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A Walk on the Natural Side
By Carol McGarvey
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Don and Kimberly Glassman of Ankeny enjoy nature on a wooded lot with a ravine, complete with a waterfall and a prairie area.

Summer garden tours offer ideas and inspiration.


You can take a walk on the wild side if you like, but there’s nothing finer than sauntering through myriad personal gardens on a summer day to bask in central Iowa’s natural wonders. From colorful flowers and vines to hardscape outdoor design, it’s all there to absorb.

If you love to dig in the soil and have a passion for plants, you’ll find ideas galore. If you’re not a gardener, you can appreciate the time and enjoyment that others have found. It’s all good.

Two annual June tours that aim to please their visitors are sponsored by the Polk County Master Gardeners and the Central Iowa Garden Railway Society.

Polk County Master Gardeners

For the fifteenth year, this group has put together a tour of six spots showing a variety of gardening facets. The Extraordinary Gardens by Ordinary People tour, that runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 20 (rain or shine), will spotlight gardens along the Des Moines River Valley and includes gardens in rural Polk City, western Ankeny, and the Lower Beaver Neighborhood of Des Moines.

The variety of gardens takes in a broad swath of interests, showcasing a weekend getaway home in the woods, various sizes of vegetable gardens, a 2,700-gallon water garden with a waterfall, and beautiful displays of sun and shade perennials. A public garden, Agave, grows vegetables for use at food pantries. Plus, one gardening couple enjoys raising bees and harvesting hops for making beer.

Daylily 'Tetrina's Daughter'

Weekend cottage

Julie Christian and her husband, Ed Mall, of Johnston put much of their gardening efforts into a weekend house they purchased in 1977 as a getaway. Now they rent it out on as a guest cottage. The cottage near Polk City was built in the early 1930s and has been added onto in phases. “When we lived out of state, it was our weekend place,” Julie explains. “Now that we have moved back, we have had fun renovating the house and the property.”

Original plantings include peonies, yuccas, irises, and rambling roses. The couple has expanded the patio and gardens, including an 80-foot stretch of shade-loving plantings. Features include a potting shed and an expanded fire pit area. “In the one sunny area we have herbs and rhubarb. It has been a fun venture,” she says.

Bees and hops

Don and Kimberly Glassman of Ankeny enjoy nature on a wooded lot with a ravine. It’s complete with a waterfall and a prairie area. Don teaches biology at Des Moines Area Community College, and Kimberly is a researcher at DuPont Pioneer, so they’re both in tune with the science of their gardening hobby.

“We noticed that there were no bees,” Don explains, “and that just wasn’t right. We’re pretty passionate about pollination and know its value, so we decided to raise bees. We took a bee-keeping course from the state apiarist. Last fall we harvested seven gallons of honey.”

And, in another interesting gardening twist, Kimberly purchased beer-making equipment for Don seven or eight years ago. “So, of course, it seemed right to try to grow our own hops,” he says. “It’s really incredibly easy to do that. It’s a vigorous vine with a light green flower. The differences in beers are the hops.”

The Glassmans also have hundreds of spring daffodils. “When I see them blooming, I know we have made it through another winter,” Don says. “They give me hope.” He also grows daylilies and sedum.

Tickets cost $15 and are available at Earl May Garden Centers (all Polk County locations, plus Waukee), The Woodsmith Store Garden Center, and Goode Greenhouses. Addresses for the tour are on the tickets. At several of the tour locations, there will be educational gardening demonstrations.


Central Iowa Garden Railway Society

Nearly everyone loves trains, and when they are paired with plantings, it makes for an interesting garden specialty. For the sixth year, the Central Iowa Garden Railway Society (CIGRS) will host a tour of six garden and train layouts around central Iowa. This year’s tour runs from Minburn to Adel to Ankeny.

The group combines the intricacies of G-gauge train layouts with appropriately sized plantings. In some situations, a husband might enjoy the train part and a spouse focuses on the plants. In other situations, that is reversed.

John Olsen of Des Moines, tour director this year, says the variety of this year’s layouts includes an indoor layout with various scales of trains. One outdoor layout showcases raised railroad beds; another one, a husband-wife combination, offers several water elements in with the trains and plantings.

The tour runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 27. Tickets cost $5 per carload. Olsen says the group’s goals are to expand its membership, to showcase a different spin on gardening, and to attract families with children, who would especially enjoy the trains. Purchase tickets at the first stop you make or from Kidman Tree Farm, 3663 NW 98th Avenue in Polk City.

For tour spots, go to or

Other tours

Throughout the summer, check out other community garden tours as they are announced at later dates.


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