Reiman Gardens Sign

Reiman Gardens, located on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, now covers 14 acres. It is a comparatively new garden; it was started in its current location in 1995, though has existed in smaller versions in other locations around the campus since 1914. The initial $1.3 million donation for this location came from ISU alumnus, Roy and Bobbi Reiman, who started the publishing company that publishes Country Women, Country, Country Extra, Taste of Home, Reminisce, Reminisce Extra, Crafting Traditions, Farm and Ranch Living, Country Store, and Birds and Blooms. If you subscribe to any of these magazines, you can pat yourself on the back for contributing to the success of a company that has so generously given back to the gardening community!

I visited Reiman Gardens in July 2009 with my mother, Edy (Dave's Garden member edyhill), and my two children, who are accomplished little gardeners in their own right. Reiman Gardens has such a variety of themed gardens, it seems there is something to interest almost any type of gardener.

There is an indoor conservatory filled with tropical plants and 500 species of butterflies, and spread throughout the extensive grounds are various other gardens designed to demonstrate gardening under specific conditions, such as wetlands, suburban areas, front yards, and children's gardens, among many others. One of the most highly publicized is the area housing their rose collections.

Christina Reiman Butterfly Garden

Tropicals plants in Conservatory

Buck Rose

Iowa State University has a long history of working with rose hybridizing, and was "home base" for world-renowned hybridizer Dr. Griffith Buck. Between 1962 and 1985, Dr. Buck hybridized nearly 90 rose varieties, 15 varieties of geraniums, and a heliotrope.[1] Dr. Buck often shared his work with friends, family members, and other professionals, sharing cuttings from many of the roses he hybridized over the years. When he retired, his breeding stock was destroyed, and Reiman Gardens has been working to collect specimens of each of the roses hybridized by Dr. Buck. They have succeeded in adding samples of all but nine of them. Please visit this page to see descriptions and pictures of the nine remaining missing Buck roses.

The Missing Buck Roses

Who knows; perhaps a Dave's Garden member will find that they have one of these sought-after plants, and can continue Dr. Buck's tradition of generosity by offering a cutting back for the collection!

Reiman Gardens is not only a showcase for the most complete collection of Dr. Buck's roses in existence, but also has test gardens for roses under consideration for the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) Award. Reiman Gardens has won the AARS Certificate for Superior Maintenance every year since 1997, and has a rose bed dedicated to showcasing the exceptional roses that have won the AARS award in past years. In its entirety, Reiman's Rose Garden boasts over 2,000 individual plants and 250 different varieties of roses. I visited Reiman Gardens during July of 2009, and have to confess that I took nearly 200 photographs of the roses on display there alone! I am no expert rosarian, but I can easily see why in 1996 USA Today ranked Reiman Gardens as one of the top ten rose gardens in the world!

Yellow Rose

Apricot and Yellow Rose

Pink Rose with Yellow CenterFlame colored bud

Single Dark Pink Rose

Pale Pink Rose

Three Red Roses

There are two other distinct areas within the rose gardens. One is the Helen Latch Jones Rose Garden, which focuses on combining roses with other perennials, and using sustainable gardening practices that would be relatively low-maintenance and easy to recreate in the home garden. Their stated goal is to show gardeners how to have beautiful and practical gardens and cut the use of chemicals, incorporate more native and hardy plants, and use less labor. The other area dedicated to roses is the Antique Rose Collection, which showcases some very rare and special heirloom varieties, including the first rose ever developed at Iowa State University, the Ames Rose.

Scarce Bamboo Page Butterfly Hatching

One of the most popular and most frequently visited areas at Reiman Gardens is their phenomenal Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing. This is a vast, 2,500 foot glassed-in area, occupying one "wing" of the roughly butterfly-shaped conservatory. It is filled with an amazing, tropical variety of host and nectar plants for a collection of over 500 species of butterflies from around the world, though they are not all on display at the same time. The adventure begins just beyond the front desk of Reiman Gardens, where visitors can watch butterflies hatching in the butterfly emergence cases. I could hardly drag my kids away from the sight of butterflies struggling to escape their chrysalis, their wings curled and crumpled from their tight quarters.

After entering an antechamber and learning the rules of the butterfly garden, visitors are welcome to wander, photographing and observing the multitude of butterflies inside. If you are planning to visit Reiman Gardens with children, use careful judgment before taking them inside the butterfly garden. The temptation to touch the butterflies as they flutter by or sip nectar is overwhelming for many children! You might consider arming them with a disposable or small digital camera and encouraging them to take pictures, to reduce their need to touch these incredible, beautiful creatures.

Up Close and Personal with an Atlas Moth

Be very careful to check yourself and your family for "hitchhikers" before leaving the antechamber at the exit, using the full length mirrors provided for that purpose! While we were there, the volunteer on duty shared the story of a woman who inadvertently took a butterfly out on the back of her hat. Thankfully, they were able to return it to the butterfly garden without incident. The Reiman Garden website has a section with 41 printable two-sided butterfly identification cards, here:

Butterfly Identification Cards

(Hover your mouse over the photos below to view my tentative identification of the butterflies and moths we photographed.)

Orange Tiger Longwing Butterfly sipping

Green Butterfly on water dish

Yellow Common Mime Butterfly

Great Mormon Swallowtail Butterfly

Atlas Moth

Narrow Green-banded Swallowtail Butterfly

Unbelievable as it may seem, the rose and butterfly gardens are just the tip of the iceberg. Around each meandering corner, up each picturesque hillside path, new treasures await! Distributed throughout the remainder of the 14 acres are defined gardens dedicated to different gardening styles, needs, and situations. Most are aimed at inspiring and educating home gardeners. There are specific gardens dedicated to each of the following:

Herb Henge Lake Helen, with Marge Hunziker house at the right

Joey and Jesse's Herb Garden, also known
as Herb Henge, bears a traditional layout
with a sundial at the center

Lake Helen, located roughly in the center
of the gardening area. It demonstrates how to
successfully use aquatic plants

  • A Hillside Garden, with an emphasis on a dwarf conifer collection.
  • Margaret E. Penkhus Campanile Garden, which echoes the famous campanile on the main campus of Iowa State University. This area has lovely beds filled with annuals and perennials, showcasing interesting combinations of color and form. See the photo at the very top of this article to see the lovely campanile area. I only wish you could hear the chimes as they played, as well!

  • The Stafford Arboretum Garden follows a wooden boardwalk, looping through three distinct types of garden landscapes: lowland, mesic, and upland landscapes. This area was irresistable to my kids, as they loved tiptoeing along the boardwalk and watching the bullfrogs in the wetland area.

Meandering Path Covered Bridge near Children's Garden

Whimsical Wicker Whale

South Field offers many intriguing vistas, each bed focused on a different collection of plants and colors. The meandering designs encourage you to progress through the gardens, appealing to the sense of discovery.

Water Tank with pumps in Children's Garden Digging for Fossils in Children's Garden

Spagnum Dinosaur with Succulent Scales

Patty Jischke Children's Garden offers many hands-on elements for the younger gardeners. My own children loved the covered bridge and waterfall leading to the Children's area, and had fun pumping water into the stock tank provided for that purpose. There is a shelter house there for picnics and school groups. The highlight of the trip for my boys was digging in their Fossil Hunt area, a raised bed filled with smooth pea gravel and models of dinosaur bones.

The Town and Country Garden area was my favorite, as it lent the most inspiration for the home gardener working on a smaller scale. There is actually a house, named after Marge Hunziker, located on the grounds for educational uses, and it is surrounded by twelve individual gardens, each with a different focus.

Marge Hunzicker House

Statue in Walled Garden

Outdoor Living Area Water Feature

Wetland Flower Lovely Pink Hydrangea

Walled Court, demonstrating good use of an enclosed, private area

Outdoor Living Room,
featuring a lovely deck
and water feature

Wetland Garden, teeming with animal and insect life, a beautiful testament to the success of their goals.

Front Yard Garden, featuring hydrangeas, common shrubs and flowers appropriate for a front border, planted
along a white picket fence

Vegetable Garden Vine Supports in Home Vegetable Garden Enclosed Court with Cave Painting Theme

Home Production Garden, home to one of my favorite features, the Primordial Soup gardens. Each was planted to provide ingredients for a different chilled summer soup, and demonstrated use of raised beds, supports, trellises, frames, and companion planting of vegetables.

Paving Court, with a Cave Painting Theme

  • Survey Side Yard Garden, on a sloping hill, covered with hydrangeas and other plants

  • Suburban Back Yard, for the gardener with limited space

  • Ross Formal Lawn Garden, with more traditional layout

  • Shade Garden, featuring plants that thrive with less sunlight

  • Naturalist Garden

  • Prairie Vista Garden

Dinosaur among plantingsThroughout our visit, the boys were entertained with the hunt for evidence of prehistoric life. The theme in 2009 is Landscape Before Time, and each child was given a map indicating where to look for life-sized statues of dinosaurs and their smaller cousins. Many of them were subtly incorporated into the garden plantings, or hidden in trees. They enjoyed checking off each creature as they located it, and it really helped keep them busy long enough for my mother and I to enjoy a slower pace as we examined the plants we had come to see!

Bright dahlia on dark backgroundI hope you enjoyed your virtual visit to Reiman Gardens, even though it can't possibly compare to seeing it in person. I had great difficulty narrowing down our many photographs to share some particular favorites with you. I plan to visit many times in the future, and enjoy the changing patterns and colors as the seasons and designs change. If you are ever in the Midwest, consider adding a trip to Reiman Gardens into your travel itinerary. It will be well worth your time!

If you would like to read more about the work of Dr. Griffith Buck, take a look at Larry Retig's article:

Buck Roses (Well, maybe not quite that cheap!)

Special thanks are due to my mother, Edy Hill, for insisting that we MUST visit Reiman Gardens this summer, and for sharing many of her lovely photographs with me for this article. If you hover your mouse over a picture, a brief description and the name of the photographer will appear. All photographs are copyrighted by either myself or Edy Hill, and may not be used without permission.

I'd also like to thank my two sons for being so tolerant of the many gardens and garden centers to which I take them. I hope I am sharing my passion with them; if nothing else, I am ensuring they spend time outdoors instead of settled in front of a glowing screen!

[1] Reiman Gardens website