Tag Archives: milkweed

The Summer I Planted Milkweed


Milkweed “bombs” on my bike during RAGBRAI–each contains about 3 seeds of various Milkweed varieties in clay for bikers to toss in Iowa ditches. Yes, I thought of saving a few, but they were meant to be distributed along our RAGBRAI route, so that is what I did.

Well, that title is a little deceiving—I’ve planted milkweed for several summers in a row, but with no success.

First, I saved some seeds from wild plants at a daughter’s house, and sewed those in the spring. Then, I read more about milkweed, and realized the seed have to overwinter in order to germinate, so last fall, I planted the seeds I gathered right away to let them experience the Iowa winter as they ought to experience it.

But, no—I have seen some evidence that a seed I spread maybe sprouted in the woods behind my house, although, to be fair, one may have just blown there, too. In my gardens, there are lots of weeds that take root, but none of them tasty to Monarch butterflies.

This year, a professor at Mount Mercy gave me a plant from her garden, which I put in my garden and watered for weeks. After a month or so, it had not grown but also not faded, and I was starting to think “success,” when one morning, it was dead.

Milkweed is like that, gardeners.

Noelridge Park greenhouses have a Mother’s Day open house, and they gave out free Milkweed plants. I got one, as did numerous grandchildren, and I planted those. They are doing fine, but are also only annual plants—the greenhouse did not give out perennial Milkweed.

I transplanted some Milkweed from my daughter’s yard—four plants. Two did the “I will hold on for weeks and suddenly die” trick, but two have actually not just stayed alive, but have also grown. I don’t want to jinx it, but of the five native Milkweed plants I put in the ground this year, it’s possible two might survive.

And I bought “butterfly flower” plants, a type of Milkweed, both at HyVee Drug Store and a local flower shop. I went a little overboard, I suppose. There are at least four plants in back and four more in front—so eight store-purchased plants. None of those have died, but some have not yet grown and may yet be in the “failure to thrive” category.

But about half have grown—one has even bloomed.


Perennial Milkweed in front of house, above, in bloom. Annual Milkweed (below) getting ready to bloom.


I won’t know the results until spring, when I see what comes back, but I do finally seem to have Milkweed in my garden. Even with all of the other plants I purchased and put in and failed to hear from—where are you, other colors of Coneflower or any Toad Lilies at all?—that would make 2016 a good year in my gardens.

In past years, I have seen Monarchs in my garden enjoying the Coneflowers. None so far this year—but if the Monarchs ever return, I am hoping they also have plants to lay eggs on.

Now, if I can just persuade the Mount Mercy University Bike Club and the powers-that-be on the facilities staff—maybe I can get a Milkweed-butterfly garden going at MMU …


Bee on a Coneflower in my garden a few days ago. Sadly, I have not seen any Monarch butterflies visiting them this summer, but this kind of flower is one that they like. They can’t lay their eggs on it, though–for baby Monarch butterflies, you need Milkweed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden

The Importance of Surprise Flowers


Milkweed growing in my garden. Sadly, it’s tropical milkweed–an annual plant, not a perennial. Still, it is milkweed.

I’ve had a rough week–it seems like homework in all the classes I teach got together and beat me up all at once. Each day I ask myself the question: “What did you grade today?” The answer is never enough.

Well, I know that in a bit over a week, the busiest time of my year will come to it’s inevitable end, and I look forward to breathing free again.

In the meantime, one reason I like gardening–it directs one’s attention to seasons, to ups and downs, to what might come next, to possibilities.

I noticed this pretty little flower growing in a crack in the pavement by the building my office is in. I am sure it wasn’t planted there, but it’s cheery to see.


Pretty little wild flower coming up in the crack between the parking lot and building at Warde Hall, MMU.

And when I got to work, an English professor came to my office to kindly give me a young Milkweed plant.

I planted some annual milkweed on Mother’s Day because they were giving it away at the Noelridge Park city greenhouse. But this is the real deal–Iowa native perennial Milkweed. If it survives transplanting, there is hope it may support generations of future Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.

No guarantees–that’s the other lesson of gardening. Just because you plant it doesn’t mean it will thrive and live, and while I’m doing my bit to try to help, there’s no guarantee of future Monarch generations, either.

Still, there is hope. And that’s a lot.


Thank you, Professor Carol Tyx! From her garden down south–Milkweed! Not sure how I will get it home–I ride a bicycle to work–but I’ll get it there somehow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden, Mount Mercy

Milkweed Dreams as Fall Turns Brown

Milkweed seeds in a small metal pail. Planted these in several spots in my gardens.

Milkweed seeds in a small metal pail. Planted these in several spots in my gardens.

A few trees are clinging to their leaves—one of my maples, a small one, still has most of its dying foliage despite high winds this week, and the pear trees retain their leaves until winter. But, for the most part, we’re in the post pretty, brown part of autumn.

As I already noted, I’ve planted a number of bulbs, so I have special reasons to look forward to when the weather again turns sunny and warm in 2016.

And another thing—while out on a bike ride a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some seeds spilling out of drying pods on a milkweed plant that had poked its way through some evergreen landscaping at the edge of a parking lot I was passing by.

So I took some pods and put them in an envelope in my garage.

Last weekend, I took the pods inside and took some seeds off of the fluff. Not all of them, as you can see—I did not find an easy way to get the seeds. But I got a fair number.

The "fluff." In water so it would not blow away in my house. I also put this on the ground, but in the wild behind my fence.

The “fluff.” In water so it would not blow away in my house. I also put this on the ground, but in the wild behind my fence.

The seeds were planted in my gardens. You either have to go through a special damping—refrigeration process with milkweed seeds, or plant them in the fall. They need the winter cold to germinate in spring.

Or so the internet tells me. I can’t really say for certain, because I’ve planted milkweed in the past with no results to show.

Well I’m trying again, darn it. I put the seeds in the gardens, and then scattered the fluff (which had lots of seeds still in it) behind my back fence.

I hope some of the seeds take root. It would be nice if the spring plans include not just tulips and daffodils, but also some Monarch Butterfly chow!

I also raked. I think my yard needed it.

I also raked. I think my yard needed it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden, Weather

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Getting Ready For Winter on Day of First Snow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I can’t say that I’m ready for snow to fall today, but clearly the weather isn’t going to wait for me. Among other things, neither of my “winter bikes,” the two mountain bikes that I’ve been left with by a son and son-in-law—are rideable right now. One has a broken spoke, and the other has a back wheel that acts like it has a broken spoke—it’s too wobbly—although I have not found said spoke.

I should get them fixed. I’m delaying taking them to my bike shop only because I didn’t buy the bikes there and I’ve seen them react to alien bikes before—but I still need the bikes fixed.

It’s also true that I have not made any serious attempt to have my slow blowers fixed, and that would be a handy device to have.

Still, today was a day partly devoted to yard and garden winter preparations. The way they weekend started, I was worried that my wife might be pregnant, but then I recalled our ages and decided her instinct to clean out the refrigerator and pantry weren’t “nesting” for a new baby, but merely some cleanup before many of the old babies return for holidays—retroactive nesting, as it were.

Among other weekend plans, the boss wanted to get the lawn furniture put away today, and I must concede it’s probably a good thing to do before the ground is covered in snow. So my Saturday morning began with sleeping until near 9, which had the sad result that I missed “Law and Order” at the gym this morning, but after exercise and breakfast, by late morning I found myself searching for Chinese plastic objects in American sand. I was picking up toys—I think there were about 10,000—before raking the leaves out of the sandbox and dumping them (leaves, not toys) behind the fence.

I took apart the hammock and carried it to the garage. Both my wife and I carted lawn chairs, ride-on toys, a big bag of balls and the pieces of a playhouse into an increasingly huge pile that fills the garage. My wife suggest me might rent a garage to put all of our garage stuff in so we can actually park a car in our garage, which would probably be a good thing.

Besides picking up all the toys, I did some minor garden winter prep. I trimmed back a volunteer bush that is getting out of hand, and scattered some seeds—milkweed seeds I had gathered from my daughter’s house, and coneflower seeds from my garden. In both cases, I put some seeds in gardens and some in the woods behind the fence.

I don’t know if there is a lot of hope for these seeds. I’m not sure all of the milkweed seeds were “ripe,” and I’ve never tried to plant this particular plant before. Sources on the internet explained how to start milkweed indoors, but it requires special handling of the seeds and refrigerating them for a certain length of time on a damp towel—this native flower needs a winter season in order to germinate. I figured the winter outside is easier and free, and I also have a poor track record with starting plants inside anyway, so I opted for more casual “planting,” in that I scattered the seeds and covered them a bit.

I’ve collected and planted my coneflower seeds for several years with no noticeable impact, so I suppose the milkweed isn’t a good life insurance candidate. But we’ll see. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

After scattering the doomed seeds, I put some plastic tubes on young trees in an attempt to foil hungry bunnies this winter, and put wire plant frames on rose bushes and a butterfly bush, and covered them in leaves.

I hope the snow cover from our expected storm this afternoon doesn’t persist too long—I do have more winter yard and garden prep to do, such as some tree trimming, but mostly a final leaf raking. However, it does feel like the yard and gardens have their winter faces on. Now comes the long wait to see if bulbs become flowers (here I have a decent track record) and seeds sprout for plants that will support young monarch butterflies (don’t hold your breath).

Leave a comment

Filed under Garden

What I Did On My Summer Staycation

Sisters in sand.

Sisters in sand.

I never recall having to write the trite essay in school about “what I did with my summer vacation,” so maybe I’m making up for lost time.

Here is part of that vacation, in our case a vacation at our house so it was a staycation non-trip:

She: “You’re very dirty. Go take a quick shower while I finish supper.”

Me: “OK.”

And I did. And I liked it, even if it was quick. Showers are better when you’re really, legitimately filthy, and I was. I had been following rambunctious grandchildren around all day, and it involved bug spray, sun screen and lots of sticky sand, not to mention mysterious damp substances that collect around small kids like slime collects around snails.

Don’t get me wrong. I love small kids, especially my grandchildren. For them, I will gladly get dirty. As Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood sang in “Best Things” from “Paint Your Wagon” (this song by Al Lerner, Andre Previn): “The best things in life are dirty, the worst thing in life is waiting up clean without a bean.” By the way, I always misheard “bean” as “dream,” and I think dream is a better lyric.

Anyway, over four days this week, we had either four or six grandchildren running about. It was exhausting, but grand, too. I did get a bit grumpy some evenings, but so did the kids. Overall, the visit went quite well and had lots of highlights:

  • Me mowing a daughter’s lawn. Yeah, exciting, right? But the mower was much nicer than mine, I don’t really loathe lawn mowing—it’s a chance to walk about outside, even if it’s in too close proximity to a gas motor—and I noticed something when mowing the daughter’s lawn. She has tall plants in her garden, the misnamed “milkweed” which needs good PR and should be called “monarch flower,” since this attractive plant is the only one that hosts monarch caterpillars. I want those seeds when the pods dry out.
  • Parks and parks and parks and parks. Each day, it seemed, we visited at least one, if not two (I missed one in a morning when I was gone, there was at least one three-park day) each day. Splash pad at Thomas Park, check. Sand volleyball court at Fox Trail Park, check. Bever Park farm animals, check. The “broken arm” park at Bowman Woods School, where, I’m happy to report, no other bones were broken, check.
  • And the weather was ideal. Warm but not hot. Lazy days in the sun before the final rush to school.

Well, I’m already paying a price. I was at MMU today working in the Times office, and that will probably be my home away from home this weekend. Suddenly, syllabi demand immediate attention. For a time—like the next nine months or so—life will be busy, busy, busy.

Girl with a Nerf gun.

Girl with a Nerf gun.

Still, thank you to the daughter and her husband who moved the other daughter to Baltimore for law school and trusted us your young ones. We enjoyed corralling the kids. And we didn’t mind at all the extra two who were with us for two days, in case a third daughter wonders.

I didn’t get to spend all four days at home—I had commitments on campus two of the days. Listen here to me on the radio—10 minutes starting at about the 10-minute mark. That interview happened during the staycation. But for the bulk of four days, I lived a delicious reminder of why sane people have children in their 20s and 30s and not in their 50s.

I have few regrets—one is that there could have been more biking. I may need to borrow some 3 year olds soon for that purpose. Mostly, I appreciated the chance to relive some of the best days of my 20s and 30s. Kids in the house make for noise, mess, stress and plenty of action.

I may be a bit tired. It’s a good tired. I want those kids back again sometime soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized