CALMAR--Are you ready to talk spring gardening? Take a walk from the past with me and you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of spring with me as we wait for the full glory of our area to come into bloom.
If you enter the backyard from a side garden entrance into Kyke and Bev Lutkenhaus’s of Calmar in early June in beautiful Northeast Iowa, you are immediately greeted by a three huge Priness Red Weigela flowering bushes , that the couple bought from Sindelar Nursery in Fort Atkinson twenty years ago! Kyke faithfully trims them after the spring blossoms fade each year.
Kyke and Bev have a beautiful sun room looking out onto their gorgeous backyard and garden. As we sat drinking our morning coffee, we enjoyed the view of the Baltimore Orioles as they came to drink the nectar out of one of feeders. Wandering out to the patio/deck area, Bev points out the red exotic-looking flowering Mandevilla plant. This new feature was placed on the table between two lounge chairs, all to lure the hummingbirds closer when the couple is outside. We just can't wait to see these little fliers, soon as the sweet smell of spring blossoms just around the corner!
The couple has always had a vegetable garden, even since they were married over fifty year agos. Since gardening was a hobby they both enjoyed from childhood, it was natural that they would have a garden together. Kyke remembers as a young lad assisting his mother with the garden preparation. It often consisted of the usual Midwestern garden veggies plus lots of potatoes. Homemade sauerkraut, potatoes, peas, and beans would last through most of the winter. And he loved those homemade delicious apple pies made from their own apple trees. Bev remembers walking to the garden with her mother and sisters to plant, hoe, and pull the endless supply of weeds. “The large garden was some distance from the house and Mother always knew by the position of the sun when it was time to prepare dinner.". The usual patch of potatoes and sweet corn were always growing on the edge of a farm field. Bev remembers so well how her family loved French style green beans that her mother prepared. “Growing up eating all that wonderful fresh produce lead us to the love of eating vegetables,” said Bev.
Flowers grown from their original seeds in this garden include Morning Glories and Marigolds. The couple purchases Impatients and Petunias. “Most of our containers are planted with perennials which can be wintered over quite successfully. We have large containers filled with Upright Fine Leaf Buckthorn, Hibiscus, Hostas, Brunneras with Ribbon Grass, Japanese Painted Ferns, Columbines, and more. My favorites are the lovely Shorbet Peonies, pink and white Bleeding Hearts, Candytuft, and Hakone Grass,” explains Bev.
Their vegetable garden generally does well, and when the first radishes, lettuce, and spinach are done, a warmer crop is planted in their place. “We grow the usual veggies. Sugar snap peas, green beans, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli asparagus, lettuce radish, onions, cucumbers, and this year for the first time we added eggplant, vegetable squash, and zucchini. Fruits the garden is filled with, are grapes, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb and for the first time, our cherry tree has a few tiny cherries on it. Growing conditions must have been favorable since we have never seen so many blossoms on our strawberry plants before. The garden is moderate in size and we don’t preserve or process much although had such nice broccoli last year we did freeze that. We just have a little of everything, just to eat fresh,” continues Bev.
Annually, the couple put on two loads of compost from Annie’s Garden and Green to enrich the soil. “We do compost, but not enough for the entire garden,” explains Kyke.
Bev’s advice to future new gardeners? “Go for it. Start small. A garden provides healthy chemical free food full of good nutrition, and saves on the grocery bill. If you don’t feel you have succeeded the first year, try again the next year. Each year you’ll become more experienced. Be persistent Also keep in mind that everything in nature is not perfect.”
Bev took the Master gardeners classes several years ago at NICC through Iowa State using the ICN facilities there. "Iowa Master Gardener" is an educational and volunteer service program of the Iowa State University and ISU Extension. Through this program, interested volunteers receive advanced training in horticulture and environmental topics of special value to the home gardener. To maintain your status and to remain certified, one needs to complete a required number of educational and volunteer hours. Decorah is home to a very active Master Gardeners club, who volunteer their knowledge and hands to complete and maintain many worthwhile projects. Due to some health issues, Bev was not able to complete the required volunteer hours and so presently, she is not certified. “It’s a fine group and I hope to join again soon,” she says after having been very active in the group for many years.
The couple finds gardening and landscaping a very relaxing and stress-free hobby. Although the Lutkenhaus’s have a double lot, they would like to try sweet potatoes and kiwi some year if they can find space, because they like the challenge of growing something new in their garden. Leaving the Lutkenhaus’s after a delightful morning, Bev points out a mourning dove on a nest in a flowering crab tree in the front yard. The hard work put into these well kept lawn, beautiful shrubs and bushes, lovely trees, and thoughtful gardens has made a lush habitat for everyone, even the tiniest of creatures.