Tag Archives: peonies

June is Busting Out in Peonies

May 28 peony 2

Peony in my front garden. I shot this image on May 28.

I grew up in various places in the United States—I was born in Tennessee, although I was so young when we moved from there that I don’t have any memories of that place. I have a few dim snatches of memory from Schenectady, New York, although we moved to California just before I turned 4.

From ages 4 to 8, we lived in several towns in California. I have numerous California memories, but honestly, they tend to be a rather confusing knot that doesn’t specify time or place all that well. My son lives in San Francisco, and I know I visited that place in the 1960s, but when I took a trip out there to see him, absolutely nothing at all looked familiar (my main memories of 1960s California were that we toured a Canadian destroyer which had steep stairs, seemed huge and was a dull grey; and a minor earthquake had occurred and some storefronts had broken glass. As an adult visiting the city by the bay I saw zero Canadian destroyers and no broken shop windows.)

My more organized narrative memory, which honestly is not all that great, really starts in Clinton, Iowa. For a short time, we lived in an old rented house on Third Avenue South, but then we moved to a house on Seventh Avenue South after, I think, about a year, which means we lived there from about 1967 to 1972.

In my mind, that house in Clinton is probably the one I think of as my boyhood home. I learned to mow grass and appreciate girls while I lived in that house (the two are unrelated). There was a huge hedge in back, and while I sort of liked it sometimes, I’ve never been tempted to plant a hedge in any of my houses. They get big and get out of control.

My father planted numerous trees while we lived on Seventh Avenue, and the tree-planting bug clearly took root in me. I am glad to say that I have three live redbud trees in Iowa in a place where the climate is pretty much the same as Clinton—we tried planting that kind of tree in Clinton and they always died. I don’t know why.

The house in Clinton had a large front porch with a porch swing (whose chain my sisters and I occasionally broke through rather rambunctious swinging). That porch served as lookout post, pirate ship and thunderstorm hangout. The house also had a lip on the wooden siding that the brave or foolhardy could use to travel all the way around the house, toes on the lip, fingers braced on the underside of the siding, sidling across a 10-foot chasm over a driveway cut into the basement.

It was in this house that my father grew a small garden that for some reason yielded plenty of tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers and other garden treats for a large family. My father’s ability to grow food for the family is something I have always envied—and never been able to emulate.

And there were a few flowers at the Clinton house. In the back by the alley, at a corner gap in the hedge, there was a big lilac bush, and its blooms always smelled sweet and heralded the coming of spring and the ending of another school year. I disliked school and learned to love lilacs.

On the east and west sides (the house faced north) of the back yard, beyond the hedge on the west (there was no hedge on the east) were lines of peony plants. And perhaps because they also heralded the end of tedium and boredom known as a term at Sacred Heart School, I have kept a lifelong appreciation for the peony.

And this year, June 1 is just past the peak of peony season in Iowa. These pretty flowers mean the transition away from spring to early summer—the prevalence of ants, the appearance of fireflies, the freedom from school (as a professor, my attitude towards school has grown a bit more positive, but I will also freely admit that my favorite months of the year still are any that start with J and don’t end in anuary).

Peonies! You fresh pom-poms of color. I plant more than I ever get to grow and bloom, but I do have some that bloom, and I like that. They are pretty and smell nice—they have a subtler fragrance than a lilac, you have to lean close to experience it, and it you do, be careful of the ants or bees when you sniff.

They are the flowers that announce the best time of the year is here in Iowa. Hip-hip hooray!

Campus May 29 2

May 29–Peony blooming at Mount Mercy University.

Campus May 29

Another May 29 image of peony on MMU campus.

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What I Did This Weekend

Ant on a poeny

Ant on a just-blooming peony. These are the frilly, early ones, the "regular" peonies are still weeks away. It does feel odd to have peonies before May, though.

I mowed and put in new solar lights on Saturday. Plus, I planted some grass seed.

That doesn’t sound like much, but Saturday was mostly gone by the time I was done—barely time to quickly snap some flower photos before the day was spent. But, I had to snap those photos, because, ta-da! Peony day—the early peonies are opening.

Saturday night was church with grandkids and then track breakfast at MMU and then a nap to recover from the grandkids—then a bike ride which I shouldn’t have taken. I texted my sisters to ask if she wanted to come along an she said “can’t, buried in grading.”

Sister, I know the feeling.

So then, after a two-hour bike ride, I graded. And how I’m posting flower photos. Tomorrow looks like another long, dreary, grading Monday.

Oh well, at least the peonies are starting to bloom!  Early tulips and daffodils are finishing, but I have such a variety that they are still going strong.  And the new lights are so strong they actually stayed lit all night, which is a bit bizarre for solar lights.  Photo gallery of what I saw Saturday after I was done with my day of gardening.


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Mid-April, Buds Show How The World Will Change


Fern ready to unfurl, looks like it could be an alien about to bite

Crocus have been in bloom and many are already faded. Daffodils are coming into their own, and all kinds of flowers/plants are starting to show themselves.

It’s mid-April, an in between time in the garden. The early phase, the first signs of life, are ending, and some serious plant sex is ready to kick into gear.

Here I present a few images shot during a quick tour of my backyard in the morning of April 14. Your taxes are due tomorrow, and by this time next week, green and shade will start to dominate my temporarily sunny yard.

In my quick loop this morning, I was struck by how odd the ferns look, which is why “Fernie” gets the main spot. Before their fronds unfurl fully, they look a bit like the evil plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

New lilac


Lilacs will be a mixed bag, which they always are. A fairly young one that we planted 2 years ago and that bloomed last year looks like it’s going to bloom its heart out. As you can see, at least one other bush will be in a reproductive frenzy, too. But looking down at the bud nearer the ground—well, this pretty white lilac doesn’t seem to have any flower buds yet. Next spring, I hope. A few other shy bushes seem like they’ll continue their shy ways. Oh well, I’m going to have plenty of lilacs to see and smell (and chances are, I’ll need them).

Some of the traditional peonies are showing well, but not budded yet. The frilly early ones have formed buds already and should bloom soon.

Lily of the valley and hostas, which always seem like the last flowers to awaken, are just starting to poke their conical first folded leaves above the ground.

Crab apple trees have their tiny early leaves, which means they are getting set to bloom very soon. Redbuds are swollen with pink buds that will be gorgeous tiny flowers in a matter of days.


Pear tree. May be a bit stinky ....

Sadly, the pear tree that bloomed just a little last year looks ready to put on a real show—with pears, that’s sometimes a stinky show, too. I hope the scent of lilac proves more robust than the pear stench.

And a few other early flowers, plants that are part of the end of “wave 1” of spring.

Grass will need mowing soon. New grass is starting to sprout. The larger trees are still fitfully snoozing, but showing signs too, with maples long since flowered and buds swelling on oak and ash.

The in between time is poised to give way to dramatic new flowers shortly! Hooray, spring!


Side view of Fern. Scary looking little monster, but will be pretty plant.


Traditional color lilac near house.

Moscow lilac

Pretty little Moscow lilac, will bloom white. But not this year.


Both redbuds, older one and young pup, are going to be very showy this spring.


Another view of pear buds.

Shady groundcover.

Shady plant in bloom.

Early flower.

Early flower in garden by deck.


Final photo, daffodil in bloom.

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Peonies Prove Spring Is Here As I Post First Garden Flowers


Frilly peonies, traditional ones are coming up too. Spring is here!

I missed the first round of crocuses in my garden, which bloomed while we were in Seattle, but worked for a while today cleaning the leaf thatch from the gardens and saw many more flowers.

Crocus, of course, but a few others, including hyacinth and snowdrops. There are also a few early once that clearly I did plant, but just as clearly I can’t identify anymore. Such is gardening.

Anyway, any words of mine would be redundant, so enjoy the garden images. Although they aren’t much to look at yet, I’m particularly pleased to see the frilly early peonies coming back—when you start to see peonies coming up, it really feels like spring is taking hold. True, there are always frosts after the peonies start, but also true, the ground has to have started to warm up before they will show themselves.

Happy early Iowa spring!

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Invasion of Peonies from Mars and Gnomes!


Gnome in a young lilac. Family members are being quiet about how it got there.

It’s Easter Eve, Holy Saturday, one of the holiest days of the year.

Not everyone in the family is feeling good in this season of hope. For those who struggle with personal storms and darkness even as the weather turns nice and flowers bloom, our thoughts and prayers are with you. May you enjoy many a more sunny spring.

Daffodil. In back garden by deck, next to steps going up to deck.

Anyway, in my immediate family, Holy Saturday has brought some strange garden apparitions.

Gnomes! Someone, probably someone I am either genetically closely related to (an offspring or offsprings of mine) or someone I am married to (who I can freely write about because she doesn’t read my blog) or some combination has been in cahoots.

Gnomes have started to sprout among the daffodils, tulips and pretty, unnamed other flowers blooming in my gardens.

It is a little creepy to suddenly find gnomes in your garden on a Saturday morning when you are pretty sure they were not there on a Friday. My wife claims that a combination of children were involved, and she may be right, or she may be covering her own tracks. Hard to say.

New peonies

"Chinese" peonies transplanted in fall. Note how much sooner in growth cycle buds appear compared to "normal" peonies. They look like the Audrey II plant from "Little Shop of Horrors." Peonies from Mars?

The other surprise is the odd growth of the “Chinese” peonies, which are shown. Unlike traditional peonies, which shoot up a few inches and then form a flower bud at the tip, these odd looking peonies form buds almost right away. Since they were transplanted last fall, I thought they might be shy about blooming this spring.

Not, apparently, from the number of buds shooting up.

Well, it looks like an interesting and surprising spring in the garden. The plum tree, which was sickly last spring, looks pretty robust. The lilacs are already budding.

Easter is here, amid a profusion of a sudden spring that followed a hard winter. I hope that analogy, the sudden and almost unexpected appearance of a beautiful new season, will be echoed in the lives of any who are struggling this spring.

God so loved the world that he sent his only son. Along with gnomes, peonies that appears to be from another planet, and assorted other flowers, let hope be the harvest of this spring.  Happy Easter!

Rose Gnome

This is the "new" rose that was transplanted from the farm last September. Not many roots, so it is good to see it coming back. The gnome? Who knows where it came from ...

Chinese Peonies in "new" garden by the wall

More "Audrey II" Peonies. I got about six clusters going. Audrey says they cost around $50 a plant, so, if she's right, it's $300 of peonies coming up. The smaller red tips are "regular" peonies, which are starting to show, but the peonies from Mars, besides an odd growth pattern, seem to be super early, too. This is the "wall" garden, irises and lillies showing behind the peonies.


Some early tulips already in bloom, shown here with the odd new peonies in another spot of the back garden by the deck. Some peach colored tulips are blooming elsewhere, and some crocuses are just starting to show. Yes, another gnome, too.

I've planed more of these yellow daffodils than any other kind. To me, they just look happy. Back garden under retaining wall, not far from new rose.


New crocus. Happy to see yellow, most of mine are blue, for some reason. Cate planted crocuses in her front yard, I like that idea and may try that this fall. This is side garden by the walkway--a shady spot, so new crocuses are a little slower.

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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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