It's May, so why isn't it spring in Iowa?

Spring weather in Iowa has been challenging, to say the least. But the garden has produced some nice surprises.

Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Wiserias don't much like Iowa. But – after 15 years – this one changed its mind. It's been one of the joys of the May garden, after plenty of challenges.
Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
Chocolate vine's fragrance reminds some people of the confection. To me, it's more like a spicy rose.
Courtesy of Craig Summers Black
The white Jack in his pulpit really stands out in a shade garden.

This is whiplash weather in Iowa. The temperature soars. Then – wham! – it plunges radically. The garden and I are really getting jerked around. And Mother Nature’s plan? Rinse and repeat.

Yo-yo weather is hard to contend with

After a short period of ab-fab balmy days, some of the veggies and tropicals went toes-up when it got down way below freezing.

Then the weather turns around and soars to a record high – 97! – with a never-ending wind so fearsome it's sapping the flowering bulbs and shredding the magnolias.

Then a week of more wind and rain, rain, rain. Last night: In the 30s again.

I know: Complain, complain, complain. Sorry.

The good things in the garden

So let me count my blessings:

• The Elizabeth magnolia that I planted last year to replace the Butterflies lost in a late hard freeze, sailed through the winter and promptly bloomed. The flowers were a deeper hue than I was expecting, and I am glad of it. Also: I hate to wait 10 years for Butterflies’ first blossoms, so this first-year flowering is quite the bonus.

• The wisteria [see photo above] – also in the horseshoe driveway – that I have been training as a standard finally bloomed, no mean trick hereabouts, but it has been a 15-year wait. And I am not a patient guy. However: Oh, happy day!

• Likewise, the five-leaf chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), now blooming quite spectacularly in a purple-leaf maple tree. I always liked how the vine’s green foliage snaked brightly up through the dark maple leaves, but now– after, what, 10 years? – the bazillion quarter-sized flowers echo the maple leaf color. And right outside the front door. [See second photo at top; click on arrow at right base of first photo.]

• Also, after a shaky start, the best jack-in-the-pulpit in the entire universe (Arisaema sikokianum; photo at left) is positively sticking its chest out in pride. Yes! And I wasn’t quite sure it was really winter-hardy here in central Iowa. I planted this in my somewhat-tropical courtyard next to the shredded umbrella plant, a rather bold combo probably not to everyone’s liking, but hey … my garden, my rules.

Another bonus: Somehow Jack produced another plant fully 10 feet away. I don’t like where it is, so after it finishes blooming, it will get moved somewhere more to my liking. If only that somewhere was where the weather were more accommodating.

What else I’m into this week: Playing Florence Nightingale to my college-age daughter. Did you know a tonsillectomy is an outpatient process these days? Two hours in the hospital, then a week of agony at home. Poor kid.


Craig Summers Black, The Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who blogs regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.

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