Extension News

Garden Lessons for 2008 -- My Own Story

Note to media editors: This is the Garden Column for use during the week beginning Oct. 10.


By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University Extension

As the leaves turn and the growing season winds down, I enjoy reflecting on the gardening joys and triumphs of the year. Gardening invariably provides sustenance; and inspiration; and a sense of accomplishment. This year provided some challenges -- if not frustration -- as well. But mistakes and adversity are good teachers. The year had many lessons.

While every year is different in Iowa for gardeners, we were reminded yet again of the unpredictability of Iowa’s weather. Short of a hurricane, just about everything happened in Iowa this year that could possibly happen. This year’s growing season saw many extremes – wet, dry, windy, cool and even a bit of hot here and there.

In my own landscape I lost about 10 mature trees and tons of topsoil to the flash flooding, streambank erosion and high winds of June and July. The fence to exclude deer took a major hit. The hail bashed my roof and damaged some perennials . . . and, well, we were much better off than those who lost their homes and livelihoods, or worse, in the historic tornadoes and floods.

But I learned much about my landscape in our third growing season at this home. I can see some minor earth moving that will solve some erosion problems. I am motivated to use some deep-rooted, native Iowa grasses to hold the precious topsoil. I now know where the wet and the well-draining spots are in my garden. This lesson alone is a great reminder to use plants that will thrive in these locations and that are adapted to Iowa’s extremes.

The trees lost to the storms included elms and ashes. To add insult to injury, my dozen or so Scots pine continue to brown and die – succumbing as they do, one-by-one-by-one, to the invariably fatal ravages of the pine wilt. My remaining stately ashes thrived on this year’s abundant moisture, blissfully unaware of their possible doom at the hands of the emerald ash borer -- marching its way ever closer to Central Iowa. Outside the fence the inevitable deer herd munched the life out of hopeful seedlings. But despite this gloomy picture I am heartened by the survival of the 20 different species of trees I have planted in the last few years. Such diversity ensures that some or most will escape disease, and the fencing and cages installed around them should fend off the deer, and the rabbits, and maybe the stray beaver or two.

The loss of mature trees also turned a spot from shady to sunny overnight. So, next year I will plant that vegetable garden I have so often yearned for, but which was always displaced and delayed by an impossible addiction to ornamentals. Opportunism, after all, is an essential trait for a gardener. No garden is static; no plant lives forever. We can be thankful for that. Such impermanence is the raw material for anticipation and hope, feelings which sustain gardeners and inspire the well-used refrain – just wait’ll next year!

In short, I learned again this year to cherish success and learn from failure. And that certain failures are opportunities in disguise. Just wait ‘til next year!


Contacts :

Cindy Haynes, Horticulture, (515) 294-4006, chaynes@iastate.edu

Del Marks, Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-9807, delmarks@iastate.edu