Through careful planning, Iowa City woman’s garden blooms from early spring to late fall

By Dorothy de Souza Guedes, correspondent

A  towering hydrangea nearly a dozen years old stands tall at the corner of Janis and Rip Russell’s front porch; lime green spring blooms turned a warm, rosy mauve late in summer.

It is surprisingly quiet for a home near the residential heart of Iowa City except for occasional shrieks and chatter from Dickens, a large cockatoo. He’s holding court inside the house, waiting for Janis — she’s his person — to take him upstairs for the evening.

Dozens of identical, side-by-side perennial grass plants soften the chain-link fence along the Russells’ driveway. It’s a short walk around back to the patio that opens up to the surprise of a glorious urban oasis.

The back garden is brilliant with color in early September, even though Janis doesn’t plant anything special for fall. Three- and 4-foot annuals such as sturdy zinnias, plumes of celosia and climbing petunia complement perennial globes of gomphrena and spikes of salvia and veronica that bloom well into fall.

Janis plans for constantly blooming beauty and cut bouquets rather than food.

“It’s kind of like being a conductor of an orchestra,” she said.

The music begins as tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth poke through sun-warmed soil and happily announce that spring has arrived. Those early blooms quietly give way to bushy, fragrant peonies. Then the first of the 40 varieties of climbing clematis vines — the clay soil is perfect for clematis — begin to flower, late-blooming daffodils, too.

The first flush of roses burst into color and fragrance as peonies begin to fade and other varieties of clematis climb high, then bloom. Soon the glorious scent of Asiatic lilies wafts through the garden, the flowers lasting for two weeks on their sturdy stalks even when cut for bouquets.

A chorus of 200 daylilies begins as roses continue to bloom in the background. As those flowers fade, annuals strategically placed to cover flowerless foliage grow to their full height and burst into color that lasts for months.


The seasons-long color begins with weeks of fall planning, wildly scribbled notes filling page after page in Janis’ garden notebook.

Planning a Garden

Throughout the spring and summer, Janis had noted what bloomed when and how well the plants grew and bloomed.

“I want to remember all of this come next spring. That’s why I write it down,” Russell said.

She looks at the colors and decides what she wants to change for the following year. For example, her tentative plan for 2021 includes less yellow near the patio due to “overachieving” plants. She hasn’t decided what to plant in their place.

She’ll probably rearrange the zinnia area behind the garage and find a new orange seed. She bought zinnia seeds from a new company, and the color, although pretty, wasn’t true to the label.

“When I plan any colors, I want my color there,” she said.

Sometimes, she’ll cut a bouquet and walk around the yard, eyeballing it, deciding

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