Visiting the Test Garden

Next time you're in Des Moines, Iowa, pay us a visit.
Overall shot of Test Garden from West

Located next to the headquarters of Better Homes and Gardens' parent company, Meredith Corporation, our Test Garden serves as a display garden, a testing ground for plants, and a photography studio for our company's publications and Web sites.

The Test Garden is open to the public on Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., from May through September. Large groups may schedule tours during these hours.

For more information, contact the Test Garden Manager, at Better Homes and Gardens, 1716 Locust Street, Des Moines, IA 50309. The phone number is 515-284-3994.

The BHG Test Garden Through the Season

We shot three time-lapse videos that show different areas of the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden, beginning April 1. We used a PlantCam camera (made by Wingscapes, to take about a dozen shots a day, then stitched them together into video clips, playing back at a rate equal to about one day per second. We wanted to try this using the PlantCam because it's an affordable unit that you can set and forget (almost -- you do have to check batteries now and then). In other words, anyone could do this at home! Simple software such as iMovie will handle a conversion to video, but the PlantCam has a convenient function that allows you to download the images directly in video format.

We learned a couple of things in the process:

1) The photo quality is much better if the sun is behind the camera. They say early morning light is best for photography, but not when your camera is facing east!

2) Avoid large shadows. For image quality, all shade is better than all sun, but all sun is better than a sharp line between dark and light.

Prairie Garden This corner of the garden, at least the part shown in the video, is filled with perennials and doesn't have much hardscaping. As a result, the scene early in the season is fairly sparse with lots of soil showing. (Which is what you get when you have a border with nothing but perennials.) But these plants -- Baptisia, goldenrod, and other large perennials -- get big quick, so the area fills in fast. It peaks in late summer when the goldenrod blooms, so you'll see a lot of growth in this clip, but not a lot of color (yet).

Shade Garden This area is especially strong in spring, as is typical of woodland gardens. Before the trees' canopy closes in with foliage, woodland bloomers such as bleeding heart and Brunnera flower then fade just as foliage plants -- hostas and heucheras in particular -- expand and eventually cover the ground. In this clip, you can see the challenges posed by sun and shade. It's best, as we found, to take photos only when the garden is shaded. Seeing the shadow line cast by the sun move across the garden may sound interesting, but it doesn't result in a good-quality video.

Path Garden This is one of my favorite areas of the Test Garden. A small flagstone path loops through a border, and a variety of perennials gives it color spring through fall. Bulbs emerge here first, then a series of perennials. In this clip, you won't see much growing except for bulbs and a patch of purple-leaved Penstemon 'Husker Red'. Later, the show will become a little more dramatic as grasses grow tall and summer bloomers emerge.


Learn more about the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden!