Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Archive for March 2010

Design Inspiration

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With all this talk of garden design, I’m getting antsy to plant!  Unfortunately here in Iowa we have to cool our heels until mid May … plenty of time to find inspiration in garden magazines and online. 

My new favorite website is www.deborahsilver.com.  Deborah Silver & Co. is a garden design firm from Michigan and their website is filled with hundreds of beautiful photos.  Click on “Portfolio” to see a variety of containers and landscapes filled with vibrant color and texture using familiar Midwest plant material.  You will look at ordinary annuals like verbena, geranium and petunia in a whole new light!

See you in the gardens.


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March 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm

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Garden Design Refresher

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There are design elements and design principles.  Design Elements = physical components of a garden.

Intention = an abstract notion around which ideas are developed.  For example, the general purpose of The Arboretum is to provide a public green space for the education about and enjoyment of our natural world.  So you see a lot of organic-styled material that blends with Iowa’s landscape, and also a tie to our agriculture background.  There is an overall theme, but each separate garden could also include its own identity.  In The Arboretum’s Children’s Garden, there are two dinosaur sculptures, but they still have a very organic feel to them.  It’s important in any size of garden to know your intention – to be very clear on this first thing – so your decisions moving forward are consistent.

In the private garden, your house architecture and personal style would need to be accounted for. 

Site = growing conditions, existing structures, borrowed views.  We are often very spoiled in Iowa, with such wonderful topsoil.  Not everyone has that luxury!  These pictures are from the Lurie Garden in Chicago, a 2.5-acre rooftop garden … all their soil was hauled in, and the horticulture staff has had to improve the soil through a several year process.  This would be similar to development sites in Iowa, where the topsoil is removed before construction and not returned.  You might have a thriving garden for a few years, but if you aren’t first taking care of your soil, you will eventually see declining plant material.

And being in the heart of the city, these pictures also show the power of existing structures and borrowed views.  In this situation, being surrounded by skyscrapers has a positive effect on the garden experience. 


Style = informal vs. formal.  This would be defined partly by our intention, and most everyone has a sense of an informal garden vs. a more structured, formal garden.

 The two final design elements are movement and structure; two elements that I would like to begin to focus on as we move forward at The Arboretum.  They are also unfortunately, two elements I often don’t consider photographing while visiting gardens, so I don’t have many good examples!   

Movement.  How you move through the garden.  What tone are you setting by the paths in your garden?  Are your paths curving, causing a visitor to meander and stop frequently to take notice?  Or are your paths straight with an ending focal point, creating more of a hallway from one destination to another?  Each has a purpose in the landscape – it’s just being conscience of these differences.

Structure.  What do you see in the winter?  How do your edges interact with the garden?  Every garden lacking some sort of structural component also lacks balance.  With only foliage and flowers to take in, there are no solid forms to rest your eye on.  It is refreshing and it also provides contrast.  Just like a frame on a picture, boundaries provide a border to focus our interest

Design Principles = guiding principles when composing the elements of a garden.  Almost everyone has design sense – what feels ‘right’ and what doesn’t – it’s just a matter of being conscience of it.  And for the example of defining the two concepts of elements vs. principles, these principles were worth mentioning.

Balance.  Asymmetry vs. symmetry.  Asymmetry provides a more informal garden, and tends to invite movement and surprises while symmetrical is often more formal and predictable.

Scale and Proportion.  Scale is the relationship between the size of an object to the objects within the same composition.  This is often what makes garden rooms so inviting … when there is a canopy above and plant material surrounding you, it’s relaxing, like a blanket wrapped around you.

Rhythm & Repetition.  Rhythm and repetition move the eye through the garden with order; it creates a sense of continuum and harmony to a design.  Close together repetition tends to quicken rhythm and spaced farther apart slows it down.

Contrast.  Contrast is the art of using opposing elements close together to produce an intense or intriguing effect.

Form, texture and color.  Form could be round, weeping, columnar, pyramidal, horizontal or vase-shaped.  Texture would be the feel and look of your plants and hardscape, while color could be warm vs. cool or monochromatic.

My big question would be how do you pull it all together?  It can feel overwhelming!  I have found that the more I am conscience of these fundamentals, the more often I can find them in the gardens I visit.  When you see a garden successfully accomplish one of these, you take note, and see how you can copy it in your own garden … with your own twist, of course.  And don’t be afraid to take risks, or even kill a few plants along the way.  It just takes patience and practice.

But I think most importantly, when in doubt, throw away all basics and do what you like best, what feels right.

See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

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Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 20, 2010 at 6:00 am

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Flowers for the Faithful

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You said, take a few dry sticks, cut the ends slantwise to let in water, stick them in the old silver cup on the dresser in the spare room and wait for the touch of Easter.

But a cold wave protected the snow, and the sap’s pulse beat so low underground I felt no answer in myself except silence.

You said, winter breaks out in flowers for the faithful and today when I opened the door the dry sticks spoke in little yellow stars and I thought of you.

–James Hearst

I ran across this poem while visiting Cedar Fall’s Hearst Center last week and fell in love with it …  “winter breaks out in flowers for the faithful.”  What a lovely phrase!

Are you full of spring fever?  For gardeners, the final weeks of winter can be especially painful when we want so badly to get outside and see the sun shine.  I can hardly contain my excitement when I leave my house each morning, with the sun shining and fresh air smelling so good.  A few days ago, I excitedly asked someone if they could smell the soil working … he looked at me as if I was crazy.  Clearly he did not have spring fever!

I’m anxious to get outside working in the gardens.  Many of you must be too, because I’ve been getting questions about spring work in the gardens.  Our flowerbeds might still be asleep, but there is plenty to do to keep busy! 

Here’s a list I have come up with so far.  If you have other good ideas, please pass along!

  • Do you have a compost pile?  Now is the time to start turning regularly.  And if you do not compost, this is the month to start!
  • What new plants are you going to incorporate into your garden this summer?  Now is the time to plan!  Good garden design considers color, form and texture … not just what plants are “pretty”  and priced right at the garden center.   For a design refresher, stay tuned for next week’s blog.
  • See weeds?  Pull them now … it’s never too early to start!  Now is also a good time to put down mulch.
  • Spring cleaning doesn’t only happen indoors.  To hit the ground running in May, clean out your garage now.  All tools can be cleaned, sharpened or replaced.  You should also wash out all pots or containers you will be using.  It might be tempting to reuse last year’s potting soil, but please don’t!  For the health of your plants, begin each new season with fresh potting soil.
  • Repair fences, trellises and other structural objects before neighboring plants begin growing.
  • If the soil is not too wet, spring is the time to divide and transplant perennials.  Giving those plants extra room will encourage more lush and healthy growth this summer.
  • It’s a messy job, but must be done: get out the latter and clean out those gutters!
  • Prune dead or damaged branches to promote healthy trees and shrubs.  Now is also the time to prune for size control and form.  But remember, many spring flowering trees and shrubs bloom on old wood.  Spring flowering trees and shrubs should be pruned for size and form after bloom(still ok to remove dead and damaged branches now) .
  • When your flowerbeds have dried out, “top dress” with compost.  If the flowerbed is already established, do not dig up the soil.  Doing so will only disturb the established ecosystem … nutrients in the compost can easily worked their way down into the soil on their own.
  • Remove stakes and relax wires installed on last year’s planted trees.  To develop more resilient plant material, it is best to allow some sway.

See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm

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“Talk of Iowa” Today

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I happened to catch “Talk of Iowa” on KUNI while running a few errands this morning and ended up sitting in my car until the end!  This morning’s guests were Dave Jacke and Fred Meyer and the topic was edible forest gardens.  I encourage you to take a listen at www.iowapublicradio.org — click on the “Talk of Iowa” tab and then scroll down to the 3/16 broadcast.

I also found the www.backyardabundance.org (mentioned in the broadcast) to be filled with a lot of great information.  Check it out!

If you are not familiar with KUNI’s “Talk of Iowa,” I encourage you to listen Friday mornings to hear expert advice from the “horticulture gang.”   I always enjoy listening to the call-in questions and the expert’s answers.

See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

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Adopt a community garden at The Arboretum!

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Community gardens are now available for the 2010 season at The Arboretum!

The community gardens are 10 by 10-foot plots planted, nurtured and weeded by groups, families and individuals of the Cedar Valley.   It is your opportunity to be creative and enjoy the outdoors, while making The Arboretum a beautiful space for all.

2010 Community Garden Guidelines

DESIGN  ::  All plant material must be used as an annual, meaning they must be removed at the end of the season.  When shopping, consider focusing on drought tolerant, sun-loving plants.  The Arboretum is asking your garden design to stand as a work of art itself, and that no garden art be placed in your plot.  The Arboretum will provide hard-wood, fresh mulch so all gardens will have the same color and quality of mulch. 

MAINTENANCE  ::  Participants are ask to maintain their garden plots once a week, preferably twice a week.  Since the Community Gardens serve as the entrance to The Arboretum, plots must look well-cared-for and stand as a focal point.bbIf you plan on vacationing during the summer, please notify The Arboretum.  It is your responsibility to find a substitute to care for your plot while gone.  The Arboretum will take care of watering daily.  All gardens must be installed by May 31st, with installation encouraged the week of May 11th.  All gardens can be cleaned out after October 5th, with completion by October 31st.

SIGNAGE ::  Consistent signage in all the community gardens is planned for this season.  Please fill out the diagram accompanying your application.  Be creative and have fun!  The signs are an opportunity for you to personalize your community garden.

If you would like to learn more about the community gardens, please contact Mollie Luze at director@cedarvalleyarboretum.org or call the office at (319)226-2966.  Application deadline is April 15, 2010.

See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 11, 2010 at 6:00 am

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Vote for The Arboretum!

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The Arboretum has been nominated for SSNHA’s “People’s Choice” Site of the Year – hurry, vote today!! 

Each year, SSNHA celebrates the best in heritage development by presenting Golden Silo Awards to individuals and organizations whose contributions demonstrate outstanding excellence in preserving and telling stories of American agriculture.  For the second year in a row, SSNHA will let the public chose who they think should be named Site of the Year.  Voting will be open online at www.silosandsmokestacks.org  from March 8-14, with the winner announced during the annual Golden Silo Awards ceremony on April 7 in Waterloo.

Why should you vote for The Arboretum?  Because The Arboretum is the best choice, of course!  And this is an excellent opportunity to market our beautiful gardens to visitors all across Iowa and the Midwest.

**You can vote online by going to www.silosandsmokestacks.org and clicking on “Cast your vote” at the top of the page.  Another page will open where you will have the opportunity to vote for one of seven sites.  The Arboretum is listed first (with a photo of spring daffodils).  You will be asked to fill in your name and email address at the bottom of the page, but this is only used for verification purposes (you will not receive any junk email).

Help us win!!  Please send this link to your family and friends!  All votes must be submitted by March 14th.

What is SSNHA?  Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area is one of 49 federally designated heritage areas in the nation and is an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. The Heritage Area covers 37 counties in the northeast quadrant of Iowa. Interstate 80 borders it on the south and Interstate 35 borders it on the west. Through a network of sites, programs and events, SSNHA interprets farm life, agribusiness and rural communities – past and present.

See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

March 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

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