Snow in April? The Common Snowdrop

snowdrop-523667_960_720By now many gardeners would be distraught if they found snow in their gardens, however, maybe finding snowdrops wouldn’t be so bad. The common snowdrop is often the very first to be found, and can even flower in winter before the vernal equinox (March 21). In Black Hawk County it was in full bloom by mid-March of this year–weeks before the crocus popped.

Galanthus nivalis is a perennial herbaceous plant which grows from
bulbs. Each bulb usually produces just two or three linear leaves and an erect leafless scape (flowering stalk) from which the solitary white lobed flower hangs. The leaves die back a few weeks after the flower has faded. The genus Galanthus comes from the Greek: gála “milk”, ánthos “flower,” and this bloom is often compared to three hanging drops of milk. The species name nivalis is from Latin, meaning resembling snow. It is from the same family as Amaryllis: Amaryllidaceae.

This small plant is native to a large area of Europe and was believed to have been introduced into England in the early 16th century by monks who planted them in churchyards. These flowers naturalize easily, and a planting can be dramatic and last a lifetime. Another benefit: like other members of the Amaryllis family, they are normally avoided by deer and rodents. They prefer moist humus-rich soils and can thrive in sun or shade. They do well in rock gardens, under trees or in front of flowering shrubs, or can be planted right in the lawn as they should disappear by the time we Iowans need to mow.

Many legends surround this little flower. A favorite from Germany is that when God was making all things on earth, he asked the snow to go to the flowers to get a little color from them. One by one, the flowers refused. Very sad, the snow then asked the snowdrop, and she generously agreed to share. As a reward, the snow lets the snowdrop bloom first each year. The snowdrop symbolizes purity and hope in the language of flowers.


Let’s Talk Trees: The Bald Cypress

Iowa City Landscaping Bald CyprusIn Iowa, we have a large variety of trees, native and non-native. One such non-native species is the Bald Cyprus tree which can grow to be 50 feet tall. It is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its light feathery foliage. The spring foliage is a bright yellow-green becoming sage green in summer. It is a deciduous tree and ends the season with rich, russet-brown leaves which fall attached to 2-3 inch long shoots. Most members of its family Cupressaceae do not lose leaves, hence the name “Bald” Cypress.
Although it grows best in warm climates, the natural northern limit of the species is not due to a lack of cold tolerance, but to specific reproductive requirements. Farther north, regeneration is prevented by ice damage to seedlings. Larger trees are able to tolerate much lower temperatures and lower humidities. Bald Cypress can grow in both uplands and bottomlands but is more often found in wetter sites such as swamps, marshes and river bottoms where common hardwoods cannot survive. At the Arboretum, the Arnold Webster memorial tree can be found where it has a moist footing. To locate it, take the walking path to just past the creek, and turn left (north)

Jack in the Pulpit

When I was a child, my favorite spring activity was to hunt for wildflowers in the timbered hills of my grandparents’ small farm in Iowa County, north of Marengo.  My memory’s eye recalls as if it was yesterday, following my father through the dry brown fall leaves, and finding large swaths of May apples, smaller groups of spring beauty and dutchman’s breeches, and the occasional rare trillium.  Although the Jack in the Pulpits were common and easy to find, I believe they were my favorite.

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How To Grow Tomatoes From Seed

Although many tomato varieties are available from stores in the spring, there is nothing quite as rewarding as growing your own tomatoes from seed.  Also, if you peruse spring seed catalogs, you will note hundreds of tempting varieties of tomatoes are available from seed, as opposed to the few varieties you can find to purchase as plants.  I grew up in a home where seeds were chosen when the seed catalogs first arrived, planted in March, and moved from sunny window to window until hardened outside and planted in the garden.  It just wasn’t spring without watching the tomatoes grow!

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

In the 1960’s, our culture was very different.  One huge difference was in every day advertising.  An example of this is cigarettes. Virginia Slims was a brand manufactured by Altria (formerly Phillip Morris Companies). The brand was introduced in 1968 and marketed to young professional women using the slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” This catch phrase has worked its way into societal idioms and is occasionally still used. While thinking about the Arboretum and the fact that it is our 20th anniversary this year, I found the expression especially appropriate.

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A Note From the Director

It’s amazing to look back at pictures from a cold spring day 20 years ago when volunteers were planting the first trees at the Arboretum, and then to take a walk in what is quickly becoming a real forest.  The growth and change is striking.  Even year to year, the growth at the Arboretum is incredible.  Just this year, we started a really fun new project for the Children’s Garden that is a Hobbit House and Garden.   In addition, we planted over 57 new trees, created a new Buffalo Plant Sculpture (Mosaiculture), finished planting the new Master Gardeners Orchard, and created a trail through our new 4 acre butterfly meadow.   It’s been a busy season!

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