In the rolling hills of northwest Iowa, an inventive couple sells country-chic garden ideas on a recycled farm. It’s not the glint of the new: it’s a resurrection and celebration of days gone by.
Pretty much everything at the Prairie Pedlar, Jack and Jane Hogue’s country greenhouse-gift shop-display gardens-wedding venue-farm, is recycled. In 1985, the Hogues started a garden and craft business in their back yard. Ten years later, when an acreage came up for sale near their place, the Hogues bought it and spent two years cleaning it up.
The 1943 bowtruss barn, bought at the time for $695 from a Sears Roebuck catalogue apparently had never been cleared; cow manure reached within two feet of its ceiling. Today, the 7-acre farm gleams in that special kind of way that only a reclaimed, antique lifestyle can.
It’s not the glint of the new; it’s a resurrection and celebration of days gone by. Jane says some people ask when they’re going to paint the buildings. “I’m so not into painting buildings,” she says with a laugh. “I’m into that shabby chic.”
About 75 display gardens surround the buildings, including the barn, a country schoolhouse, wedding pavilions, and an old granary that’s been turned into an ornamental folly. Even a 12- x 18-foot chicken coop moved from a farm three miles away has been recycled as a tiny shop with a blooming roof.
To make the roof garden, Jack placed a heavyweight pond liner on top of the wood surface and framed the edges of one half of the roof with 2x4s. To stagger the weight of the soil, he nailed 2×4 boards horizontally about every foot up the slope. Lighter-weight black plastic lined the frames, and potting soil amended with slow-release fertilizer filled the spaces.
Mesh deer-fencing material on top holds the soil in place. The mesh was cut every foot or two to install potted annuals. Through trial and error, the Hogues discovered the best formula for spacing, and they plunk the annuals—Wave petunias, scaevola, calibrachoa, vinca and verbena— back in the same places each year. Nature does most of the watering.
“I was surprised,” Jane says. “I bet we water it only every 10 days to two weeks.” Visitors love the effect, and women drag their husbands over for a good look. “The husband is usually shaking his head,” Jane says.
Since 2007 when the Hogue’s daughter was married there the farm has also become a favored wedding venue with ceremonies scheduled every Saturday from June through September. The haymow is reserved for receptions, and the ground level of the barn serves as backup in case of inclement weather. Most of the time, happy couples are married in the Wedding Pavilion or among the flowerbeds with cornfields in the background.
Busy gardeners and business partners Jack and Jane Hogue take a rare moment of respite.
Annual flowers, especially sun-loving heat-tolerant petunias and verbenas, are some of Jane’s favorite garden plants for color all summer. The old martin house adds a rustic touch.
Straight, rustic ash limbs fashioned into an arbor get an extra country touch with the addition of five wren houses.
An old chicken coop moved twice—first from an old farmstead to the Hogues’ home, then to the Prairie Pedlar—was dubbed The Nesting Place and serves as retail space for bird-related items.
Collections of items such as an old ladder, a window-box, bentwood willow trellis, and a path made of flagstone recovered from the foundation of a torn-down barn make The Nesting Place a welcome destination.
A planter fashioned from an old farm implement disc holds a collection of easy-care succulents.
Rusted blades from a farm disc harrow atop wooden posts dot the area around the The Nesting Place.
This planter supports an array of succulents that includes (from left) variegated Dorotheanthus mezoo, pink Portulaca grandiflora, a tall variegated jade plant, Sedum nussbaumerianum ‘Coppertone’, and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.
Small vignettes, created from repurposed items such as the galvanized pail and tricycle, punctuate the landscape at the Prairie Pedlar.
Ivy geraniums adorn a reproduction tricycle planter.
Bikes and trikes are a recurring motif throughout the garden. Usually accompanied by a basket of flowers or trailing plant.
Looking like a windowbox on legs, this small potting bench leans up to an old board fence made with wood reclaimed from a cattle lot.
A cast-off cast-iron sink complete with faucets found at a salvage yard heats up in summer, so Jane plants drought-tolerant ‘Blue Spruce’ sedums inside and adds a color punch with geraniums behind it.
Jane nestles potted perennials together, arranged in berms of mulch so the sales area looks more like a garden and gives buyers an idea how the plants look together.
Jack dug the 10-foot by 16-foot pond by hand and placed a flexible liner on the bottom. “One person told us the mistake you’ll make is to make it too small, so we didn’t,” Jane says.
You’ll remember the Caruth team had similar issues when we were making our pond too.
The Potting Shed was created from the shell of a miniature barn built on a nearby farm in the 1920s to bottle feed Angus calves.
Outside the Potting Shed, pots stacked on a rebar pole add a touch of whimsy to a vertical space. ‘Trailing Purple Heart’ coleus mingles with asparagus fern and an ivy geranium with orange flowers. Follow these instructions to make your own.
What You’ll Need
- 6-foot length of 3/8-inch Rebar (used in
- 1 14-inch diameter clay pot
- 5 8-inch diameter clay pots
- Potting soil
- Plants to fill pots (include trailing plants
such as asparagus fern)
– Pound the rebar into the ground approximately 18 inches deep. With the wide side up, slip the hole of the 14-inch pot over the rebar and slide the pot to the ground. Fill with potting soil if you are planting in the bottom container, or pea gravel if you’re not. Filling the bottom pot with pea gravel adds weight for stability.
– Slide an 8-inch pot over the rebar, tipping it to the right so the rod rests against the wall of the pot. Fill with soil.
– Add another 8-inch pot, tipping it to the left. Continue in an alternating fashion, filling each pot with soil as you go.
– When all pots are in place, carefully fill pots with desired plants taking into account the sun/shade requirements and color and texture variations. Water and fertilize.
– Freshly planted pots must be carefully watered until the plants become rooted to prevent soil from splashing out. To avoid loss of soil, the surfaces can be covered with Spanish moss or mulch.
Jane works to make the Prairie Pedlar a destination experience for garden lovers. “When we started we realized we were really out in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “We’re 70 miles from a city, so we want to make it charming enough that they remember the visit.” That’s why, at this prairie paradise, visitor experiences may be the things that are recycled the most.
© Caruth Studio