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OTTUMWA — Alicia Houk wasn’t the first person at the Ottumwa Public Library on Saturday morning, ready to launch the landscaping project after a one-week rain delay. In fact, some volunteers had already started removing sticks and weeds from the soon-to-be gardens, getting a jump start on the day.

“I’m so glad to see people here!” Houk called.

The original plans called for volunteers last weekend, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. But that also gave a little more time for preparations. By the time Saturday rolled around orange flags and painted outlines showed where the plants were headed. Each flag had the name of a plant on it, with bluebells in one area, ferns in others and plenty of space for the range of greenery Houk had picked.

Connie Miller has been part of the group behind the plantings at the library, which are themselves an extension of efforts to get native plants placed at other spots around Ottumwa. The library work should help address another challenge the facility has long had: the large trees provide lovely shade, but aren’t friendly to grass.

By planting woodland species in the areas with partial sun, the hope is that the paths and plants will add a lush feel to the landscape.”I want to be pat of this beautification at the library,” Miller said.

The work has another purpose for Miller. Sh’s learning more about how to landscape around her home as she works with Houk and other volunteers.

Houk walked over to give Miller her assignment. “I think I’ll put you on bluebells,” she said.

“Bluebells? I love it!” said Miller as they walked toward the designated bluebell area.

Justin Birch, 6, found himself working on another area, removing some plants that needed to make way for the new landscaping. He liked gardening, but couldn’t exactly put his finger on why.

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.

There is one thing he’s sure of, though. He likes seeing the squirrels play in gardens. And with the trees around the library, there are sure to be plenty of them scrambling around in search of places to hide their acorns.

As for the one-week delay, Houk wasn’t complaining. The sun was shining. It was cool, but warming quickly toward a very comfortable day. And, after months of work, the goal of the new landscaping was finally within reach.

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Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.