A Hot Time at Iowa Arbors and Botanicals Tour

Johnson Iowa Arbors Grouip

By Bill Johnson

Like most folks putting an outdoor event together, I had crossed fingers and toes in hopes that the weather would be perfect for the Iowa Arbors & Botanicals Tour at the Brenton Arboretum in Dallas Center, Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Des Moines, Iowa. Waking up the morning of June 2, I looked outside and breathed a sigh of relief – blue skies, no rain.

About a year ago, the idea for this regional event came to me. For several years I’d been coming to Brenton Arboretum doing my photography. I always came away feeling that somehow I’d like to get this place more recognized and known to the public. It is a relatively new arboretum compared to more well-known arboretums around the country. They celebrated their 20th anniversary the week after the GWA event. I’d be remiss at this point not to mention and thank Rita Perea, Kelly Norris (both GWA

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Chef Michael Bailey of the Des Moines Embassy Club discusses the edible gardens next to Embassy Club West in West Des Moines, Iowa, with (from left) Diane Ott Whealy, Cathy Wilkinson Barash, Brenda Johnson, and Susan Appleget Hurst.

Region V Regional Directors) and Deb Wiley for their invaluable help and time putting all this together. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Kelly, Rita and Deb all live in Des Moines. I’m only four hours north.

But back to the Brenton Arboretum. Twenty one folks from six states arrived for our meeting, a very nice showing if I do say so myself. Melissa Burdick, Executive Director gave a very nice opening welcome and introduced a surprise guest – one of the founders, Buz Brenton. He described his families’ history of the property and his life-long love for trees that led to creating the arboretum with its’ purpose as a nursery for substantial collections of various species of trees. His remarks were followed by a nice talk by Andy Schmitz, Director of Horticulture and General Manager. Take it from me, this guy knows his trees.

After the introductions were completed, it was time for a very nice lunch provided by Deb Wiley. It was also the perfect time for all the folks to mingle, introduce themselves, and make new friends. As I said before, we had folks from six states – Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio and Virginia. In fact, a mini-reunion unfolded as GWA member Marie Mims Butler who was the person who travelled the furthest from Virginia re-united with her long-time friend from college, non other than Melissa Burdick the Director at Brenton Arboretum. It certainly can be a small world.

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Denny Schrock and Risa Quade discuss aspects of the elm collection at The Brenton Arboretum near Dallas Center, Iowa, one of the largest elm collections in the Midwest, with more than 80 species, cultivars, and hybrids.

After the food was gone, Andy Schmitz said “Let’s go look at some trees.” Well actually, we all met up with him outside for an afternoon walk through various tree collections. Even though this was early June, it was hot and humid outside. The temperature was approaching 90 degrees but off we went for an hour long walk through a lot of the arboretum. Andy passed on lots of knowledge and personal stories with even some anecdotes regarding a few individual trees. Andy was a great tour guide but, it was also hot. Kelly later described the walk as the “Brenton Arboretum Death March Walk.” It was very nice to finally get back to the main building and into some air-conditioning. But, trust me, we all had a great time.

After the tour we departed the arboretum and regathered for a GWA Connect Meeting at the air-conditioned Embassy Club West Middle Lounge. Rita’s connections with the hotel industry in Des Moines helped in arranging for the Embassy Club’s Chef, Michael Bailey to put together a very nice spread of food. We also enjoyed a round of drinks provided by Ryan McEnaney from Bailey Nurseries. After that we all dispersed to get a good night’s sleep.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m a photographer? So, guess what I had done? I forgot to bring my camera. Yes, that’s right. I might as well have forgotten my…. I guess I don’t need to go any further with that thought.

Saturday morning a lot of us were up at the crack of dawn as the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden opened its doors at 8:00 AM for a private, early morning photoshoot. Not everyone participated in the photoshoot, but those that did had a great time. Rita,

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Attendees of the GWA Region V meeting June 2-3 begin a trek through the collections of the 141-acre Brenton Arboretum near Dallas Center, Iowa.

Deb, Kelly, and I along with a couple garden staff members took that time to set up the elaborate door prize portion of the morning. We had a ton of stuff from several benefactors including Ball Horticultural, All-America Selections, Seed Savers Exchange, Corona Tools, Spring Meadow Nursery, Upshoot!, Bailey Nurseries, and Dramm Corporation.

The GDMBG sponsored a very nice continental breakfast followed by a gracious welcome from Stephanie Jutila, President and CEO of the Botanical Garden. Next Kelly Norris gave a great program “Plant Exploration at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden” which was followed by a very enthusiastic door prize session. Everyone went away with a pile of items. No one left empty handed.

We adjourned the meeting and the event feeling extremely satisfied as folks left with smiles on their faces and their arms full of stuff. I know I can speak for everyone that a good time was had by all.


Bill Johnson is a native Minnesota writer and photographer specializing in plant Bill Johnsonand insect photography. His images have appeared in over 1,000 national and regional books and magazines. He is a contributing columnist with Horticulture Magazine where he writes the award winning monthly column ‘Insect ID’. He has also written articles for Birds & Blooms magazine, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan Gardening magazines and Currents magazine – the publication of the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA) of which he is a charter member. To see more of his work, check out his website www.billjohnsonbeyondbutterflies.com.


Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

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