Imagine Northeast Iowa

A blogging extravaganza by, for, & about Northeast Iowa.

Kearney's Wildlife Refuge Oasis
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Kearney's Wildlife Refuge Oasis

As we in Northeast Iowa await the time we can put our landscaping and garden plans into action, here is a sample of what we can do in our backyards to beautify our little corner of the world.

In the back of Kevin and Ruth Ann Kearney’s home in Calmar, is an oasis with a trickling waterfalls and garden flowers galore around patio seating areas where they enjoy inviting their guests to sit and enjoy the resort like atmosphere with a sample Kevin’s cold home brew on a summer’s night. One could get used to this!

Kevin and Ruth Ann show us around by first going to a top screened in deck to survey the whole backyard as they each hold their new pug puppies, a tan one named Sheldon and a black pug named Zoey. They own about one acre of land, mostly landscaped and a large garden in the way back in the Wiltgen Addition.

“We built the house and moved in 1999, so, we have been here 14 years. There was nothing done to start with, so we have done all of it since we moved in,” they explain as we make our way downstairs to enter their large patio through their walk out basement.

Kevin’s parents always had a vegetable garden, flower beds, and planted trees, “My dad and his brothers own a couple hundred acres of land where they have planted tens of thousands of trees….so, gardening and appreciation of plants has always been important.”

Ruth Ann also grew up with vegetable gardens and flower beds, “My Mom grew a lot of different vegetables and produce that we ate. My dad has always really like flowers and enjoys coming over to our house to sit on the porch and look at the pond and plants. He also really enjoys being out in the woods, so I think I got a lot of my enjoyment of nature and gardening from my parents.”

“I would say our pond is probably the most significant/unique part of our landscaping – everything else is kind of built around that. We also try to keep things as ‘natural’ and ‘wild’ as we can. We want everything to look nice, but we try to avoid straight lines and really neat and organized beds because we like the more “natural” look and more importantly and it is harder to see ‘mistakes’ when you don’t have perfect lines, or specific patterns. We grow a lot of flowers too many to name really – mostly perennials, but also some annuals. Basically, anything that we thing is beautiful, unique or attracts wildlife in some way. We also try to grow a lot of trees and bushes that appeal to birds and wildlife – dogwood bushes, high bush cranberries, service berries Everything seemed a little late this year due to the cool, wet spring and early summer. However, it seems that regardless of weather, ther e is always something that thrives. This spring was great for asparagus; we were cutting it almost every day. But, most things were slow to come around, although everything seems to be coming along well now.”

They have quite a few small trees, crab apples, hazelnuts and more that are small yet. And if you know Kevin, you probably already know he grows hops, which he used to brew beer. They also have a variety of water plants in the pond as well as Koi and goldfish. Ruth Ann enjoys her herbs garden with garlic chives, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, dill, chamomile, parsley, lavender that the couple uses to cook with.

Kevin doesn’t have a true favorite in his landscape and garden, “I like different things for different reasons. I like all of the flowers for the color in the yard as well as that they attract wildlife. In the garden, I really like growing peppers, onions and garlic because they are some of my favorite things to eat and cook with.”

Ruth Ann likes the different lilies because of the bright colors as well as all of the berries, and rhubarb for making jelly and pies. Pickled beets are also a favorite. She also love feeding birds and seeing the different types of birds that visit, so any of the bushes, trees and flowers that attract birds are also her favorite.

“Ruth Ann grows a lot of berries (strawberries, raspberries, grapes, blueberries, etc.) that she preserves or we eat fresh. She pickles a lot of beets every year. The grapes are off-limits though – those all go to grape jelly that she feeds to Orioles in the spring. We usually have five to six pairs of orioles that come to the feeder and Ruth Ann went through almost 15 quarts of grape jelly so far this spring/summer,” explains Kevin.

“We also grow a lot of onions and garlic that will keep well all through the winter. We grow a lot of peppers and tomato’s – I make a couple different sauces out of the peppers. A smoky red pepper sauce that is good on pasta, eggs, etc. and I also make a peach habenaro BBQ sauce that is really good. We juice the tomatos and we can plain tomato juice, spicy bloody Mary mix and also a tomato basil soup. We probably can 20-30 gallons of tomato juice in these various ways.”

A Garden is important for a variety of reasons to the Kearney’s, “We like the visual appeal of it. It is nice to sit out on the porch, relax and enjoy it. We like nature and we want to be in a setting that has a natural appeal and attracts wildlife. We like to grow our own food and know where the things we eat come from, so having a large garden allows us to do that. It also keeps us active – the work is never done, that is for sure.”

Any tips for people new to gardening?“Probably to do it right the first time – we have a lot of projects that we did early on that we tried to ‘get by’ on and it just leads to more work and more expense later on. Remember to plant big trees, not little ones. Use good materials, not cheap ones. Don’t be in a hurry to have something done, because it will result in more maintenance later on. Take it one area at a time – do it right, do it well, then move on to the next project.”

Future plans? “Ruth Ann would like an outdoor wood oven at some point, as well as landscaping under the Willow tree. We need to redo an area around our garden shed - moving raspberries to a new location, put in some flower beds, and other plantings. Still finishing up a bed along our driveway, pretty much endless it seems. We kind of pretend like we are ‘almost done’, but we never quite get there and probably never will.”

In the meantime, the basement bar is well stocked with prize winning brews for their family and friends to enjoy on these hot summer evenings.

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