Imagine Northeast Iowa

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Kris Kulish Making Northeast Iowa Beautiful by Sharing her Plants with Others
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Kris Kulish Making Northeast Iowa Beautiful by Sharing her Plants with Others

As we in Northeast Iowa are desperately dreaming of spring, I thought I’d share a friend’s beautiful garden to get you inspired for the months ahead. Awhile back, Kristine and Kevin Kulish from Calmar let us take a peek at their peaceful garden haven as the water trickles slowly in the pond making a tranquil sound in their back patio. Ahhh! It feels like paradise! The tranquil backyard is a perfect place for them to relax, read a book, have a patio party or enjoy the birds that visit their beautiful landscape that talented Kris designed herself and lately her husband Kevin helped build a new patio. Kris loads up her plants wherever they have moved to. No matter how far we Northeast Iowans roam, we take our Iowa roots with us, literally!

Kris and her husband, Kevin, have spent many hours landscaping the different properties they have owned and even the properties they rent out with their creative flair. Kris uses many perennial beds in landscaping among the arbor and patio, making it price effective and easier to manage.

 “It seems like I have had a love of flowers my whole life. I had always admired my mother's flowers as a child and knew someday that I would like to have my own flower beds. I have had many teachers in my life, as well as books on plants. Besides my mother, Kathleen Kriener, I have had the privilege of a very talented flower lover and neighbor from our first home, Dorothy Marhoul. She started me with numerous baby plants from her own gardens on North Street right here in Calmar. She was very generous with her knowledge and stock. I am so lucky to have had great mentors in my life. I guess I have always had a green thumb. My husband Kevin, and I have grown a garden for over 25 years but the flower beds were always my passion. We have built a few arbors, trellises and gazebos over the years. We have made flowerbeds from railroad ties, rocks, bricks, and landscaping block. We have also built several small garden ponds and also one large farm pond when we lived north of Ossian,” explained Kris.

The flower gardens began with a small flower bed at their first home shortly after they were married. “I grew an annual called cosmos. They were fuchsia and pink colored single petal flowers that bloom their hearts out. It grew from there. I added bleeding hearts next, which was a piece of my mother’s plant from home. It did remarkably well. I have many, many offspring of that first plant. Perennials, like annuals, have this great gift of dropping seeds and being able to tolerate root division, which means, free flowers are everywhere. I gave away countless seedlings to many people. One year I gave away 40 baby bleeding hearts plants to family, friends and co-workers. I still have that original plant, even though we have moved twice. At our third home, it continues to thrive and keeps on giving the gift of new babies each year. I have a number of plants that are growing out of their spots, by spreading and dropping seeds everywhere. By doing this, the gardens kind of tell their own story when a new plant shows up where it wasn’t the summer before. I love finding a new plant that just decided to grow where it wanted. It’s cool to see what Mother Nature decided to grow for me. I love to make new flowerbeds, but where we live now, I am really limited for space. In past homes, I had plenty of room to add another bed if I wanted. In moving, we have always taken truck loads of flowers from one home to another. It wouldn’t seem like home if some of my flowers couldn’t go too. My biggest passion of all plants that I grow is hostas. They are my absolute favorite. These plants are not grown for their flowers, even though hummingbirds and butterflies seem to like them, but for their individual personalities each plant has in the size, color, texture and shape of their leaves. They range from blue to green, to chartreuse, white and many versions of variegated leaves. Some are so textured, they look quilted. These perennials look great almost all summer long.” Of late their biggest improvement is redoing their huge backyard deck which turned out fabulous.

Besides their vegetable garden, a few of their flowers and shrubs are lilacs, hostas, coreopsis, lilies, geraniums, iris, hydrangeas, peonies, sedums, liatris, ladies mantel, hen and chicks, clematis, honeysuckle, astilbies, gooseneck loose stife, dead nettle, coral bells, dianthus, chrysanthemums, spirea, joepye weed, tulips, daffodils, bluebells, brunnera, roses meadow rue, and many, many more. Lots of Ladies have shared their plants over the years. Kris’s advice the novice gardener is to look for perennial sales and garage sales because they are great places to get plants cheap. And of course, tell neighbors and friends what is your favorite that they grow and like most gardeners they will be sure to share with you.

In their many years together, the couple have raised three sons, Nicholas, Kyle and Jeremy. Their oldest son has his own home now and in time, lots of plants will make their way to his house to pass on to another generation, just like that special bleeding heart given to Kris by her mother. That’s how we do it here in Northeast Iowa. We are generous with our heritage plants and take them with us as we move a little part of Iowa. No matter how far we roam, we take our Iowa roots with us, literally.

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