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Friday Floral Feature: When Shy Bloomers Decide the Time is Now


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April 19–Moscow Lilac starting to bloom for the first time.

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April 19–Harsh winter two years ago killed off a red bud tree, which I replaced with a Magnolia. It is also blooming for the first time this spring.

News this week from the gardens: Several shy flowering plants have decided 2017 is the year to get into gear.

I purchases a tiny “Moscow Lilac” some years ago, about 8, I think, in a fund-raiser by the Art Program at Mount Mercy University. The bush is in a spot a bit too shady for lilacs—but then again, that pretty much just means it’s somewhere on my property. I’m a bit tree crazy, I admit.

Nonetheless, various other lilacs in my yard manage to push out a few flowers despite the copious shade. I was not surprised the first couple of years when the new bush was busy growing and not blooming. But two years ago it had reached about 5 feet, and it started to seem ridiculous—how big does that bush need to get before it can spare some sugar for sex?

About 8 feet, it appears, because that’s how tall the bush is. Two weeks ago, its leaf buds started to show, and I took a close look and decided, darn, another sterile spring.

I was wrong. On Easter Sunday, I noticed that way at the top of the bush, where I could not check the buds easily, Mr. Moscow had a surprise lurking. Flower buds were visible, and three days later, on Wednesday when I shot my second set of pictures for this weekly flower update, the buds were starting to open.

See my weekly Facebook flower gallery for more images. But here are a few of my favorites flower photos of the week:

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As advertised, the Moscow Lilac bush has pretty white blossoms. Now that it has started, let’s hope it can catch enough photons between the tree leaves to continue to flower.

The lilac isn’t all that’s newly bloomed this year. My “new” magnolia tree, planted in 2015, didn’t bloom in spring 2016, but is doing very well with pretty pale lemon yellow flowers this spring.

So far, the apple trees that are adjacent to the white Moscow lilac seems to be following their usual habit of not blooming. But, who knows?

I’m hoping some year soon to see Tulip Tree flowers and Catalpa blooms. Maybe 2017 is the year.

Maybe I’ll even see some apple flowers soon … if not this spring, then maybe next year? After all, crab apples in my shady yard manage to flower.

the weather has been good in Iowa this week. We’ve cooled off a bit, and there has been some rain, but we still have enough warmth and sun to feel like spring. How are your gardens doing?

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What I Planted for Moms and Dads


We biked over to our daughter's house. And I've just loaded my front basket for the ride back.

We biked over to our daughter’s house. And I’ve just loaded my front basket for the ride back.

One of those seismic transitions in life—when the world seems suddenly to be a different place—is when your daughters become mothers.

It’s a happier transition then when your parents and their generation pass along, and suddenly, despite still feeling inside like a barely adult person, you realize you’re among the “elders.” But, I have found the role of “grandpa” to be very satisfying—most of the rewards of loving contact with young kids, less of the stress.

Or, as I like to say, “sugar them up and send them home.” You can quote me on that.

Anyway, so today is another Mother’s Day. To my daughters and beautiful wife, to mothers who are and are to be, to my mother in the great beyond—it’s a day to celebrate you, to celebrate the gift of life and love that you have passed on to the world.

So is seems like a great weekend to plant things.

Due to the harsh winter of 2014, we had three trees that died in our yard. Two of them struggled for life last year, so we waited until this spring to use Dr. McCoy’s Star Trek language on these trees, to paraphrase: “They’re dead, Jim.”

So the day before Mother’s Day, we went tree shopping. Given the cost of what we ended up finding, I suggested the trees were also for Father’s Day. Anyway, I was lobbying for one crab apple, because one crab apple died in a garden in a perfect “crab apple” spot. We’re not shy on this kind of tree—we have seven other crab apple trees—but Audrey agreed. Our other rule is that we wanted “something different.” A cherry tree and a red bud had died—but we have a weeping cherry and three living red buds, so our main shopping was for “other.”

We went to a local greenhouse and a local home supply chain store. We ended up with a bush and a tree from the greenhouse and two other trees from the chain store.

All in all, on this weekend of life celebration, this is what I dug holes for in my yard and gardens:

  • A pretty pink-purple Asian lily, a gift from two of our mom daughters to their mother.
  • Butterfly bush.

    Butterfly bush.

    A butterfly bush. In our climate, sometimes butterfly bush roots make it through winter, sometimes not. Since the butterfly bush blooms in its first year, it’s worth planting again when one dies out, and one in our garden had died.

  • Four milkweed plants. We went to a daughter’s house in Marion for a day-before-Mother’s Day party, and I noted the plants growing in her back garden and backyard. She has active young kids, and although you do want to plant as much milkweed as you can (save the Monarch Butterfly), you don’t want to plant this pretty native flower where young kids roam. The butterflies lay their eggs on it because its volatile sap makes them bad food—while the sticky white sap doesn’t usually do much to human skin, if a kid gets said sap on his or her finger and touches his or her face, apparently the results can be dramatically bad (some potential for great pain and possible temporary blindness). So I dug out the plants and planted them in out-of-the-play-path areas of my garden. There, they will probably die—milkweed notoriously do not transplant well due to their deep roots. But we’ll see if I was lucky enough to get enough root fragments on any of these plants.
  • And the three trees: A ginkgo, a magnolia and a crab apple. Ginkgo is clearly new to our yard, and should give us pretty foliage in the fall. We do already have a magnolia bush, but the new magnolia we planted is a species that should grow in a more tree-like pattern and is also a different color (lemon yellow) than our existing pink bush. The crab apple, while seriously redundant, is a pretty pink color we don’t have, and is a weeping tree, which again makes it a bit different.

Right now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, crab apples are well past their prime. Our two shy apple trees are again not blooming—maybe next year. Lilacs are still going strong—the first wave has bloomed and passed, but the smaller, dwarf pink varieties are just budding out. Early peonies are in full flower, traditional varieties are just starting to bloom.

And bluebells! Many new ones planted last year bloomed this spring in my gardens.

And bluebells! Many new ones planted last year bloomed this spring in my gardens.

It’s going to rain today, but nonetheless has been a pretty late spring day, with nice flowers to recognize moms with.

On this Mother’s Day, best wishes to all you moms out there, in my family and in anybody else’s. May our shared scary experience of procreation bring us more joy than pain, may we pass on a love of God’s earth and its flowers, trees and butterflies to a new generation, and may all of you enjoy this day and every day.

But most especially, to my wife and daughters: Audrey and I know that, although children grow and become their own people, you never stop being a worried parent. And it’s a lesson that now the next generation is getting engaged in.

And so life goes on. It’s messy, but it’s also beautiful thing.

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What Is Between A Lion and A Lamb?


Magnolia, MMU

Magnolia buds near Warde Hall, MMU, showing a milky, sunny spring sky March 1, 2011.

Magnolia, MMU

Same bush-tree, different view. The buds are getting big!

I’m not sure. March came in today, and we’re glad it’s here. It wasn’t exactly a lion—it was chilly this morning, breezy and in the 20s (that’s not Centigrade, all you European readers, it’s below zero to you), but sunny.

The Nepalese chartreuse scarf Kathryn Hagy kindly gave me (she gave scarves to all of her CLA colleagues at MMU after returning from sabbatical in Nepal) kept my neck warm, and, I’m sure, made me look dashing as I biked in this morning. Yes, it was cool, but not too cool to peddle.

In Iowa, March is a between month, the 12 or 13-year-old of the calendar—it shows signs of coming maturing and sophistication but also is prone to sudden, inexplicable winter outbursts. This day, when it will get into the 40s, is the warmest in our weather forecast this week and snow may be coming, so even if the entrance wasn’t big cat scary, the lions of March are still hanging around.

Well, lambs are also on their way. The photos here were taken in my yard and at MMU. I don’t clear away old garden growth until new growth starts, partly because I like the look of last year’s flowers until this year’s start —but, as you can see, some aren’t waiting.

Daffodils?

Daffodils? Something is coming up in my back garden.

The cold bulbs in the half-frozen soil are starting to expend last year’s stored sunshine on this year’s first flowers. They are nowhere near blooming, but you can see them. The magnolia buds are pendulous with the promise of fragile, ephemeral flowers ready to appear and quickly fade.

The tulip tree shows a few buds, too. Are they flower buds? The three is 20 feet tall, it’s surely a gangly adolescent by now, isn’t it time for this lusty young plant to suggestively thrust its sex organs at us in a obscenely pleasant springtime show? One can only hope.

I’m feeling a little springy today. Early March is a brown time, but early plants are getting ready to send their come hither signals so they can get loved up by some bees, or, if they aren’t that kind of flower, they are primed to promiscuously ejaculate their pollen into the spring breezes.

March: It’s not a lamb, yet, but young life is on its way. Not a lion, either. This year, did March came in like a bonobo?

Cone Flower seeds

Gone to seed--last year's coneflower in my "Wally Wall" garden.

Tulip Tree

Bud on Tulip Tree. It's at the end of a branch, so it's probably jut a leaf, but this tree is getting very tall--maybe I'll finally get to see it flowers this spring.

Tulips

Early tulips in my back garden. Sex in the city!

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Noontime in the Garden of Light and Dark


New bird bath, gift from Audrey, installed and filled. I like how the bush over the bath reflects in the water.

I was being lazy today—not a surprise, enjoying my final day of being 51 years old. After church, as Audrey worked on a lavish birthday meal for me because Katy and Theresa and assorted members of their families (kids in Katy’s case, spouse in Theresa’s) were coming over for a 1 p.m. birthday dinner, I lazed in a hammock in the back yard.

First, I skimmed a few news stories, a few opinion columns, and read the comics.

Then, after swatting one of the many mosquitoes to whom I unwillingly served as an egg maturing protein source, I looked up and thought about light.

Me, in hammock, contemplating light. Shady back yard with sun shining between leaves is a good place to ponder photons.

One of the frustrations of having any pretense of being a photographer is that the human eye is so much more sensitive than most cameras are to color and light. We look up through the canopy of an enlarging tulip tree, and have no problem seeing greens in the shade, in the light and the blueness of the sky. Yet, to a camera, the scene is much more harshly light or dark.

A camera is to our eyes what Sarah Palin is to a functioning brain. One sees the world in stark lights and darks, the other deals much more deftly with subtly.

Anyway, despite even a modern digital camera’s limits compared to the potent potential of rather advanced optic sensory organs and a huge brain to process the data, I think much of photography, particularly interesting photography of details, dwells in the contrast between light and dark.

I present numerous exhibits, with some commentary. With the exception of the candle photo, which I think Audrey took (not 100 percent sure, Theresa used the camera a lot, too), these are all pre pre-birthday dinner, taken in the back yard, some without leaving the hammock.

Looking up through the tulip tree at light and dark leaves.

Now, I don’t claim that these are great photos, or fantastically artistic. But I will say, from having dealt with students using cameras, that seeing the light, the way it plays across a scene, where light and dark contrast and the direction from which light is coming, are keys to taking pictures.

Light, dark, sky, shade--leaves shining as they diffuse the sun, a leaf in shade. All of which was more vivid and ever quickly changing when viewed by eye.

I hope you enjoy some of these images. I enjoyed taking them and thinking about them. Now, after posting this (it will take a while with all these jpg files), back to work.

Some additional day before birthday photos on Facebook.

This one is a magnolia leaf. I lIke the leaves that are blurry in the background, suggesting the kind of canopy there is in the back yard.

Magnolia, part one. Sharp lines between light and dark.

Same leaf, different angle, zoomed out a bit more for context.

Hammock fabric shimmers in light like armor, deeper color in shade.

OK, I got up and moved. This is the hammock swing on the maple tree, not the hammock. Light on white rope, darkness in background (which is just part of the yard and fence, would not look so dark to human eye).

New birdbath in place again. Like the way the ceramic surface gives a distorted suggestion of a reflection.

Yeah, almost the same view, closer to patches of light and dark.

Bush is a volunteer in the side garden so I don't know what it is. But it's in the light ...

I think this one is the weeping cherry tree. Colorful spots in background are toys in the sandbox. OK, camera may not react as quickly as eye, but frozen instant with depth of field is something it does well.

Native violet leaf in garden near bird bath. With, yes, dark background.

Not quite as arty as a Kathryn Hagy water photo--but me filling birdbath with one hand, and photographing with the other. Lucky right hand can handle hose, because it leaves my good left hand for more complex work (I am a southpaw).

The birthday picture I did not take, Audrey did, I think. Nikayla and I with my brithday brownies.

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