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Diggin' It

The Transplanted Gardener: Iowa isn't Hawaii

By Craig Summers Black / May 6, 2009



Today, Diggin' It will feature two posts by Craig Summers Black (one now and one this afternoon). He's an award-winning writer, editor, and photographer who gardens feverishly on a weedy acreage in the Midwestern heartland. He has found that it can be more than a tad colder in Iowa than at his previous gardens in California, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. But he's learning:

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Gardening is much like house hunting: It’s all about three things – location, location … you get the idea. So why on earth would I go from this first photo to the second one??

Yes, up top that’s Waikiki, and below, yes, unfortunately that is a seating area in my latest garden. Gives you the chills just looking at it.

After stints in Hawaii, Texas, Florida, and then California – and repeatedly telling my wife I could never live anywhere I couldn’t grow palm trees – we made an economic decision to move to her native Iowa.

The fiscal collision of a Bay Area mortgage and a beaming baby girl made us choose: Sell the house or sell the child? We made the conventional decision.

And now in the living room grows my palm tree – in the heart of the heartland, where I have had to reinvent my garden style anew. And also find out what the heck happens to plants in climes with much colder than sweater weather.

Unfortunately, while learning the long list of plants that are not winter-hardy on the frozen tundra (the meaner reaches of USDA Zone 5), I have killed many perennials. And shrubs. And, pricier still, trees.

But the rewards here – gardening and otherwise – are great. We have real summer here, not the foggy windy blasts of the Oakland Hills. And we have water that reliably falls from the sky – I feel for drought-stricken Texas. And we have fertile land (not sand!) – an acreage actually – with room for that growing gal and an outlandish menagerie. See?

In the days and weeks to come, I’ll delve into the particulars of gardening where temps range from summer’s mid-90s to winter’s minus 20s. There will be detours into the cultural whiplash that constitutes an introduction to pastoral living. And there will be musings and recollections of former gardens in states that had actual coastlines.

In the meantime, there’s this list – new, cold-hardy plants recommended by Bluebird Nursery (note that this is a wholesale-only nursery), whose motto is “If they’ll grow in Nebraska, they’ll grow anywhere.”

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