BY PAUL KAMMERDINER
We disembarked in the midst of trees and followed the path up the hill. As we advanced under the watchful eye of the tower that soared into the sky we knew that we had entered a land cut off from the concrete, blacktop and dirt that we came from. Here birds sang, the breeze smelled of grass and sunshine, dragons lurked in the peek-a-boo forest, a peacock gazed majestically into space as he spread his magnificent tail of rainbow colors, shimmers of orange and white flashed beneath the waters of the forget-me-not pond, and everywhere trees nodded to each other in the wind. But when we reached the top our eyes were drawn to the amazing beauty of the gardens.
This bit of whimsy is to introduce you to where we are in the Arboretum and what we are going to look at: the Display Gardens. In the original master plan they were called “demonstration gardens” and were to be created so that “Visitors will become acquainted with the important principles of garden composition including correct proportion, color balance, focal points and sight lines which they can use in creating their own private gardens no matter what size.”
In its earliest incarnation, Craig Ritland designed the gardens, Doan Construction installed the limestone walking paths, and Vogel Irrigation installed the sprinkler system. Then, in 2007, a sub-committee was created to plan improvements to the entire Tower Hill area with special attention to the area east of the raised bed gardens. Before this time, small gardens maintained and designed by a variety of volunteers were there.
From this group, a plan began to emerge of a collection of small gardens that would not only fulfill the stated purpose in the master plan but enhance it to include separate areas for ornamental displays, some shrubbery, and a separate space for an herb garden. Recently the herb garden has expanded into a distinct space for an edible garden. These all combined have become our wonderful Display Gardens. They lie just east of the raised bed gardens and extend from the pond on the south to the Education Center on the north. There are three round “activity lawns” in close proximity surrounded by limestone paths. These gardens are lovingly cared for by a group of dedicated and hard-working volunteers that call themselves the Weed and Unwind group. Together they have created an amazing space of color and texture; mulched pathways lead you into and through the flower gardens with something to delight all the senses everywhere you look. The herb and edible gardens can be accessed from the limestone paths.
We encourage you to take a break from the hectic routine of everyday and spend some time letting these gardens put on a display for you.
BY PAUL KAMMERDINER
Anyone who has a tree in their yard usually asks the question, "What can I plant under a tree that will grow in shade?" Sadly, grass won’t grow in the shade so it seems we are left with a bare spot. Luckily, there are different options for planting in the shade. At the Arboretum, our answer was to make a lovely spot where you can relax and get out of the hot sun.
A shade garden was a feature in the original design; here is what that plan had to say; “The north wall of the walled garden will provide the initial shade for the first phase planting in the shade garden, which can be expanded after some shade giving trees are planted and assume some size. Many homeowners are faced with the dilemma of which plants will thrive in a shady environment. This garden will help answer this question by addressing the conditions of wet shade and dry shade using native and non-native plants.”
The walled garden mentioned never became a reality but as always that didn’t stop the wonderful teams of volunteers from making the shade garden a reality. Sharon Jordan and other volunteers started the Shade Garden with just a small collection of hostas around a group of 5 Honey Locust trees that were part of the site when it was still farm pasture. These trees are now the oldest trees on site.
The area really began to take shape with the formation of a project sub-committee in 2004. According to records on file from a meeting held in August of that year; Maurine Crisp, Nancy Friedman, and Keri Leymaster put together a plan "to create a garden to collect named hosta varieties and companion plants, to encourage visitors to explore the eastern part of the Arboretum, and show a design where shrubs, ferns, ornamental trees, and hosta are attractively intermixed.” The initial plant list contained over 60 varieties of hosta and through the years, other plantings have been added.
A major addition to the Shade Garden was the acquisition of a complete collection of the award-winning Stout Day Lily collection for each year since its inception in 1950. This collection was first planted along the southern edge of the garden where it has flourished and provided a spectacular display of blooms each year. In the fall of 2013, the collection was moved to a location that will enable us to better display each variety by planting them in a single file line along the path that leads to the garden from the Display Garden area. This also allows us to label each variety with an individual sign as well as providing space for future year winners.
The realization of this plan took some time but with the help of volunteers like the “Gentle Gardeners” and others, we never lost sight of what this space could become. In 2009 with a grant from the Community Foundation a hard surface path was built to lead visitors from the main activity area of the grounds down into the Shade Garden. Over the next couple of years, seating was added and educational signage put in. In 2012; five Redbud trees were planted as an understory to the Locusts; thus completing every aspect of the original 2004 project.
As with all of the gardens in the Arboretum, this one continues to evolve and improve. Today this is a peaceful oasis of shade and beauty to rest and meditate on the wonders that surround you.
BY PAUL KAMMERDINER
Perhaps one of our most underexplored gardens, but one virtually everyone walks by on a visit, is the Alpine Garden. This long narrow space runs in front of the Education Center and stretches from the service road in the west up to the Ornamental Grass Garden toward the east. It also includes the space right after the annual garden bed on either side of the memorial brick walkway into the Education Center.
This garden is described in the original master plan as a “Sand Blow”; this is what that plan says about it:
“Many people are not aware that yuccas and prickly pear are native to Iowa! This area of naturally occurring sandy soils offers an opportunity to display these plants and others such that prefer excellent drainage and do not tolerate wet conditions. The concepts of Xeriscape* gardening, water conservation can also be presented in an educational format in this garden display.”
According to the Wikipedia definition; Xeriscape is landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. "Xeriscaping." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
For several years as the gardens began to take shape, this spot remained untouched. Then in 2002 when the Education Center and the Children’s Garden were built, this “trench” of sandy soil became defined by the fences on both sides of it, and the section of ground just before you get to the Education Center.
According to our records; “In 2003 the “Fern Gully” was constructed with ferns, pieces of wood and small dogwood trees. Initial funding for the project came from a memorial gift in honor of Maurine Crisp’s mother. Arches with shade cloth were installed to shade the garden.”
I couldn’t find a photo that showed the arches in place but I am told that the shade cloth deteriorated and had to be removed; the following picture is what the Fern Gully looked like.
For the next several years, various types of plantings were tried with varying degrees of success. Finally, a group of enthusiastic volunteers from the P&O committee decided it was time this space was re-born. The name was changed to the Alpine Garden and in 2009 the existing plant material was replaced with succulents, groundcovers and rock garden perennials as a better fit for the poor soil and hot sun. The group also decided to “spruce” up the gully portion of the garden with the addition of stepping stones, hill side plantings, and fence plantings in the form of hanging baskets and box gardens. The garden that is located in front of the Education Center was also completely re-done with careful consideration to practicality and beauty. This next series of photos show some of the work done to re-create this space.
One of the lessons to be learned from this garden is that the right selection of succulents and ground cover can have a spectacular effect in your garden. The next time you visit us, pause before you go into the Education Center and take a look at the plants on either side. Be adventurous and turn left and walk down the stepping stones and view the surprises along the fences. You won't be sorry!
BY PAUL KAMMERDINER
The back bone of our grounds has always been the tree collection. Since they are the most slow-growing of our many plantings, they were planted before anything else. Many trees were planted in the middle 90s and helped to create the perimeter of our green space.
By the start of the new century, the “footprint” of the Arboretum was established with a defined parking lot, the head house, and the tower hill area. Rapid growth took place with the construction of the Education Center, Children’s Garden, and Rose Garden in the early years of the 2000s.
The natural progression was to then begin to tie it all together and fill in the middle. The first step in this process took place in 2005 when the Arrival Gardens were planted. They would act as a connection from the parking lot up the hill to the major activity center of the grounds. These gardens appeared in the original master plan as Shrub Gardens. Quoting from that plan; “the shrub garden will be an extensive collection displaying both native and exotic shrubs.”
Planning for this space began in 2004. Long-time supporter of the Arboretum and landscape architect, Craig Ritland, donated his professional services to design the Arrival Gardens. The plan was for a layered effect to showcase multiple colors, shapes, sizes and textures which will be combined for aesthetic appeal. This garden would be planted with all volunteer labor and a donation in the form of reduced cost plant materials from Jack Meyers from Meyers Nursery.
This is what the north western part of the Arboretum grounds looked like in 1997. By the end of the 90s, the parking lot was established south of the building. This started out as the maintenance building and was later remodeled into what is now the Welcome Center. To the east up the hill, north of the tower, was where the rest of the gardens and buildings would eventually be.
This is the top of the hill in 1999; it contained the community gardens, raised bed gardens, the beginnings of the display gardens, several shade structures, and an L shaped section of red wood fence.
The Arrival Garden would connect the two spaces pictured and would introduce visitors to the grounds. This garden would also serve the educational purpose of allowing visitors to see shrubs that would thrive in their own gardens and allow them to gauge size and shape of these various plants. The following is a listing of the shrubs for the Arrival Garden taken from the original plant lists found in our documents.
“Rose Glow Barberry, Ivory Halo Dogwood, Red Twig Dogwood, Yellow Twig Dogwood, Royal Purple Smoke Bush, Dwarf Burning Bush, Northern Sun Forsythia, Anabel Hydrangea, Dart’s Gold Ninebark, Diablo Ninebark, Grow-low Fragrant Sumac, Japanese White Spirea, Little Princess Spirea, Dakota Charm Spirea, Snow-mound Spirea, Crisp Leaf Spirea, Anthony Waterer Spirea, Frobel Spirea, Gold Flame Spirea, Gold-mound Spirea, Neon-flash Spirea, Dwarf Korean Lilac, Miss Kim Lilac, Alfredo Compact Cranberry, American Cranberry, and Java Red Weigela.”
In addition to shrubbery, several trees were planted in and around this space to tie everything together. Infrastructure was added to serve the purpose of making this the connection from the parking lot to the top of “tower hill”. This included brick paver and lime rock pathways, a welcome kiosk, education and information signage, and benches.
The following photos only scratch the surface of what this lovely area looks like now.
As is the case with all of our grounds, we are constantly looking for new and exciting ways to improve and enhance them. Keep coming back to see the ever changing kaleidoscope of colors and textures, a visit to the Cedar Valley Arboretum and Botanic Gardens is rarely ever the same twice!
BY PAUL KAMMERDINER
To fully understand what we see when we come to the Cedar Valley Arboretum and look at the gardens, we need to start thinking in terms of how long it takes most growing things to mature.
Relatively speaking, our gardens are very young; for instance even though a formal rose garden was part of the Master Plan in the 1990s, it did not get developed until 2001.
Quoting from the Master Plan under the heading The Formal Rose Garden:
“The rose more than any other ornamental plant embodies a long and enduring history of ornamental horticulture in Western civilization. Roses were certainly cultivated by the Persians and ancient Greeks as well as the Mogul Empire in India. The love affair with the fragrance and variation in color of the rose comes through medieval and renaissance Europe to the New World.”
According to Arboretum records, our Rose Garden was the brain child of Arnold Webster, a local arborist and long-time volunteer. This photograph taken in March of 2000 shows the space north of the tower. In the foreground are the spaces for community gardens; notice a corner of fence exists but there is as yet no Children’s Garden or Education Center. The Rose Garden would be planted on the other side of this fence, or to the west
While Mr. Webster was in college, a former roommate was Griffith Buck who become a professor of horticulture at Iowa State. It was Dr. Buck who developed a hybrid strain of hardy roses that became known as “Buck Roses." His intent was to produce a strain of roses that would survive an Iowa winter without any type of elaborate protection and he was highly successful. It therefore was no surprise that the first plantings in the new garden were Buck Roses; with 14 varieties donated by Arnold Webster. This garden began during the growing season of 2001 but sadly in December of that year Mr. Webster passed away. However, under the expertise of Craig Gibleon the Rose Garden continued to take shape. Early plant lists in our archive show 30 different cultivars of Buck Roses in this space.
This photo was taken in June of 2004.
The Rose Garden continued to flourish. Then in 2007, with the assistance of Craig Ritland, it was re-designed to include an oval brick walkway in the center of the garden with a space in the middle for lawn.
It was also at this time that the perimeter was surrounded by over 90 Emerald Green Arborvitae. One year later the cedar fence was extended to the south to enclose the garden and lend it a more formal feel. The space was dedicated to the Northeast Iowa Community Foundation, a major funding source.
In 2010, the Rose Garden received another major face-lift in the form of new companion plants to the roses. A plant list shows: Yarrow, Beach Wormwood, Turtlehead, Coral Bells, Shasta Daisy, Blue Switch Grass, Russian Sage, Oriental Poppy, Meadow Sage, Prairie Drop seed, and Dwarf Lamb’s Ear. Of course this is the Rose Garden, so the list also shows an addition of 35 different varieties of Shrub and Knockout Roses. The intent of this design is to ensure color and texture throughout the entire growing season. On a practical note, an irrigation system was also installed.
Also in 2010, the Arboretum received a donation from the Veldhuzien family to be used for the construction of a new Pergola in memory of Ivan and Virginia Meyers. This beautiful structure was designed and installed by volunteers along with four cedar planters. This space has become a popular backdrop for events of all sorts, especially weddings.
Gardens are always a work in progress and I suspect the same holds true for the Rose Garden, another of the Cedar Valley Arboretum’s tranquil retreats.