Tag Archives: spring

The First “Real” Spring Weekend


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When he was a feature writer for the Des Moines Register, Ken Fuson did a front-page “brite,” or happy feature story, about the first warm weekend day in Iowa in March (“What A Day!”). It was one long, joyous sentence.

I won’t try to mimic Fuson’s style—but this was such a day today. Granted, there has been nice weather in 2017 already—sunny, unseasonably warm weekends early in March. And it’s April now, so maybe nice weather is not such a jolt to the system.

But it still topped 70 degrees today. The sun was shining down, and it felt like the first true foreshadowing of the Midwest late spring yet to come. We’ve even had warmer days before, but the flowers and green and spring are just far enough along the road today towards true spring. In our minds, we could imagine June, the month of the year when Iowa can be the most pleasant spot on the planet (as long as it’s not rainy and flooding). Today, we could picture June.

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Grandson removes shoes late in morning. It had been cool, was was starting to hint at warm.

The day began windy and cloudy, a bit on the cool side. I spent the morning at a soccer pitch in Monticello, Iowa, watching a kindergarten-age grandson studiously ignore the rather random soccer game that languidly swirled around him without disturbing his great concentration on whatever it was he was so deeply focused on.

Well, the athletic gene runs shallow in the Sheller clan.

After that, there was a playground at the fairgrounds (where the soccer fields in Monticello are). The sun peeked at us now and then, there were a few random bug sightings, but we kept our sweatshirts (if not our shoes) on.

Then came lunch. Then, the afternoon. The afternoon! After our midday pizza feast, many of us started to warm up in the backyard of my daughter’s home. Coats were forgotten, ladybugs were everywhere, and my sweatshirt was draped over the cross bars of the swing set as I fulfilled a grandfather’s burden for a shifting cast of grandchildren (I pushed).

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Tired and exhausted by running, tossing and swinging in the increasingly warm, sunny, pleasant day, we headed back to Cedar Rapids. After a rest (the grandkids watched “Zootopia,” of which I saw only the snippet of opening credits and final 5 minutes—I suspect there was mid-movie snoring in the family room), I went upstairs. My 15-month-old grandson was up from a brief nap, so we donned shoes and headed in back for a flower photo safari. Within 5 minutes, several other grandkids joined us, so I did a fair amount of ball tossing and swing pushing between photographing flowers.

The cool morning had turned to a genuinely warm afternoon, milky sun beating down, buzzing bugs flying about—it had the smell and feel of the next coming season. The trees are still shaking off their winter slumber, but at the ground level, the annual hoedown of life is already do-si-doing.

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Early peony bud.

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First tulip.

I shot lots of images of crocus, early tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers. Bluebells, AWOL until now, have suddenly popped up. They are not super early spring flowers and are not blooming, but suddenly, like little garden salads, clumps of bluebell leaves have poked up all around the shady gardens.

Then, late in the afternoon, the dam burst. The bicycle would not be denied. I had taken my main commuting bike that I call “Clarence” and assembled the bus Friday by putting on the toddler seat and attaching a Tag-A-Long. I met the kids at a park Friday and took two home with the bike. The oldest grandchild had been lobbying for a bike ride all day today, and it was time.

The original plan was for her to ride her bike and for two other grandchildren to ride Clarence with me, but for some reason plans morphed. Recognizing we would climb some hills, the oldest granddaughter shrewdly shifted plans to the Tag-A-Long.

What followed was a series of bike rides of 2-3 miles each with a shifting cast of grandchildren. On ride number two, with the oldest grandchild, we paused to inspect a garter snake basking on the trail. Many birds, puppies, cats, birds and the one snake were all inspected or commented on during the rides.

Tomorrow, I plan to put in some grass seed and trim a few trees, as well as spending hours grading. I supposed I could have graded today, but the sun was calling, there were many, many grandchildren to play with (we had seven with us for most of the day) and it was THAT Saturday, the First Summer-Like Saturday, a day to drink nature in with no thought of tomorrow and no regrets.

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Filed under Flowers, Garden, Grandchildren

In Praise of March Skies


The change to Daylight Savings Time is a bit rough, and suddenly it’s dark in the morning. But it is nice to have more light later in the day, and light is fun to watch this March.

I’m growing more enchanted by the sky. Cool, windy March days have brought a parade of interesting scenery. The central campus of Mount Mercy University, when you walk across it in the afternoon and the sun is in the southwest and clouds are moving about—well, that hill opening to the south provides a nice view.

On Wednesday, the sky was grey, but with enough breaks to make it interesting.

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Wednesday afternoon, looking south from MMU hill.

On Thursday, the sun seemed to be popping out of a pond at Rockwell-Collins as I biked by in the morning.

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Sun and its reflection Thursday morning.

But the prettiest sky was in the afternoon, as I was walking back to my office to pack up for the night.

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Two views of Thursday afternoon windy March sky seen from central campus of MMU, again looking south.

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March in Iowa can be an interesting time—it can bring just about any weather you can imagine. It’s been a warm March this year, which is a blessing, because March can be bitterly cold.

Not this year. And that make it easy to be out and see the wind-blown clouds in these pretty March skies.

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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.

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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 Saw This Weekend


I saw grass. And I cut it. First mow of the season was Sunday, and most of the cute flower images on this blog were from that day.

But days before I saw and cut grass, and planted flowers and enjoyed other flowers–on Friday I went to a musical at Mount Mercy University. It was “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a very nice musical that was very well done. Here is a snippet from the 2006 Tony Awards that does do well in showing the spirit of the show:

Well, that was hard to beat. But after a rainy Saturday, during which I did not see much, came a much nicer Sunday. And today was full of biking and mowing and planting–of mid-spring warm Sunday stuff, and this is just a sample of what it looked like:

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Around 9 a.m., Krumboltz Trail, Marion. Blue bells in bloom.

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Still on the morning trail bike ride. Why did the duck cross the stream? I’m not shore.

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Blues bells and tree.

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Back home, waiting for afternoon bike ride with my wife. Tulips by ash tree in front yard.

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Some daffodils are done, but some are still in bloom.

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Redbud!

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Just starting–crab apple. Spring is about to smell really sweet.

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Clematis in bike basket. I planted and then mowed.

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A Tale of Two Garden Days


Magnolia in morning light April 17.

Magnolia in morning light April 17.

There are times when I can’t picture being retired. I’m so busy with work, what would I do?

Spring is not one of those times. Given nothing else to do, I would bike and garden, garden and bike, and except for rain, never want for something to do.

This weekend involved a bit of biking—I have one granddaughter a long-overdue ride—but there were also some garden pleasures.

Friday morning, I took 10 minutes to quickly wander about the back yard with a camera just because the 8 a.m. light looked so good on the many buds and flowers that are already with us this spring. And on Saturday, I planted some gladiolas (I never remember to dig them up, so they are always annuals, to me), grass seed and flower seeds. And tonight, blessed rain is falling.

I am pretty happy with the garden right now. The winter was mild. A few sick trees did not make it—but one was already a lost cause (a dead young crab apple in a garden), and another almost lost (a nearly dead cherry tree that seems to have gone from “mostly dead” to “check its pockets for change”) last year.

A young willow planted late last season after an impulse buy at the farmer’s market is already green with new leaves. Some trees—young maples and a young sweet gum—that survived the harsh winter of 2014, but lost most of their top growth, seem much happier this spring.

And—most of all—bluebells! I planted some new ones last year, but they were tiny roots, and I didn’t notice the plants growing. Bluebells are mostly only visible in early spring anyway—and from the looks of my gardens, most of the bluebell class of 2014 did indeed survive and will bloom in 2015. Well, that’s cool.

Planted this bluebell in 2014--and it's the first to bloom in 2015. Others are coming on, but are in shadier spots. Nice to see these flowers on the way (bluebells start with pink buds and then get pretty blue flowers).

Planted this bluebell in 2014–and it’s the first to bloom in 2015. Others are coming on, but are in shadier spots. Nice to see these flowers on the way (bluebells start with pink buds and then get pretty blue flowers).

Memo to self: More crocus in the grass for next year.

Hope for the year: May the milkweed seeds sown last fall show themselves soon. And may the wild flower seeds I planted today sprout and provide attractive food for monarchs which can then lay eggs on the milkweed.

We’ll see! But for now, 2015 is starting as a good year. More of my garden photos from Friday and Saturday.

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So What’s A Warm Saturday For, Anyway?


Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

I spent part of the day indoors today, because I had to get some papers graded, but I was lucky to have two outings.

In the morning, I rode my winter beater bike, an old Schwinn mountain bike, to the gym and for a brief trail ride.

But the true fun was this afternoon. My wife had some errands to run, so I stayed home grading papers. She suddenly popped in the door, announced she was meeting some grandkids at the park, and did I want to come?

Well, I’m under the weather, just a bit. I have a cold. And I did have lots of work to do, but …

The sun was shining. The temperature was rising above 45 degrees. My wife had told a grandson just a few days before that it was always too cold to play at a park if the temperature was below 45, but that explanation just didn’t hold up today. So away I went.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

The park interlude was a blast. Among other things:

  • The ladder-slide area became a castle and my daughter transformed into a dragon who, along with the assistance of her minion, my grandson, kidnapped a prince and planned to cook her. They rode off on a giant bee, but never seemed to get anywhere.
  • A snowball war broke out. My wife isn’t sure whether she or my daughter instigated it, but they are the prime suspects. Some icy snow was left in little piles here and there, and my daughter, wife and grandson spent a fair amount of time chucking it at each other or me. Watch out for that grandson. He has an arm.
  • The merry-go-round was a very popular item—and grandpa (me) had the honor of supplying most of the power. One young granddaughter would yell “faster, faster,” until, a few seconds later she would yell “I need to get off.” Despite my cold, I did get some exercise today.

Well, what a fun afternoon. I don’t know how many sunny, warm Saturdays there will be before March, but we put this one to good use.

More park scenes--my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below--youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round

More park scenes–my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below–youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round

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Finally, just because I can, I bought some flowers for my wife, who just returned from a trip to England. I liked how the morning sun streaming in the dining room window lit the bouquet, so I photographed it, and it seems a nice foreshadowing of the coming spring that is only a few weeks away:

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And I Hope Flocks of Flowers Appear As I Bury Phlox


Daffodils in bloom.

Daffodils in bloom.

It is done.

On a warm spring day when the 85-degree humid air felt more like late June than early May, I received and planted six Phlox roots, the last of the flowers that I had ordered for spring planting.

Well, honestly, that’s not totally true because I also ordered toad lilies, but they sold out of those.

Anyway, it turns out the root of the Phlox need only be shallowly buried, so my broken-trowel “scoop” was quite adequate. I put 4 roots in the main backyard garden, one in the lower garden by the retaining wall and one in the new garden near the chimney—hoping that I didn’t accidentally put it on top of a coneflower root, but we’ll see.

And I also snapped some photos as I planted, showing the flowers in my back yard as the afternoon light fades to evening. It’s a daffodil party, with lots of tulips along for the ride. Most trees are waking up, but a few may not have made it through the harsh winter. The Rose of Sharon remains quiet, and I hope that pretty bush, which is several years old, didn’t get hurt by the extreme winter. Two of the three new trees are definitely going strong, but the third may be forever dormant.

Pear flowers.

Pear flowers.

Well, it’s too early to “call” anything for sure. Some trees that are sleeping may yet wake—despite the heat today, it’s still very early May, daffodil and tulip time. Crab apples are just about to burst, but have not really bloomed yet. A look at what is blooming.

And I can see lots of lilac buds. It’s going to smell pretty good sometime soon.

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