The Potato Ditch Iris

A couple of years ago, Todd and I had the chance to dig up potatoes at the farm next door to where I board my horse. The farm decided not to dig the potatoes on that parcel because there was too much debris in the field.  As it turns out, that particular part of the field used to have a house on it.

It was a blast. Not only did we dig up several buckets of red potatoes, we found all sorts of bits of the life that had been lived there before.  There was a lot of glass, pieces of dishes, door knobs, and I even found a little glass bottle intact.

I also found a big clump of iris growing in the ditch next to the field right next to where we parked our car. They had been mowed down and driven over during the growing and harvest season, but I dug up a bunch anyway. I labeled them “Potato Ditch Iris.”

It was already well into October, but I stuck them in the ground anyway. I guess the house had been torn down many years ago. I wondered how long it had been there. I started searching for any available plat maps online, and sure enough, I did find proof that there had been a house their for many years. I have overlaid a 1949 county plat with today’s satellite image. The red circle indicates the structure that used to stand there. It matches the area where we dug our potatoes!

1949 Overlay Potato Field

I’m not sure whether these iris ever grew around that house or if they were just wanderers that ended up next to that particular field. But they gave me a spark of interest to see what the field had been before it was a potato field (not that it takes much for me to start investigating for old maps).

I did get a bloom or two last year, they are nothing special in the department of exciting iris, but they are definitely historic. What I love most is the experience of discovering the flowers, and collecting the stories that go along with the place.

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My First Heritage Flower Extraction

One year ago, this week, Todd and I took a 39 hour trip to Omaha and back. The reason: Heritage Flower Extraction.

In 2012, my Grandma and Grandpa Petersen’s house was sold. My grandfather built the classic 1950’s ranch house. My mother, uncle, and aunt were raised there; and all seven grand-kids spent countless hours there.

In 2015, I first started thinking about “heritage gardens” and collecting flowers from family homes. Grandma Pete’s garden was first on my list, because I had the most clear memories of it. I sent out a letter with photos and stories to the new owners, and a request. With their permission, I would love some splits from her garden. They answered, YES!

In 2017, the house was up for sale again.

Between winters, buying a home, and life…collecting sat on the back burner, until I found out the house was for sale again. The Omaha market can be fast, so I panicked. Maybe the new owners wouldn’t be as generous. So, a hasty 2nd request was made and permission given, again. The house was empty, so it didn’t matter when we went. I wanted to get it done fast.

So, on the longest day of 2017 (literally), I worked 9-6 and closed the store, came home, and Todd suggested we leave ASAP. I cleaned the cat litter, packed a small bag, and off we went. I had already packed the car with a tarp, buckets, soil, shovels, and pots.

We made it past Des Moines, and decided to stop. For a few hours, very uncomfortably, we slept in the car at a rest stop. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up and just in time to meet Dad, my sister, and the kids at Hy-Vee for breakfast. It wasn’t even 9 am and the temps were rising close to 90 degrees. If we were going to get flowers, the time was now. So, off we went. Me still in my work clothes, which was at the time, a garden center. It kind of made me look official, like I was a landscaper (or at least that’s how I want to justify wearing that shirt for so many hours).

It had been many years since I had been to the house. It wasn’t in great shape (Grandpa was probably rolling in his grave). But, we pulled into the back drive and I went to work. I was respectful. I took only splits and pieces. I retreived daylilies, hostas, clippings of the climbing rose, and lilacs, chunks of peony, and iris. I also collected some of the large rocks that had been collected by the family over the years.

I worked fast, because I definitely felt weird being there and digging up stuff. It was a very surreal feeling being there. Finally, with the back of the car full, I insisted Todd lift the cement urn/planter into the last remaining spot. I’m a lucky gal. He did it without too much questioning. It had been there forever, and came from their house before. I couldn’t pass up the chance.

My final act was to open the back storm door and listen to it close one last time. It’s a strange thing to miss, but the sound is the sound of my childhood, and something strangely comforting.  That’s when I lost it. I held my emotions back through the plant collection, but the damn door got to me. I knew it was the last time I’d hear it, and the last time I’d be in that yard, where I spent so much of my childhood.

The deed was done, now we had to figure out what to do with the plants for a few hours while we did the quick Omaha tour. At Dad’s apartment, I sat in the parking space quickly potting up and watering my prizes. Then, we took a shopping cart and an elevator ride to the third floor and some AC. There we took a short nap and looked at photos. Then, we ate lunch with Dad at The Barleycorn, toured Memorial Park’s rose garden, and drove through Dad’s childhood neighborhood to scope out my other grandparents’ house.

Next up, watching my niece’s swim lesson, Thai food for dinner with the family, loading up the car, and heading out again. We arrived in Omaha as the sun was coming up, and left as it was setting. We also made a stop on the way out to pick up a bunch of Runzas (so I could share their glory with Wisconsin).

We stopped once more, just on the other side of Des Moines for a rest stop nap, then drove through Minnesota as the sun was coming up. It was still early when we finally pulled into our drive, our car loaded with some very special plants. After a much needed shower and nap, I began cleaning and adding the flowers to my garden.

Of the plants I brought home, only a handful survived the stress of the drive, and our really crappy winter. The losses: all the lilacs, all the roses, and almost all of the peonies. The iris came through like champs after spending a month in an inch of ice. I don’t know if you can kill daylilies or hostas? The remaining piece of peony has been moved to a better spot and is growing in a fortress of caging for protection.

The collection, today:

I will be excited when they all finally bloom and spread. My plan is to share pieces with all the Petersens that want a piece of Grandma Pete’s garden.

This concludes my first “heritage flower extraction.” I expect many more. And soon, I will share with you more about Grandma and Grandpa Pete’s house and their lives.

My First Perennial Salvage

 The “Elvira Ditch Lilies” is how this salvage is affectionately known. Early last spring, Todd and I were driving down Highway 51, through Plover. The street was in the process of being widened. The construction meant the last of the original Plover buildings were no longer standing, as well as a number of private properties. As we drove along, I noticed a patch of what I thought were Iris popping out of a disturbed bed along the construction zone. They were, of course, not Iris but the shoots of Day Lilies springing to life. I knew they were in the path of destruction and without  any idea of what color or variety they were decided to save them. The next day, Todd and I pulled into a parking lot near the construction zone. Armed with a bucket of dirt and a spade, I went to work digging out a few clumps. They were insanely stubborn, refusing to be pried from their gravely bed. Triumphantly, I got in the truck with my bucket of rescues and went about my day.

Before I decided to dig up these plants, I knew I needed to a little research into the land they were growing on. I didn’t want to dig up somebody’s bed of flowers without permission. As I suspected, they land was a tract owned by the DOT for the widening road. I don’t think the DOT really cares about them  or the fact that I dug a few up. Sure enough, within a week or so the entire bed of flowers had been bulldozed over and lost to history. The bucket of starts sat in that bucket all spring waiting for a new permanent home.

The permanent home the lilies were looking for, is my in my large garden bed. At the time when they were collected, we were in the process of closing on our first home. I planted the lilies in the garden bed, and to my surprise, they bloomed! A few tall, orange trumpets sprang up out of the rescued clump. The lilies are nothing exciting. They are just the standard, old-fashioned orange lily. In fact, our house came with a whole bed of those big old orange lilies.

Despite their seemingly unexciting variety, the lilies are special. They are my first ‘salvage’ and their original home is now partially street, sidewalk, and an extended parking lot. It also gave me an excuse to look up who may have planted them. What was this tract of land before it was DOT? What is it’s history? It turns out, it has kind of a nice little history, and one that makes me happy to have the lilies from that land.

Follow this link to the my post about the land, and just why they are called the “Elvira Ditch Lilies…