What hex did you put upon these plants that makes that one cluster of them grow vigorously? Can you exorcise the iris demons from my gardens?

I also have many “flowering” trees that never flower. I had a dogwood tree down by the fence that grew weakly for year and after year for more than a decade, barely holding on, but not dying. One year a few years ago, it bloomed and I thought “good.” But last year the tree was mostly dead and bare of flowers. It was totally dead this year. Now it’s just a stump. I still have a dogwood tree because I planted another—but the new tree is young and has not bloomed.

I have two catalpa trees, which have showy, white June flowers—in the rest of the universe. Mine seem fine, but must be monk trees who take their vow of celibacy seriously.

My apple trees, unlike crab apples, which bloom profusely, remain stubbornly shy.

And then there is the tulip tree. It is approaching it’s second decade of life and is huge. It’s not the largest tree in the backyard yet, but is shooting up and is among the tallest. This spring was the first in which it actually had any flowers.

Tulip tree flower.

Flower high up in tulip tree. It blooms!

Two, to be exact. Well, that’s two more than none. Knock on wood, may the curse of the dogwood not be upon you. Don’t fade and die from the energy expenditure of producing a few flowers.

The linden tree by the sandbox is getting big. It’s a pleasant shade tree, that one of these years should have sweet smelling spring flowers. But not yet.

Still, I carry on. Sometimes gardening just teaches patience. Peonies will bloom in their own time. I’m grateful for even two tulip tree flowers, and the trees will try to reproduce when they are ready, not when I’m ready.

And last week I found a four-leaf clover in my yard. It’s been the theme of this summer—me finding those. I’ve also found several at parks. Maybe I’m looking down too much.

Four-leaf clover.

What I saw in the yard last week. I must have overlooked it before.

I have some annual vines showing—moon flowers and morning glories. I’ve long tried planting these, with little results. But I found a four-leaf clover, if it brings luck maybe 2020 will bring some of those blooms.

And milkweed is spreading and growing vigorously.

A swallowtail butterfly likes the new rhododendron we planted this year. Three hollyhock plants are looking healthy in front—I had hollyhocks in the past, but in recent years they had become members of the iris club and boycotted my gardens.

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In life in general, this is a very yard year. We thought the pandemic was bad enough, but our politics and government are so broken that all kinds of other issues are piling on. Still, the plants in the gardens carry on, living life at their own pace, deciding for themselves when to bloom. The spontaneous gardener looks on and gets some pleasure out of the results.

In the birch tree in front, young robins demand to be fed. An angry cardinal squawks at me from near its “secret” nest deep in the trumpet vine, and tries to lead me away.

I comply, and follow. May your nest in that blooming vine yield a good hatching. It’s too well hidden for me to see if you’re raising young there, but maybe that’s a good sign.

Gardening teaches patience and appreciation for what I have, which I would rather emphasize than regrets for plans or plants that don’t bear fruit.

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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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What Surprises Me As Iris Blooms


Iris, in bloom. It would be a pretty girl's name too.

As I biked home from MMU this afternoon, I passed a hedge at the corner of F and Old Marion Road that is up a short embankment from the street. Near the hedge, there is a line of Irises, and today they were blooming.

Well, oaks and sumacs are finally coming out of winter slumber and the crocuses are all just memory. Crab apples have faded as quickly as they bloomed, and the full size lilacs are in their prime. Red buds are still pretty, but the flowers are beginning to look a little tired as their leaves appear more prominently.

And, I have Iris envy, and annual condition, since I plant many each year and have few blooming plants to show for the effort. But today, the same day I saw my first irises on my commute, similar white ones in my front garden had begun to bloom.

And so have my Chinese peonies, though the more mundane ones are not nearly ready yet.


Peony, blooming early. One of the frilly Chinese kind that blooms several weeks before others.

The irises are a pleasant surprise, a bit of an award for having a somewhat gloomy personality.

At least, if you’re a pessimist, most things in life turn out better than you expected. I don’t know how optimists cope.

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Flowers as yet unseen …

Sargent crabapple. Most photos seem white, but there are pink ones, too. Which is ours? Unknown at this point ...

It’s January in Ames, Iowa, and it’s snowing outside.

I live in Cedar Rapids, but, along with Audrey, am visiting Amanda, Matt and Elizabeth. Spending a little morning time before the ladies arise (Matt and I are the early risers, apparently, and he fixed breakfast, toast and some fancy oatmeal with raisins and nuts and a name I don’t know) writing a blog post. (Matt says breakfast is Muesli.)

Somehow, a quiet snowy late January morning puts me in the mood to look forward to spring.

As my longer-term blog fans know, this blog started mostly about gardening, although I often diverge from that topic. What am I looking forward to from the garden this spring?

Well, for one, I would like to see more of our trees flower. We have four crabapple trees in a row in the back yard, and 3 of the 4 are pretty consistent bloomers. The fourth, a much younger tree, a “Sargent” crabapple, has not yet bloomed. Last year, it grew to about six feet tall, so I’m hoping this is its spring to reveal its flowers. Photos I found on line show white blooms, which would be nice since we have two pink and one white trees already, so white would fit well, but I’ll take whatever.

We also have two young crab apples in front, one of which bloomed last spring even though it was only about four feet tall. I’m hoping both bloom this year.

A hawthorne flower, from flickr, labeled for re-use. There are many kinds of hawthorne, both trees and bushes, so is this what ours will look like? Don't know.

We planted two apples trees (not crab apple) in our back yard last year to replace two hawthorns. We thought the yard would be more grandchild friendly without two thorny trees on a hillside. I didn’t discard the hawthorns, one is in the side of the front yard where, I hope, it is discretely out of common paths of play, and the other is in our woods in back. So far, the deer have not munched it to the ground, which makes it unusual for a young tree, so maybe there is hope. I have no idea what the flowers or berries of these tress will look like, and with transplanting, both are pretty small. The one in front is under 3 feet tall. It would be a surprise if it bloomed yet, but maybe it’s slightly taller cousin in the woods might. Despite being thorny, the trees and leaves are nice looking, so we’ll see.

I also planted (from bulbs bought the day Elizabeth was born) tulips, crocuses, hyacinth and irises in the “new” fence garden. I am anxious to see what will come up, but naturally, given my poor history, have the lowest expectations for the irises. I purchased a Siberian iris from HyVee Drug Store for the new garden last year, a plant rather than a bulb, and it was one of the few plants to quietly expire rather than thrive in the garden. What is it with me and irises?

I don’t usually have the same poor luck with peonies. We had a couple of clumps when we moved in, and through divisions and purchases, I have successfully spread more peonies.

Chinese peoney

A peony flower. Labeled "Chinese," but I have my doubts it's the same as the feathery leaved ones from the farm. Desipite the leaf differnce, however, I think our farm peony flowers wll look like other peonies.

This spring, to be honest, the thing I’m most looking forward to are peonies. They don’t have much bloom time but are spectacular heralds of full spring, and I like them. I purchased a pink one for the new garden—we have red and white elsewhere in other gardens, but not pink—and in September dug up several clumps at the old farmhouse.

One of those clumps was the “feathery” leaved peonies that Iowans call “Chinese” or “Japanese.” Don’t know the flower color—I’m hoping several of the plantings will come up.

There was also a large clump of “regular” peonies, color unknown. I like variety, but I also think you can’t really go wrong with peonies, so I’ll take what I get, hope I get something.

This may not be much of a bloom year for the new peonies—I will be satisfied to see some plants and content to wait.

But irises? Have a lot of plants that have never bloomed. Come on, you of the iris family, show me your colors!

By the way, while irises have been particularly stubborn, they aren’t the only flowering thing that has never flowered in my gardens. We have a dogwood tree that is going on six or seven years old, and that has grown to close to 12 feet tall, that has never bloomed.

Of course, I have other projects going for the gardens and yards. I harvested some Catalpa seeds from a neighborhood tree and am trying to get them to germinate—thought Matt notes these trees, from the redbud family, have notoriously tough seed coatings and don’t germinate without either boiling or scoring. Anyway, if my one sickly redbud doesn’t thrive and I can get a Catalpa to sprout, the little redbud may be replaced with a cousin that, in comparison, would grow to be a massive tree. I bet the source for the speeds was 80 feet tall.

I’m also hoping that one of the younger redbuds, which is about 4 feet tall, might start to bloom. We have a total of three redbuds, one that is close to adult height and blooms each spring and two young ones, one of which died to the ground and re-sprouted last spring, the other which seems healthier but is still pretty small.

Aw spring! On this snowy morning, we’re getting near February, and month with only 28 days because in Iowa no one could stand any more. But we’re only six weeks or so from the first signs of crocuses and eight weeks from when spring really starts to sproing.

I would say I “cant wait,” but that’s trite and whenever I hear someone say that I always wonder, beyond suicide, what the alternative is. I can wait. I’m hoping for some new flowers this spring.

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