Tag Archives: spring

Results May Take Years


Trowel.

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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First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


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The first flowers to bloom early this March–the snowdrops I found when I raked the gardens.

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Early March morning sun at MMU campus.

Earlier this month came the snowdrops. The first blooms were actually hidden in my gardens under last year’s leaves. On March 9, I cleaned the gardens in back off, there the first flowers were.

Tulips and daffodils have been emerging slowly, pushing their leaves above the thawing ground. No flowers, yet, but the plants are getting taller.

It was a while after the snowdrops bloomed before the first crocus in my yard flowered. I saw some first at Mount Mercy University, and for days the buds in my gardens almost seemed to be mocking me—there, ready to bloom, but not opening.

Now, on sunny, cool March days, there are pockets of colorful flowers. Hyacinth are starting to bud. I have not seen bluebells yet, but they can’t be far away.

And it won’t be all that long until the daffodils and tulips kick in.

I am running low on bird seed. I stopped buying it early in March—which is usually when I taper off feeding. The open ground, the return of insects, the first signs of plant growth—birds will find other sources of food. Still, it has been a comfort seeing them—one of my sisters once called them “winter flowers,” and as this slow spring wakes and yawns and stretches towards the green world that is coming, I’ve enjoyed watching the little dinosaurs.

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COVID-19 has robbed us of a lot. I’m lucky—my job is relatively secure, so far (knock on wood) I and my family are healthy. I can work at home, even if I’m not all that good at it.

But as we hunker down in this winter of the virus, which seems likely to be with us for some time, seeing nature go through her rhythms and begin to come to life. I like the coming of the flowers every year, but somehow, they seem more important in this weird spring.

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The First Flowers of Spring


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March 8–snowdrops in back garden. My first flowers.

On Sunday, while raking leaves off of the back garden, I noticed the snowdrops in blooms. Other bulbs are starting to come up, tulips and daffodils rising up from the cool earth. In front, by the mailbox, some crocus are also poking up.

The crocus will bloom first, but you see the daffodils emerge first, or at least that’s what I’m used to.

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Daffodils emerging March 6 on Mount Mercy University campus. It’s still brown and dormant overall here in Iowa, and the last few piles of snow are still about, but spring is starting.

Spring! It’s early spring, still brown, just a few swelling buds in the trees and the slightest hints of green in the mostly dormant lawns.

But, flowers! The very earliest are here, and great to see.

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I Am So Ready to Leap Into Spring


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Seeds purchased at a local store. My spring planting this year will be from what I find in town.

Iowa in February can be a cold, bitter place. We’ve been lucky in 2020. There has been plenty of winter cold, not but bitter arctic cold. We’ve not been exposed to weeks of harsh winds nor many temperatures with a hyphen before the number.

The month was a bit gray and dreary at times, but the final week was dry. There was also snow this month and nasty cold rains, but not oodles.

So, as Februarys go, this is not the worst one to have an extra day in it. Happy leap day, and a special happy birthday to all those who turned 4 today and are getting their driver’s licenses.

For Christmas 2019, my wife wrapped a seed catalog and told me I could spend $100 on ordering spring flowers. I never got them ordered—I’ve been busy. And we’re traveling over spring break this year, and worried a bit about the possibility of an ill-timed delivery.

Then, just a week ago, stopping at a local farm-and-home chain store that we call the “popcorn store” because it’s where we go after church for popcorn, we saw that seeds were on sale. On a whim, we bought a packet of climbing annuals. I am unsure about when exactly I am planting them, but I like all these flowers and will put them somewhere.

My wife reminded me this week that I had not ordered any plants yet, and she thought I had missed the deadline. I told her no, that I knew one catalog had a March 1 order deadline (and the same company just sent me another catalog with a later date), so time had not run out on my gift.

“Why don’t you just buy plants locally,” she then asked.

Hmmm. Well, I like pink lily of the valley and have not seen any locally—but honestly, beyond my yearning for that one particular flower, I kind of liked her thinking. I am not starting any new garden this spring, so I don’t need a bunch of mail order plans. And if we buy plants at local stores, we would be in total control of when the flowers were “delivered” and could plant them right after acquisition. We would also be putting actual plants in the ground and not hoping for results from mailed roots.

True, we’re also planting seeds. But for the spring plants, I think you see my point.

So, no online flower ordering for me this spring. We’ll instead wait to see what Mother Nature brings and when we have time to shop and plant.

I like that plan, or lack of it. I don’t always mind when aspects of my life are not mapped out. So I’m not sure what my garden plans are this year; they are more organic then they sometimes are. I’ll let them form on the fly.

Like a flower.

Happy leap day to you all, and it looks like March this year will begin on a fairly nice note in Iowa, too—the lion is being polite, at least for the first week.

We’re almost through with February. Moving into early spring. And I’m ready for the change.

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In the garden area by the house yesterday. It’s on the south side, the warmest garden we have, and daffodils and tulips are starting their growth even while there is still snow elsewhere. It’s not really here yet, but spring is coming!

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The Kaleidoscope End of Spring 2019


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Rainbow flag on campus for the Alliance Club Rainbow Fest.

The pace of academic life in spring can be grueling. At the end of any semester, things heat up—suddenly the crushing weight of grading, prepping exams, viewing speeches, etc., is combined with the need to look forward, finish reports and prepare for what comes next.

There’s so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

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Student from American Lit class, with chalk that was used to write quotes on campus.

It’s stressful, these final weeks of any term, but especially stressful in spring when a long break is coming, some students are graduating and everybody is making decisions about What Comes Next.

But, even if I feel like a hamster on a wheel moving at least twice as fast as it ought to, there is a lot to treasure in spring on campus. Recently at Mount Mercy University, for example, we’ve had a number of year-end events that are fulfilling and enriching.

Monday here was “Scholarship Festival,” a celebration of both the scholarly and creative work students have done this year. There were presentations, poster displays and creative writing readings.

My favorite? Paha! I always enjoy the readings done by young writers of their own works when this MMU creative magazine is published each spring, and Paha was a highlight of the Scholarship Festival.

Spring at MMU has featured so much more—Rainbow Fest celebrating the club that supports LBGTQ+ students; Eco Week, shining a spotlight on campus efforts to become more sustainable; smaller events, such as an English class chalking the walks with American literary quotes—and more is to come. Besides graduation and all the associated events, there will be concerts and retirement parties.

And even if it is cool and wet today, with more rain on the way, campus is suddenly green, the grass has been mowed several times and trees are waking up. It’s hard to even think of how dreary winter was–the mole people of MMU are emerging from the steam tunnels and can be spotted out in the outdoors.

The kaleidoscope that years end always brings can be disorientating and discomforting, but it is also energizing and exhilarating. Here’s to spring on a university campus!

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Dr. Carol Tyx, English professor, shows Paha at Scholarship Festival.

Images of the kaleidoscope:

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First Flowers of 2019 Arrive


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March 23, 2019–First flowers of spring include this crocus in my backyard.

The creek behind my house has returned to its banks, and the Cedar River is dropping for now. We’ve been lucky in my area, I hope my western Iowa and Nebraska neighbors can recover from this sudden, wet spring.

Today was the final Saturday of spring break, and I spent a fair amount if it indoors vainly battling with the mountain of grading Which Must Be Done By Monday.

But for a while this afternoon, I was in the backyard, cleaning debris of winter off of gardens, giving the barren yard a quick rake and scattering grass seed.

Spring may be extraordinarily busy, but it’s still a season of hope. And today, the colors started to appear. I saw a crocus in bloom in the yard, and I know others are poking up. In the garden by the rock wall, some snowdrops are showing their pretty white selves.

No squib yet, but I’m sure it’s on its way. Many daffodils and tulips are starting to push through the thawing ground, and some hyacinth look ready to bloom in a few days.

The world is still largely brown and the ice hills by the parking lots have not yet melted. Flood risk is still with us, as snow north is still melting and rain may fall on sodden ground.

But for today, I saw flowers, and that’s something. The brown season is coming to its end, and everywhere, green is poised to emerge and colors are ready to appear.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Maybe Milkweed Week


maybemilkweed

What do you think? Is it Milkweed?

Hope springs eternal in the spring. This week saw Dwarf Lilac in full bloom, a second Clematis with giant flowers take center stage in my front garden, and something else. Or so I hope.

Maybe Milkweed?

We’ll see. My gardening heart has been broken many times by this tough but hard to get started Iowa perennial flower. Of course I want Milkweed in my garden. It’s the only kind of plant that a Monarch Butterfly will lay eggs on, and the decline of the Monarch is at least associated with the decline of Milkweed in the Iowa countryside.

So, I try to do my part. Year after year, I sow the seeds. And year after year, nothing.

Last year, I purchased some “Butterfly Flowers” at a nursery. It’s a variety of Milkweed, and two of the purchased plants are coming up again this spring, which is nice.

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Yes, Milkweed–plant I bought last year is coming back.

But the common wild Milkweed plant grows larger and is preferred by the butterfly. It is a bit odd, I suppose, for a flower gardener to try to raise plants hoping that caterpillars will devour them, but that’s the way it is.

And the “weed” in Milkweed’s name is simply a mistake. It’s a pretty native perennial flowers, and all of us who grow anything to look at in our gardens ought to plant it, especially now. MMU, I’m looking at you.

Anyway, back to my garden this week. Something is coming up in front—something that popped up suddenly this May, just when Milkweed should appear.

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Peony after Wednesday night storm. Many in town are in bloom, but not in my gardens yet.

Sadly, there are lots of plants that look like this when they are young, but at least Milkweed is among them. After years of frustration, is this the spring when Mother Nature took pity on me?

I vote “yes,” although my vote means nothing. We shall see. At least I know that the store-bought variety of Milkweed has appeared this week, and that makes it a good week in the gardens.

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A second Clematis–with dramatically large flowers–bloomed this week.

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Friday Floral Feature: Dandelions Rule


dandelion

Phases of dandelion in my back yard–and yes, there is lots of creeping charlie, too.

I surrender. Dandelions were deliberately brought to the Americas by Europeans, so why fight any more?

Pretty yellow flowers of spring, summer and fall—I may spray now and then to knock you back, but that’s more for show or to get along with the neighbors. I can’t get rid of you, so I may as well learn to like you.

The gardens seem more summer like, these days. Early peonies have bloomed and quickly faded; the later smaller varieties of pink lilacs are getting ready to bloom. I’ve had one clematis plant spring forth in flower, and another that should break into flower soon.

And dandelions, which seem to be everywhere, offering their tempting pom poms to grandchildren who can’t resist the temptation to puff the fluff. Even the yellow flowers can turn chin or nose a fetching vermilion.

You win, dandelions.

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Friday Floral Feature: Stolen Tuesday Flower Photos


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Lilac in bloom. Sweet smelling time!

I already wrote about planting seeds with the aid of two granddaughters, so I’ll let that just be part of the Earth Day march for science post.

This week, cool April weather returned. We’ve had a generally warm and pretty April, but in the second half of the week, cold and clouds rolled in. It rained, and snow was also in the air, although I did not see any of the white flakes, and I’m OK with that.

While lows have been in the 30s, thankfully we have not really had a freeze, and with April entering its final days, I would expect that the weather trend soon will be much warmer.

Before the rains moved in midweek, on Tuesday morning I did a very quick walk in the gardens about before leaving for work, and I made some flower images in a few stolen minutes during the attractive golden light of morning.

I’m glad I have several different types of crab apple tree. Some are already getting past prime, but others are just coming on. In the front yard, the larger white crab apple is shedding many of its pedals, while its pink-and-white cousin (both trees were tiny twigs when they went into the ground on the same day, part of the same Arbor Day Foundation set) is just getting into its prime.

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Tulip in back garden.

Same story in the back yard—some crab apples are getting beyond prime bloom time, others are just kicking in.

The Moscow Lilac is at its peak and may be faded when sunshine returns. Redbuds, for the most part, are starting to put out leaves, so the pretty pink flowers aren’t going to be around long. One darker Redbud in front, however, is just getting ready to bloom.

Bluebells are still blooming well. Some Lily of the Valley have heavy looking buds, just getting ready to bloom. Early peonies are going to pop any day now—maybe once the sunshine returns.

Well, cool rainy days aren’t the best days to be outside. Still, to a gardener, cool damp days at this time of year are welcome. New grass is sprouting in back. And the grandkids and I recently planted seeds—and you know what they say about April showers.

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Crab apple in front yard.

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Marching Bigly for Mother Earth


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Iowa City March for Science April 22–my wife and two granddaughters and I took part.

The March for Science, planned this Earth Day, April 22, 2017, was not overtly political. After all, science is supposed to transcend politics—the chemicals of your body don’t care whether you voted for Hillary or Donald.

But, I was there, joining the nearest event in Iowa City, mostly due to politics. It feels as if both political parties ignore science, to our peril. Some liberals fuss about GMOs or vaccinations—or wonder why we spend money on NASA. But, pained as I am by irrationality on the looney left, let us give the right wing its due—it’s irrationality is much more widespread and, due to who is in power now, more dangerous.

Never in my lifetime have we elected a president so abysmally ignorant of everything—history, politics, and, yes, science. Never has one political party—the GOP—worked so hard against biology (yes, evolution is a thing), chemistry (if you burn that carbon it will go somewhere with some effect), Earth science (yes, the globe naturally warms and cools, but no, this particular extinction event is not natural), etc.

So I was in Iowa City to March. And it felt right, somehow, that I was there with two young grandchildren. Their lives have been shaped for the good by science—they live at a time when many humans, especially in northern North America, are well fed, comfortable and safe form most physical harms thanks to science.It wasn’t just the idea of democracy that made America great. It was the idea of ideas.So here is how I spent Earth Day 2017:

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Cool Iowa spring morning–planting pollinator friendly flowers on Earth Day with the help of two granddaughters.

First, we planted. I don’t even know who sent me some pollinator-friendly seeds at work, but thank you, benefactor. Those and other seeds (I’ve received bee-friendly packs from various sources) went into the ground this morning. Some of the seeds will be dormant until 2018—milkweed, for instance, must overwinter before germinating. But, where there is Iowa dirt, there is hope, and I hope this morning’s plantings will eventually aid both bees and butterflies.

Second, we marched. One daughter, with her young son, headed to Des Moines to march with our mathematician son who lives in Ames. My wife and I took two granddaughters to Iowa City. The girls made signs, petted dogs and gamely walked the whole March route. I am sure they didn’t understand what was going on, but I deeply felt that what we were doing was for their sake. The currently irrational political storm that is raging threatens science at many levels, and attacks on basic research are very shortsighted. Plus, we are delaying action that will be necessary to come to grips with global warming, and my grandchildren may suffer more than I do from our current shortsightedness. So, we march.

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One of many signs at Iowa City March for Science.

I am not naïve enough to think that today made a whole lot of difference. The miserly small-minded mindset of governments in both Des Moines and Washington wasn’t changed by my few small steps. But I was trying to make America great again.

Once, we were a courageous country that put footprints on the Lunar surface. We saved the Bald Eagle from extinction, and cleaned up much of the smog that chocked our great cities. We changed our habits so that rivers in Ohio would not remain flammable.

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Granddaughter during march.

Yet, today, we can’t even agree that Iowa water is dirty, that the planet is warming, that space is worth exploring or that science matters.

It does. I won’t be silent as my once great country falls into a deep intellectual malaise.

It’s time to speak, act, march and make some noise. We had the drive, brains and courage in our past to do great things. We still have them. We must overcome the bigly sad shrill voices of ignorance that dominate our discourse today.

Mother Earth, on behalf of Iowa and our nation, I apologize. I don’t know, somehow we got drunk in November 2016 and are living in an extended nightmarish hangover.

I don’t want us to do that again, and I vow to do what I can to do better.

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