I’ve been an Iowa State University Extension Master Gardener and member of the Story County Master Gardener Association since 2001. My favorite club activity is our annual Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend. I enjoy visiting with gardeners and helping them decide what plants would work best in their yards and their plan.

As a child I helped out with the family garden every summer reaping the fruits of my labor with joy. I also remember slipping away during visits to my grandfather’s farm to liberate some of his raspberries. However, gardening is more than just planting a flower, fruit or vegetable garden. We are conservators of the land and have a responsibility to protect the environment with a thoughtful plan for the land we manage.


Recent Blog Posts

May 09
Spring Plant Sales  

Apr 17
Hawaiian Ti Plant  

Dec 29
Garden Journals   (1 comment)

Dec 19
Fall Into Winter  

Nov 19
Winter preparations  

Oct 26
What I Did on My Summer Vacation  

Sep 23
Summer Garden Tour  

Jun 19
A Competitive Garden   (1 comment)




Summer Garden Tour
by Andrea Dorn - posted 09/23/13




In an attempt to catch up and to help us all remember what it was like when we actually received rain once in awhile I want to show you what the Story County Master Gardeners got to see in a garden tour this past summer.






In June we visited the Walkabout Gardens owned and operated by Nan and Merwyn Ripley just outside of Nevada. If you remember, our plants were all behind schedule at the beginning of the summer because of the weather and it was the same at these gardens. But that was a good thing! Many of us have visited the gardens before but usually during daylily season so this time we got to see things we haven’t seen before. Plus Nan is making changes to her gardens (when isn’t she changing things?) so we got in on some of her new ideas.





Because it has been so long since the tour took place I can’t really tell you a whole lot about it so I thought you’d just enjoy seeing the photos I took. A few of my take-aways:


·      A garden is never finished

·      The right garden art adds so much

·      Build in some resting spots so you can just sit and enjoy

·      Add a variety of plants that are at their best at a variety of seasons

·      Don’t be afraid to experiment




Nan is known far and wide for her beautiful daylilies but she has an interest in almost everything. She has a berm with a variety of interesting rocks, miniature conifers and unique art that makes me want to make one. She warned us though that a berm requires extra watering since it sits up higher.




She also loves a lot of different types of trees and has found that it is best to design your garden this way. As we’ve seen before if a disease or pest takes out one type of tree this multifaceted approach guarantees that you’ll still have trees to decorate your yard.


And though I can’t imagine how Nan ever has the time to actually sit still for very long she has incorporated some rather unique chairs and benches all throughout the gardens.




If you’re ever in the area you’ll just have to stop by and experience these gardens for yourself. Give Nan a call and I’m sure she’ll welcome you with stories for every piece in her gardens!



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A Competitive Garden
by Andrea Dorn - posted 06/19/13

Now that we’ve all got our gardens planted and can watch our lovely seedlings mature you should think about the Iowa State Fair. What’s that? You don’t understand what one has to do with the other? Well, agriculture, that’s what!


From a very young age I’ve been a competitive sort of person. I blame my grandmother. One August she helped me pick some crabapples from one of her trees and enter them in the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport. Neither of us knew what we were doing but we thought it would be fun. The superintendent of the crop division helped us to identify the variety (Dolga) and set them up for display. The next day we returned to find that our apples had earned a first place ribbon! I was hooked.


For several years now I’ve entered my vegetables in the Agricultural and Horticultural Crops division of the Iowa State Fair. I don’t claim to be a “super gardener” by any means but I have won a few ribbons with my veggies. One year my eggplant took first. I’ve also won ribbons with my vegetable plate, kohlrabi, and even walnuts. The one real challenge to me is to have vegetables ready in time for the fair. I’m afraid I usually plant my garden rather late so my veggies are only barely producing in late August.


So what about you? Will you consider entering some of your veggies, fruits or nuts in this year’s fair? For the State Fair the deadline is coming quickly. You have to send in your entry by July 1st – not your produce, just your intent to enter. They will send you tags to label your entries and any tickets or parking permits you might need. Or you can enter online at https://www.iowastatefairentry.org/login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fdefault.aspx Then you must deliver your entries by 9 a.m. on Tuesday August 13th , the day of judging.


For all the information you need for entering the Iowa State Fair go to:



I love hearing from you. Please leave a note in the comments if you are going to enter. Tell us what you are entering and if you have ever entered before. I’ll look for your vegetables, fruits and nuts at this year’s Iowa State Fair!



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Weathering the Weather
by Andrea Dorn - posted 06/11/13

Whew! Weren’t we supposed to have another drought this year? Well, now that we’ve got a break from the deluge let’s get going on those gardens. Looks like we’ve got some nice warm, sunshiney days ahead of us.

I’m lucky that my yard is mostly flat. While I really hate mowing at least I don’t have to face steep inclines each time the lawn grows. You might think that I wouldn’t have any trouble maintaining my lawn and gardens – but you’d be wrong. Everyone has challenges to face as they develop their yards, some more than others.

One of the problems in my yard is the trees that populate it. Trees are great and they were one of the reasons I bought this property. However, the maple trees in my front yard have shallow roots that make it difficult to mow around sometimes and hard to place more gardens. Another tree, one that I haven’t yet identified, has a huge root system that is mostly on top of the ground. This year I’ve decided to try something new so I can spread my vegetable and flower gardens into the front yard, a variety of raised gardens.

For the simplest of these “gardens” I used concrete blocks. I placed a couple of double blocks around the unidentified tree avoiding the protruding root. If you plan to start any kind of raised garden, you should use landscape fabric or some alternative to keep the grass or weeds from growing up into your new garden. Some instructions also recommend placing some sort of metal fencing at the base as well to keep out pests such as ground squirrels or woodchucks.

The soil should be a good mix of topsoil, peat moss and sand, as well as a form of natural fertilizer (cow or horse manure, for instance). I’ll admit, though, that I only poured in some garden soil that I purchased at a local store. We’ll see if that is good enough later in the season.

I’ve also placed single blocks along the fence line in my back yard. I thought that maybe the fence will be good for the vines to climb on. In front I planted one tomato plant and one pumpkin seed and flower seeds in the other side of the double blocks. In back I’ve planted two types of cucumbers and another type of pumpkin. I’ll let you know this summer if any of them worked.

My next adventure is to make a regular raised bed in my front yard. It is getting late for any kind of vegetables so I’ll probably just plant flowers this year. Or maybe some of my leftover vegetable seedlings.


Have you ever used a raised bed in your yard? What type did you use and what success? Or have you had other difficulties in your garden that you’d like help with? Let’s talk about them. If I don’t have the answers I can try to find them.

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