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Inside Iowa State
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April 27, 2001

Ask an expert

Q: What fun things can we do this year to jazz up our yards?

Cynthia Hayes, assistant professor
A: Planting annuals will jazz up your yard. There's a whole series of "Wave" petunias that would be good. They are good in containers and as ground cover. They have bright colors and make "waves" of purple, pink, etc. And they are incredibly easy to grow. Statues, fountains and other art objects also are popular in gardens. Check out the latest in unusual water sprinklers that also are very artistic.
      Gary Hightshoe, professor
landscape architecture
A: I'd suggest planting a wild flower that holds a connection to some place. We all vacation, travel, have romantic interludes in the prairies and wood-lands. So I'd suggest a commemorative plant to be a reminder of a special friend, loved one or experience of place. Another welcome idea is to plant a tree for all the environmental benefits it accrues. I would not suggest a particular type because everyone plants about five trees here, leaving us susceptible to catastrophes, like Dutch Elm disease. Plant diversity is important to sustaining landscapes. I would pick a native tree, for its resilience in our harsh climate and for its environmental benefits.

Jeffrey Iles, associate professor
A: Turfgrass is important in the home landscape, but I'm always looking for ways to reduce the amount of time I spend mowing. One way to do this is to create large beds in the yard devoted to plants -- annuals, or combinations of annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees. You can position these accent beds in those hot, dry problem spots where the turf seems to struggle year after year. Spring also is a good time to add a tree or two to the yard, but make sure you provide the appropriate amount of room and sunlight/shade conditions they require. And don't forget about flowering trees. There are lots of excellent flowering crab apples that are perfect for spicing up the home landscape. But if these ideas are still too tame, you could always try pink flamingos or a gazing ball.
      Michael Martin, assistant professor
landscape architecture
A: My first visit to Ames was during March, five years ago, and what struck me about the landscape was the persistent wind and the visual openness. I would recommend capitalizing on both these qualities -- use "wind sculpture," which can mean anything from a simple toy pinwheel to more elaborate devices, sold at garden centers, that twirl, flutter and spin. A great variety of hardy ornamental grasses are becoming available, which also move freely in the wind and provide a contrast with more traditional plantings. Many of these ornamental grasses are on display at Reiman Gardens -- a great place to find inspiration for residential landscapes.

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