GARDENING IN IOWA

Grandma's garden: A dozen tough-as-nails flowers that are right at home in anyone's garden

Daffodils are a sure sign of spring. The flower blooms in April and are tough to kill. (The Gazette)
Daffodils are a sure sign of spring. The flower blooms in April and are tough to kill. (The Gazette)
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I’ve been helping my brother at the family farm. My grandparents established the farm and my parents took it over. In recent years, it’s been neglected but Tom is doing a tremendous job of clearing it out, cleaning it up, and undertaking restoration.

Despite the neglect, there are a handful of flowers planted by my grandmother at least a half-century ago, that have survived and even thrived. These are the blooms you see in the middle of an otherwise wild countryside, drifts of daylilies, a few bright peonies, or a lone lilac bush or two — are all that’s left of a once expansive farmstead.

These same plants will thrive with little maintenance in your garden, too, with little more than the sun and rain that nature provides them. Bonus: Most, with the exception of spirea, can be started from root slips from friends and family. No purchase necessary.

Daffodils (Narcissus Spp.)

Blooms in April. Plant Narcissus — the botanical name for all daffodils — in a spot where they get excellent drainage and full sun. Overly wet soil and shade are just about only things that will kill these sunny survivors. The common plain yellow ones are the toughest. Let foliage “ripen” and brown on the plant to nourish for next year. Pull off when it comes out easily.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia Virginica)

Blooms in April and May. Virgina bluebells spread rapidly, especially in more moist conditions. Great in rough grass or among trees. Creates a gorgeous blue mist of bloom. Can be somewhat invasive, so keep in check with regular pulling. Light shade to partial sun.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria Majalis)

Blooms in April and May. Lily of the Valley has a fragrance so sweet that passerby will stop appreciate the fragrance. Spreads rapidly to the point of being invasive. Plant it where it’s contained by sidewalks, driveways, or other major barriers. Thrives in shade.

Old-Fashioned Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)

Blooms in April and May. When it comes to he Old-fashioned Columbine the more unusual colors, like peaches, blues, pale yellows and purples are less tough than the semi-wild orange and yellow columbine. It reseeds freely in ideal conditions and is drought-tolerant. It does well in light shade.

Lilacs (Syringa Spp.)

Blooms in May and June. Old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) grow tall and rangy, up to 8 feet, and are prone to powdery mildew. The flowers are classically beautiful and fragrant, however. Korean dwarf lilacs (Syringa meyeri) grows just 5 or so feet high and wide, is more compact, and is not prone to mildew. The flowers are smaller and less showy. The fragrance is equally sweet, but slightly different. Plant in full sun.

Siberian Or German Bearded Irises (Iris Germanica Or Siberica)

Blooms in May to June. German bearded iris are those gorgeous classics Grandma grew. Siberian iris have different, tall slender leaves that are often mistaken for ornamental grass — until bloom time. Flowers are smaller but still beautiful. German bearded irises can sometimes get pests and diseases in damp conditions. Siberian irises almost never do. Planet in full sun.

Peonies (Paeonia Spp.)

Blooms in May and June. What would a June Midwestern garden be without this old-fashioned favorite? Plant in full sun; too much shade diminishes or even eliminates blooms.

Hostas (Hosta spp.)

Try a variety of hostas. The giant yellow-green Sum and Substance spreads up to 4 feet across. Try blue crinkled types and those with creamy, subtle variations in greens, creams and yellows. Hosta plantiginea is outrageously fragrant.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis Spp.)

Blooms in July. Each flower blooms just one day, but the plant produces so many it seems to bloom a long time. Deadhead regularly. Stella de Oro, a miniature, is one of the longest bloomers. Does best in full sun; tolerates shade but will bloom less.

Spirea (Spirea Spp.)

Blooms in June and July. Another long-time Midwestern favorite, spirea now is available in a variety of leaf colors, including deep purples and glowing yellows. The green-leaved types, with tiny clusters of white flowers, are known also as bridal-wreath. Different types grow as low as just a couple of feet tall and across while others grow 8 feet tall and across. Plant in full sun.

Perennial Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Fulgida)

Bloom August to September. Black-eyed Susan Goldsturm blooms when everything else in the garden is tired-looking. Goldsturm is a classic cultivar that bursts into bloom just when you need it most and looks delightfully fresh. It is a good spreader. Plant in full sun.

Tall Sedums

Blooms in September. While Autumn Joy is the most common, try other less tall sedums, such as Brilliant. It flops less. Divide Autumn Joy every two years to prevent flopping. Plant in drifts of three or more for best impact. Plant in full sun.

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