Bountiful bouquets

Iowa City woman takes garden to work with her

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During the peak gardening season of May and June, Janis Russell estimates she spends 30 hours a week tending her flowers.

So it makes sense that she likes to take a bit of her garden to work with her.

A receptionist in the radiology department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Russell, 54, tries to bring half a dozen bouquets in to work each week, as many as the season allows.

“People would think I’d take bouquets inside my house, but I’m never home, and when I’m home I’m in the garden,” she says. “So I started taking them into the hospital so I could have my garden at work.”

They flowers adorn reception desks around her department.

“It just makes people feel good,” she says. “It makes them stop and take a moment to breathe, and that’s important in a hospital.”

Her Iowa City garden is full of lilies and clematis, and they provide the most fodder for her bouquets.

Russell says people don’t often think of clematis as a cutting flower, but she loves it in bouquets. The purple, pink and white blossoms grow on trellises around her garden. For bouquets, she recommends cutting it so there is woody stem, then using a knife to split the stem about an inch up from the bottom, which will allow the flower to draw up water. Prepared this way, the bloom should up to two weeks in a vase, she says.

She recommends a similar technique for butterfly bush flowers, which she also grows.

She has around 40 clematis plants — 20 different varieties — growing in her small yard.

Asiatic lilies, which she has plenty of, also will last about two weeks, she says.

Other daylilies only have blooms that last one day. For those, she cuts far down on the stem just before several blooms are ready to open. That way, each blossom opens, usually one per day, after being cut.

She fills in her bouquets with coreopsis, roses, flow, gladiolus and hosta flowers.

“I cut flowers from everything,” she says.

Her garden has been a slowly expanding endeavor over the last 15 years. She and her husband Rip Russell undertook a major yard renovation project in 1998. Iowa City Landscaping came up with the design, which creates the illusion of a larger lot by curving the lawn into a vanishing point.

Contractors built a back patio and dug a small fish pond complete with a bridge that leads to a gazebo.

The next step was improving the soil in her garden beds. Her yard had primarily clay soil, which isn’t good for flowers because it doesn’t allow enough water drainage.

“You could make pots out of this stuff,” she says of her soil.

Section by section, she dug up the clay in her flower beds and spread the soil thin on a tarp — at times she says she to beat the dense dirt with a rubber mallet to get it thin enough. Then she mixed in compost and coir, a fiber made from coconut husks, until she had a mixture of about 20 percent clay and 80 percent additives. Compost should be added until the soil crumbles slightly when pressed into a ball, she says.

Each of her flower beds now has rich soil spilling over with blooms. She keeps things organic for the sake of the fish pond — and the added benefit of letting clover grow in her grass. Clover is a favored food for rabbits, and she thinks it has helped tempt them away from her flowers.

She says she doesn’t mind the hours spent keeping her garden growing.

“I really don’t consider it work,” she says. “To me, it’s play. I just love flowers.”

Garden Tours

Want to see Janis Russell’s garden for yourself? Her landscape will be featured alongside five other Johnson County gardens during a Project GREEN Garden Tour on July 12.

Linn County Master Gardeners’ garden walk is also July 12. The walk features five properties on the north end of the Corridor. Master gardeners will be available to answer questions at each of the gardens on the tour.

On July 13, a garden tour by the Eastern Iowa Pond Society will showcase eight gardens that include water features.

Project GREEN Garden Tour

•When: 3 to 8 p.m. July 12

•Cost: $5

•More information:

•Gardens on the tour:

Janis Russell, 1107 Rochester Ave., Iowa City

J. Patrick and Betty White, 2034 Rochester Court, Iowa City

Dorothy and Don Fowles, 4655 Running Deer Woods NE, Iowa City

Emil Rinderspacher and Susan Goodner, 4649 Running Deer Court NE, Iowa City

Diane and Larry Allen, 2752 Hidden Valley Trail NE, Solon

Al and Diane Williamson, 2875 Wapsi Ave. NE, Iowa City

Linn County Master Gardeners Garden Walk

•When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 12

•Cost: $5 per adult, $10 per family

•More information:

•Gardens on the tour:

Hardt Garden, 2321 Meadowbrook Drive SE, Cedar Rapids

Brown Garden, 2403 Fifth Ave SE, Cedar Rapids

Nassif Garden, 294 Lamplite Lane SE, Cedar Rapids

Hard Garden, 4722 Savannah Court SE, Cedar Rapids

Wing Garden, 980 Squaw Creek Road SE, Cedar Rapids

Eastern Iowa Pond Society Garden Tour

•When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

•Cost: $5

•More information:

•Gardens on the tour:

2055 H Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

306 Red Fox Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids

1323 34th St. SE, Cedar Rapids

2818 Southland St. SW, Cedar Rapids

131 Rosedale Rd., Cedar Rapids

3595 Monarch Ave., Marion

1360 Fox Meadow Court NE, Swisher

1216 James Ave., Shueyville

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