Horticulture Pre-tour was a Success

Eighteen horticulture agents experienced a fun and educational Horticulture Pre-Tour. Our adventure stayed in the Des Moines area.

Tour to the Iowa Cubs.Our first stop was Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs Minor League Baseball team, where we learned a lot about turf and baseball. The field has a rich history dating back to 1947, with obvious renovations and improvements through the decades.

From there, we traveled to Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden. This garden in the heart of downtown Des Moines is a testing ground for plants and a photography studio for the company’s publications and websites, including Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living. The main features of this small garden include a courtyard, perennial garden, shade, vegetable and herb gardens. It is open to the public on Fridays, so if you are staying late, be sure to stop by.

Next was Jasper Winery, where we learned about Iowa’s grape and wine industry as well as the best apples for hard cider making. Jasper Winery also holds many events and we witnessed a wedding. We tasted the local wines made there while enjoying lunch.

Iowa Native Trees and Shrubs was our furthest designation, a unique nursery located in a rural setting that specializes in growing trees and shrubs native to Iowa using local seed and air-root-pruning technology. Air-root pruning was developed by Carl Whitcomb, from Oklahoma State University. Besides the native plants, we enjoyed tree-ripe peaches!

Our last stop of the day was the 140-acre Brenton Arboretum, which started in 1996 and has developed into an ever-expanding collection of more than 2,500 trees and shrubs representing 500 species, hybrids and cultivars all set among native prairie plantings. Kentucky Coffee Tree, Oaks, and Hickories are some of the collections they are growing. The land dates back to the Brenton Family, from 1853. Dinner was served by Hy-Vee, the popular grocery store chain. You may have noticed the Hy-Vee Hall or the store on Court Avenue.

Farmers market visitors.On Saturday, we walked to the Downtown Farmers Market to sample coffee, eat breakfast, and pick up a few souvenirs. The Market is on several streets downtown that are blocked off from traffic. It was considered a slow day at the Market because of the fair. To us out-of-towners, we thought it was extremely busy, so we were glad the fair was on. There was a great diversity of musicians playing, vegetables, fruits, pastries, crafts, etc. to choose from. We walked to our bus pick-up at the World Food Prize garden. (Hint: if you are playing the app game check out the picture on the Wall).

Then it was off to Plant Life Designs, where we will toured the beautiful gardens and learned about their landscape design process and philosophy. From the cantina to the wood-fired pizza oven, each garden space was immaculately maintained. They share their flowers every Friday by cutting in the gardens and selling arrangements at their roadside stand. Plant Life Designs.

The next stop was the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens, with fourteen acres of gardens surrounding the large iconic dome conservatory. They feature several types of Iowa prairies, water gardens, art and tropicals within the conservatory. We enjoyed lunch at the Trellis Café, with views of the Botanical Garden.

The next stop was Ted Lare Design and Build and Garden Center. This is a premier award-winning business and a beautiful garden center. This may have been the cleanest nursery/landscape business any of us have ever seen. Those who drove to Iowa may have bought a plant or two.

Our last horticulture stop was Grade A Gardens. This family-operated producer sustainably grows organic fruits and vegetables for CSA as well as dozens of local restaurants and specialty grocery stores. We were mesmerized by the hanging garlic, the diversity of onions and vegetable crops, and the variety of chickens being grown on this SILT (Sustainable Iowa Land Trust) farm.

The fun ended at Court Aveune Brewery for dinner.

This year’s tour was sponsored by NACAA Horticulture and Turfgrass Committee.

(Submitted by Cyndi Lauderdale, NACAA Horticulture and Turfgrass Committee Chair)