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Iowa Gardening: The Zoneworthy Garden

Environmental Stewardship
Takes Root in Your Own Backyard

Story and photography by Kelly D. Norris

Gardening in Iowa isn’t for the faint of heart, something I’ve learned with erring trowel since I started poking around in the dirt with my grandma as a little kid.

Ravaged by ice storms in January, thawed in March, melted in July, and blown away in a tumult of cornstalks and dust by October, a garden in this state weathers it all, literally.

Against such odds, Iowa gardeners deserve collections of plants that are both beautiful and resilient: horticultural artworks that sing the praises of the seasons; regionally appropriate workhorses that perform admirably in Zones 4 and 5 without fuss or fertilizer.

By choosing plants that are truly zoneworthy — those that don’t merely survive but thrive in our environmental conditions — Iowa gardeners can cultivate gardens rich in ecological goodness, a sustainable idea in all seasons.

With respect for that seasonal clock, the natural timepiece of the landscape, I’ve cultivated my passion for plants.

I’ve wandered wild lands in pursuit of forgotten flora, the natives that lurk in remnants of their former landscapes waiting to be rediscovered.

It’s in these wild places that the drumbeat of the zone thumps the loudest. Gardening is a celebration of place.

Gardening is also a celebration of diversity. Our gardens can revel in plants from faraway but climatically similar places.

In this spirit, at the intersection of locality and variety, I’ve happened upon more than a few favorites as I’ve created a visual timepiece in my southwest Iowa garden, passionately pursuing the seasons one essential plant at a time.

Early Spring

The waking days of an Iowa spring announce themselves in droves of ephemeral wildflowers — the diminutive blooms of spring beauty, liverwort and meadow rue.

Like seasonal decorations that get trucked out from storage, briefly displayed, then shuffled away as the calendar turns, the first stirrings in the garden — though brief — deserve celebration.

(Read more about The Zoneworthy Garden)

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