Soak up much of nature's beauty with Dan Kaercher as he visits one of the state's larges public gardens, including a stop in the butterfly wing at Reiman Gardens in Ames.
Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home.
Kaercher: Simply defined, a garden is a plot of land used for the cultivation of flowers, vegetables, herbs, or fruits. But far from simple is the transformation of 14 acres into one of the state's largest year-around public gardens. It would be hard to miss this sprawling 14-acre oasis near the campus of Iowa State University. As one of the largest public gardens in Iowa, Reimen Gardens has a lot to boast about. Teresa McLaughlin is the director here. Teresa, tell me a little bit about the history of the gardens.
McLaughlin: Reimen Gardens began as a kernel of an idea in about the early '90s. The first part of the garden, which was 4 acres, was dedicated in 1995. The gardens grew acre by acre pretty quickly, in fact. The entire campus is about 14 acres, and we've been going strong since then.
Kaercher: I'm ready for a look. Can you lead the way?
McLaughlin: I'd love to.
Kaercher: Tell me, Teresa, what area of the gardens are we in now?
McLaughlin: This is the children's garden. It's one of our best loved areas of the garden. Kids go in there and play forever. We have a corn crib. We have lots of events and birthday parties in there. We have a little antique lightning rod on top of a gazebo. We are always getting asked of people to come here. They pop the question to their future bride.
Kaercher: Teresa, tell me about the park here.
McLaughlin: Isn't it lovely? We have koi in there. We have a really nice representation of which you might plant around the edge of a water feature. In fact, we have 11 different water features here.
Kaercher: Beautiful waterfall.
McLaughlin: Don't you love that. It seems like every child that comes here has a rock or two to toss in there. It's a fun, fun place to be.
Kaercher: What's up ahead here?
McLaughlin: This is the Hunziker House. It is the center of what we call the town and country garden. There's about 14 different gardens surrounding this house. They're plants that would be the best kind of plants for you to consider when planting your own gardens around your house.
Kaercher: This looks like a beautiful, elegant area up ahead here.
McLaughlin: This is a very lovely garden. It's the Karen Ross Formal Lawn Garden. Look how it's so finely designed. We have a gorgeous weeping white spruce on the perimeter that encircles the garden. We have these lovely Frank Lloyd Wright containers that we plant.
Kaercher: This looks like something you'd see on a country estate somewhere. Let's go take a sit and pretend we're there, because this is one of the best places to sit down and have a conversation.
Kaercher: And it's shady.
McLaughlin: And it's nice and shady. There's so many great places. It's like you walk from room to room almost when you're here. We have gardens that highlight our roses. We have a wonderful rose collection. We have all kind of vegetables and fruit in our home production garden. There's a wonderful little canopy under the Dr. Buck Gazebo. You'll find perennials and annuals. You'll find trees, woody plants. We have pretty much a garden for everybody's interests.
Kaercher: What is that sound I hear? Are those chimes or something?
McLaughlin: Isn't that lovely. All of your senses are excited when you come here. That is a replica of the campanile that's on Iowa State University campus. To tie us into the main central campus, we built a wonderful, beautiful steel structure that also chimes.
Kaercher: As wonderful as all these outdoor features are, I understand there's some pretty special stuff going on inside.
McLaughlin: Let me show you. It's just great inside. In fact, it's year around. You can come here in January and enjoy flowers, but we have a conservatory that changes display. One of the best parts is a butterfly wing, and I'm going to introduce to you Nathan Brockman, who is in charge of that.
Kaercher: Are you Nathan?
Brockman: I am.
Kaercher: Dan Kaercher, Iowa Public Television. I understand you're the butterfly expert.
Brockman: Yeah, I'm the butterfly curator here at the gardens.
Kaercher: What's going on here?
Brockman: We're standing in front off our emergence chambers. This is where all of our butterflies that come in from a variety of different suppliers end up, where they sit and hang from their pupae and actually emerge out.
Kaercher: What's going on in the box?
Brockman: These are 32 of our individuals who are ready to come out. They already emerged and we are going to actually go in the butterfly wing and release these today.
Kaercher: Fine, okay. I'll follow you.
Brockman: Okay, let's go.
Kaercher: Oh, boy! Look at all these butterflies!
Brockman: They put on a good show, don't they?
Kaercher: They do. I didn't expect to see that many. How many are there here?
Brockman: At any given time we have up to 800 individuals, and of that, 80 different species.
Kaercher: Is that pretty consistent all year around?
Brockman: All year around but what's in here changes so there's always kind of a different flavor of butterflies in here.
Kaercher: Now, are some of these butterfly varieties more active? Does their behavior change, or what have you?
Brockman: Each species kind of has their own behavior, so you can actually come in here and watch them interact and interact with different species. It really makes a great show. What do you think about helping me release these butterflies?
Kaercher: You bet!
Brockman: All right. Why don't you put that under your knee --
Brockman: We'll get these out.
Kaercher: Just get down right here?
Brockman: Yep, right there.
Brockman: We'll take these off the lid first, is usually what I do. We're going to use the scissor method. We're gently going to move them over onto the plants. Some of them will be ready to fly and they'll take right off, but others will just sit. So if you want to try that one right there.
Kaercher: Just like that?
Brockman: Yep, just like that. Right there from the front. There you go. And then just place it on one of the plants or on the leaves. Outstanding.
Kaercher: What a beauty. What kind was that?
Brockman: That was our leopard lacewing. We've got a whole bunch of them in here we'll get out.
Kaercher: A white one.
Brockman: Yep. We don't get these very often, so this is really a special one to have in here this week.
Kaercher: You know, Nathan, what kind of comments do you hear from people?
Brockman: We get a lot of wows and ooos and aaahs when people first come in, but really what we hear a lot is questions.
Kaercher: For example, the types of plants you have in here obviously are dedicated to attracting butterflies. And look at that one on my knee! Oh, my gosh. So what type of plant?
Brockman: So our plant selection is actually kind of difficult for this space because we can't have any host plants. And a host planning being the plants that the caterpillars of these butterflies will eat. We can't have any of them in the ground because we're not allowed to have any caterpillars running around in here.
Kaercher: How do I discretely say good-bye?
Brockman: The best thing to do, what we always tell out visitors, is put your finger in front of it and then slide it up and it will be either crawl onto your finger or it will fly right off. Just like right on its feet, and there it goes.
Kaercher: Bye, friend. This has been so great. You've been terrific.
Brockman: Thank you.
Kaercher: Thank you. It's just fabulous.