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Polk County Master Gardeners

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Polk County

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A modest sampling of the gardens available during the 2022 Garden Tour

Allow each garden's pictures and short descriptions guide your travel experience

Urbandale and Clive

Garden 1

Rustic Garden Design- Memories of the Farm

Garden by Master Gardener Judy Hines

When Judy Hines moved into a new subdivision in Dallas County, she was presented with a blank canvas to plan her flower gardens. Judy chose to develop two combination shrub/flower beds, each with a canopy of shade trees to complete the picture. Judy’s landscape can be described as an “old fashioned flower garden with a touch of rustic garden design”.  Elements of rustic garden design in the front yard are a wagon wheel, metal gate, an old plow, small picket fence in addition to a wooden trug, where Judy raises cherry tomatoes.  Her front yard bed anchored by a Crabapple tree includes yellow and orange Coreopsis, Coneflowers, coralbells, Goldenrod, Red Hardy Hibiscus, Asiatic Lilies and many other perennials.

Judy, who developed her love of gardening while growing up on a farm in Manning, Iowa, has transplanted some perennials from her childhood home, including several hostas, peonies and daylilies. Another reminder of the farm is multi-colored Hollyhocks on the east side of her home, they provide a privacy cover for Judy’s screened-in back porch, at the same time allowing a gentle breeze into the porch sitting area. Other favorite perennials in the back-yard bed include Beebalm, Hardy Geranium, Phlox, several kinds of Coneflowers, Sedum Autumn Joy, Siberian Iris, Burning Bush, Knockout roses, and Chrysanthemums.  A newer bed is a beginner pollinator garden with a Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Milkweed, Phlox and a mix of wildflowers.

Gardening is a family affair at this site. Judy’s daughter’s home backs on her property and Judy shares her love of gardening with her granddaughter Kylie. Kylie’s rustic garden design and memories of the farm continues with three large water troughs planted with raised bed vegetable gardens. Last year, Kylie moved the raised beds to the lower garden and added permanent block wall beds for even more vegetables.

Garden 2

The Gardener as Artist

Garden by Master Gardener Nancy Anderson

For Nancy Anderson, the multiple garden beds surrounding her home provide a framework for something different, something new. 

There are the beloved foundations and base of her garden beds—like the beloved Hardy Hibiscus off the backyard patio which Nancy has transplanted from 2 other homes. There are the peony bushes and the blue hydrangea on the northeast side of her front yard. There is the sunny bed by the street where Purple Salvia and Baptisia bloom. There is the backyard woods with dense shade trees towering over her yard. These are her anchors, the cornerstones of her many garden beds.

Then like an artist experimenting with light and color, Nancy surveys her gardens and plans for those special additions of color and texture. Her southside “anything goes flower bed” is an example of this.  Sometimes it is wildflowers grown from seed, sometimes a bed of zinnias, sometimes a particular annual flower bed; this is her eclectic cottage garden area. This is the area which delights her with surprises, a fun place that makes her smile.

Recently the towering trees of Honey Locust and the woodland beyond present the challenge of dense shade. Hostas, the backbone of any shade garden, have not fared too well back here with the visiting deer enjoying a daily Hosta feast. 

Nancy, ever the artist, ever the garden designer, redesigns the woodland garden - Brunnera, Ferns, Astilbe, Angel Wing Wax Begonia and Heuchera all will have a chance to show their stuff, in Nancy’s search to find the right combination for this challenging area. 

It is fitting that Nancy has gardens with their challenges and their opportunities to shine.  She has been gardening since the age of eight when she first asked for her own flower bed. She remembers scattering wildflower seeds and the joy of seeing those first blooms. Nancy’s joy of gardening continues every season in this cherished garden setting.

Garden 3

The Splendor of Color

Garden by Master Gardener Kathy Cole

Vibrant colors, delicate textures, and unusual flowers are the mainstay of Kathy Cole's garden. The display begins at the entrance to the home with perennial beds that include Knockout Roses, Clematis, Lupin and Iris; the addition of Daylilies and Daises along the pathway creates an informal garden effect.

In the back the stunning Coneflower collection includes a mix of red, yellow, orange, white, hot pink, and deep purple. Blue False Indigo (Baptisia), Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea and a rare Clematis Roguchi (bluebells) are favorites. A bubbling fountain surrounded by Scottish Moss and Flagstone anchors the entire garden.

A must-see feature of this backyard garden is the charming Garden House, designed by Kathy and her husband, Steve. This Garden structure, Kathy’s Happy Place, includes a front porch for sitting and reflecting, as well as a potting table and work areas. White window boxes, cascading with blooms enhance the outside entrance. 

Of interest is a rain barrel irrigation system, devised by Kathy and Steve that can water most of the backyard plants. Underneath their deck a rain catching gutter system channels rainwater into a 200-gallon rain barrel fit with an on-demand electric pump.

A cement leaf garden path (an original design crafted by Kathy), a memorial bench to loved ones, and a dedicated raised bed vegetable garden are other features not to be missed in this memorable garden.

Garden 4

A Perfect Backdrop for Entertaining

Garden by Master Gardener Charity McCauley Andeweg

Charity McCauley Andeweg began her current garden “from scratch” in 2013, taking a suburban lawn barren of any plants to new levels of color, texture and shape.  This garden is home to over 150 varieties of shrubs, trees, and plants, many of which are native to Iowa. She believes Iowa’s hot and dry summers can certainly be a challenge, and using drought and heat resistant Iowa natives ensure a much better level of success.

Unusual and interesting shrubbery and trees are the real foundation of this home garden. A Japanese Maple and a Korean Maple in the front greet the visitor with a gentle hint of what treasures lie beyond the garden gates. There are also several Itoh peonies and a Oakleaf Hydrangea included in front that provide several seasons of color and interest.

In the back three beloved Smoke Bushes are joined by Contorted White Pines, Mohican Viburnum, a Harry Lauder Walking Stick, Glossy Black Chokeberry, and a spring blooming Witch-hazel. These provide some privacy from the Urbandale Bike Trail that borders the yard, but still allows walkers and bikers a peek at the stunning panorama.  

Favorite Perennials include Fritilla, otherwise known as Skunk Plant, and Buck Roses. A favorite annual is Salvia that draws in both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Charity considers her garden an extension of her home, another room to enjoy all summer long.  She says, “It is the perfect backdrop for entertaining family and friends.” In 2020 a Garden House was added that serves as both a place for storing garden tools and necessities and a place to relax.  

Her advice to gardeners is “to try new plants and new things. Do not be afraid to try.  If it doesn’t work well in your garden, move it or give it away.  Not every plant belongs in every garden”. She knows that not being afraid to try rewarded her with a serene and joyful outdoor space.

Garden 5

Dunlap Park and Arboretum

City of Urbandale

Jackaline and Paul Dunlap began their secret garden in 1974 when they started purchasing the farmland around their Urbandale home, eventually transforming the cornfield into a 12-acre outdoor retreat full of natural beauty.

This masterpiece, accessible from the Dunlap’s back yard, was surrounded on all sides by Urbandale subdivisions and hidden from the public. Jackaline had a special greenhouse for tropical plants and directly off the sunroom a prized perennial bed surrounded by a Brick pathway. The couple wanted to create a space that was reminiscent of Iowa’s prairie past, while also incorporating unique and rare plant and tree species not historically found in Iowa.

Jackaline’s dream from the beginning was to share the arboretum with the community and ensure its beauty was protected for future generations to enjoy. In 2012, the couple gifted the arboretum and meadow to the City of Urbandale, entrusting the City to continue efforts to realize the vision for the park and celebrate the legacy of Jackaline and Paul.

There is a short loop of paved path, with a modern shelter. Lots of benches and picnic tables are spread throughout the shady park. There are several garden sculptures and planted gardens, with a connection to the nearby paved bike trail.

Four acres of the plot feature a mature arboretum, with a variety of native and foreign trees and plants, including concolor fir, horse chestnut, blue spruce, and magnolias.

This year Polk County Master Gardeners lend their expertise and energy to Urbandale's Park and Recreation efforts to enhance Jackaline’s beloved perennial bed.

Des Moines

Garden 6

That One Des Moines Garden!

Garden by Horticulturist Derek McKay

Just what is That One Des Moines Garden? Oh, you know, it's the one with all the Dinosaurs! Derek McKay graduated with a horticulture degree with high honors in 2013, he's spent the last 8 years at Ted Lare Garden Center helping others with their plant questions and has now been able to start his own gardening dreams!

His garden is situated in southern Des Moines, distinct for its rolling hills. Using his knowledge and love for dinosaurs, he transformed this once blank plot into lush, green, 'dino-riffic' gardens in just four years. People viewing the garden for the first time won't have any trouble finding the place - in the front yard, a T-Rex topiary greets guests and is the only "living" dinosaur in Iowa! Jurassic creatures are the mainstay of his garden.

Dinosaurs aside, the gardens are brimming with "prairie inspired" plantings and island beds with plenty of open lawn space to tie in with the surrounding neighborhood. You will see a mix of different groupings and ecosystems ranging from woodland garden to open prairie that bring color in all four seasons with 80 to 90% of the plant material being of native types.

For colors you often see shades of yellow, pink, purple and cream with plenty of graceful grasses as well. Tucked in are beautiful Coneflowers, Helianthus, Ironweed. A perfect example of a micro-prairie can be found in a strip in the backyard. From there a mixture of sun to part sun loving native plants alongside old fashioned favorites can be found in the beds around the home annuals such as Vista Petunias ( Derek's favorite) and Begonias to bridge the color gap in seasons.

There is a border garden along the side of the house showing off a mixture of mainstay shrubs like Weigela and unique ones like dwarf Ginkgo and Shredded Umbrella Plant which complement the Jurassic theme.

Behind the garage sits a large woodland garden under a canopy of a beautiful Black Sugar Maple which branches gracefully shade the entire space. You can walk down the natural path where you will quickly find Little Lucky, standing at 8 feet tall is the gardens most famous and largest (but friendliest) T-Rex.

Garden 7

Gardens with a View- Lush Vegetation and Rolling Prairie Fields

Garden by garden enthusiast Linda Bender

Linda Bender has a large garden situated just south of downtown with views of the whole city. When she and her husband, Tre Wilson, moved into the property in 1988, it was a Midwest jungle with a honeysuckle hedge, large conifers, woods full of undergrowth, and lots of poison ivy. Over the years the worst and most dangerous of originating vegetation has been dealt with and replaced.

A large magnolia, half of which was lost in the derecho, is the first thing to see entering the property. Surrounding the tree are 70-year-old junipers faced with some of the hundreds of Annabelle Hydrangeas that form a background to all the plantings in the yard. 

The back yard has hydrangeas forming an informal background to the other plantings. All the hydrangeas started from one Annabelle Hydrangea, divided many times. Receiving a lot of sun, beds of native grasses and herbs grow throughout center and north facing gardens. A scattering of evergreens provide additional texture. A large white spruce sports a witch’s broom, a deformity where the natural structure of the plant has changed.

The west side of the property was initially formed after a landslide in 2008. Now, a three tiered garden stands containing native prairie plants that feed the local wildlife, and is easily accessed by stairs and several paths with access to the woods too. Last year, the prairie had reached full maturity and provided a spectacular view a top the railed overlook. Hopefully this year, the prairie will come back as strong as the last!

This isn’t a totally random planting scheme, although there is a lot of trial and error. Grasses, rather than flowers, are the emphasis. Low evergreens provide contrast. The main garden is entered by a log ends path designed to create a transition from shade to sun. Plants to note in all of the plantings are rattlesnake master, false indigo, little bluestem, big bluestem, switchgrass, Joe Pye weed and northern sea oats to name a few. Most of the plants were gifted.

Garden 8

A Jewel of River Bend 

Garden by gardening enthusiast Nagjije Ferataj

Work began on this garden in 2017, when renovation on the Queen Anne Victorian located on the property wrapped up.  The lot and a half surrounding the house was in very poor shape having been used for decades as a parking lot when the home was split into bachelor apartments, before a fire left it gutted and abandoned in the late 1990s. 

Gardener Nagjije Ferataj began work on the unloved space by leveling out the yard to repair damage done by trucks and dumpsters, through the installation of geothermal heating, during the home's renovation. Flowers were the first addition of greenery with a focus on colors and butterfly friendly plants.  The daughter of a dedicated gardener Nagjije spent hours creating a space to grow vegetables, including special peppers just like the ones she grew up with in Kosovo. Over the last four years the garden has grown rapidly.  Hardscapes were added in the form of a block retaining wall, a walkway of recycled 1880s bricks, a patio and a metal fence to provide structure. Nagjije has added fruit trees, plants rescued from other older homes in the historic neighborhood, and a continues focusing on plants that bring in pollinators. The most recent additions were two bee colonies and rain water barrels.

The garden sparkles with color, illustrating Nagjije's ability to blend plants of all types, shapes and sizes. She continues to build out the space by weaving together flowers, vegetables and anything else green to create a very unique and vibrant space. 

Garden 9

Micro Urban Prairie and Produce Gardens

Garden by garden enthusiast Shirley Treanor

Shirley moved to her newly built home in December of 2020.  As soon as the weather allowed, she began creating the gardens of her dreams; a micro urban prairie and two produce gardens which sport various flowers to attract pollinators.  She strives for a landscape that is neat and pleasing to the eye, but not overly manicured. 

In the past, Iowa was predominantly prairie and Shirley wanted to bring a little bit of that back by planting native wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses.  She utilized funding from the City of Des Moines' Rain Campaign to help create a front yard, micro urban prairie complete with amended soil, a rain garden, a bird station with a sitting area, and rain barrels.

The rain garden surrounded by native plants that Shirley started from seed, were donated by various individuals or were rescued by Shirley from an established pollinator garden being torn down to make room for a building expansion.  The front lawn is partially shaded by a large male Ginkgo tree.  It is so ancient the species is known as a "living fossil"!

As you move from the front yard to the southeast and southwest gardens, you will see a combination of flowers and produce plants as well as more rain barrels. There are two beehives that Shirley houses on the property.  The hives are managed by a high school teacher who is an apiarist and the students who are members of the school’s bee club.

In the winter of 2020 Shirley set up a grow room and taught herself how to start seeds.  In the winter of 2021, she established a worm farm.  The worm farm will be on display the day of the tour for attendees who are interested in vermicomposting. 

Shirley is looking forward to having you as her guest as you explore the gardens which are being created from the power of big dreams.  BIG DREAMS REQUIRE BIG ACTIONS!

Garden 10

The Creative Enthusiast- Giving New Life to Old Items

Garden by Bee Keeper and Artist Jason Campfield-Holdefer

Jason Campfield-Holdefer’s garden has been evolving for the last twenty years. It went from perfectly manicured with everything in its place to what it is now; organized chaos. He has grown to appreciate the look of a cottage garden and slowly turned his garden space into one. He made an above-ground pond out of an old cattle trough that used to be his childhood swimming pool. “I love using old items and giving them new life in the garden”, says Jason. “I took [the pond] from a rust covered hulk to a freshly painted pond.” It is now filled with lots of plants and fish with many types of wildlife who love to visit the pond.

Last year, he started keeping bees and currently has two hives. One of the hives is called a Flow Hive and has a different way of harvesting the honey, reducing stress on the bees when harvesting. The bee group he is a part of has monthly meetings and last August they came to Jason’s property to view how to harvest honey from the Flow Hive. Knowing that the bees love to visit the many different flowers and the pond, Jason started adding more native Iowa plants for the bees to enjoy, including more fall blooming plants to prolong their foraging season.

In the backyard, you will noticed a uniquely shaped tree. This tree is fashioned in a style called Espalier, and is meant to reduce light waste while maximizing growth potential in small spaces. He picked up a young Asian Pear and build a ten-foot by ten-foot wood and wire frame to house the plant. It has not always gone to plan, but it is slowly becoming what he was hoping it would.

Looking around, you will notice that many things in these gardens have been given new life. An orphaned squirrel habitat that has been converted into a small green house, an old enamel baby bathtub (previously his fathers-in-laws) turned into a fairy garden, and various auto shop and fishing items have been turned into planters. The garden also features old farm and garden tools that are now sculptures. Recently, Jason has designed and added an abstract art installation and lighting to the gardens.


Garden 11

Simple Ambitions Leading to Certified Expertise

Garden by Master Gardener (intern) Shayla Smith

Master Gardener (intern) Shayla Smith’s garden is nestled in central Ankeny. It was started 5 years ago with a dream of providing a bit of self-sufficiency by way of a large vegetable garden which has grown into a collector’s landscape of both edibles and ornamentals. Boasting vast varieties of perennials such as iris, daylilies, tulips, and peonies, this garden provides color from early Spring to the latest months of the growing season.

The vegetable garden is almost entirely started from seed by the homeowner. With the collector’s mindset, this part of the garden contains many regular staples of the traditional Iowa food garden with an emphasis on growing as many varieties of the same vegetable as possible, the focal point being 35 different varieties of peppers. A large potted herb garden contains many culinary as well as medicinal herbs. A young berry patch also houses black, red, and golden raspberries, blueberries, and both white and blackberries. Along the side of the house, compost is made in a three bin system which supplies some of the ground cover for the mentioned gardens. 

With the loss of a 70 year old tree due to the derecho in 2020, the homeowners began development of a nature playscape around the large leftover stump with hopes of cultivating a habitat of Iowa native plants surrounding the area.

Additionally, Shayla began the Des Moines Backyard Gardeners group on Facebook which, as of March 2022, has 8.8k members who share their love of gardening. The page includes pictures members post of their gardens, various inquiries about growing specific plants or about landscaping suggestions, interesting memes and links related to gardening, and stories members share about their current journey with gardening.

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