Midwest: Play Ball!

Kansas City, Missouri, USDA Zone 5

The baseball season and the gardening season coincide here in Kansas City. While the Royals hold spring training in Surprise, Arizona, I warm up in my backyard, running the bases between the compost heap and the rose bushes and the boxwoods, making sure everyone is in good shape for the year ahead.

The pitchers and catchers are always the first to report to camp; by that time the witch hazels are in full bloom in Kansas City. This somehow makes me feel very optimistic about the season. I wish they had witch hazels in Arizona, too, instead of all that cactus—the Royals needed some inspiration after 2005, when they lost 106 games and ended up with the worst record in baseball. Gardeners can sympathize. I’ve had some discouraging seasons, too, although I don’t often lose 106 plants.

It seems to me that every team needs a proven utility man who starts fast and can be counted on for solid work wherever he’s positioned. I also like that kind of versatility in the garden–I’m thinking of peonies, which push their red stems up through the soil early, produce incredible blooms in late May and early June, and back up the other players in the garden all summer long. In October, after a hard season, the peonies even put on a show of fall color. The Royals could use a few guys with the sterling qualities of a peony.

The team is also trying to build up a little pop in the outfield, from what I hear. My husband and I were able to do that in the garden last year, adding a few hydrangeas by the back fence. I’ve been thinking a deciduous holly would also be a smart addition back there, giving us a flash of red in the off-season. Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, is a pretty forlorn place in winter, but a garden really should have year-round interest.

A limited budget is one of the perennial frustrations of a small-market team. The Royals don’t have much cash to throw around; they have to rely on the farm system, giving young players a chance. It’s the same in my own back yard: I have to make do with rookies drafted at a tender age. They don’t always pan out, but if they blossom, they can count on a career here, just like the great George Brett in his day with the Royals. (In the big leagues these days, a young star is more likely to find himself uprooted and traded to a team in contention.)

On Opening Day, I’ll be out there taking my hacks in the garden, with the game on the radio. Time will tell about the Royals, but I’m going to have a winning season, no matter what. 

Worth Growing
Plants of Merit, a program sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, and Powell Gardens, just outside of Kansas City, promotes great but underappreciated plants for our challenging climate.  Bluestar, or Amsonia hubrichtii, is one of my favorites. Visit www.plantsofmerit.org, www.mobot.org, or www.powellgardens.org to learn more about the program and its recommended plants.

Quick Tips for a Happy Spring

  • Kansas City rose gardeners feed their roses for the first time around mid-April. Remove mulch from around the crowns, cut dead canes back, and fertilize lightly. Then water well.

  • Don’t hold off—touch base with the neighborhood garden shops in early spring. Look for shrubs and perennials now and get them started. Annuals will be along in due time.


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