Ever wonder if those perfectly groomed, impeccably landscaped lawns and flower beds in gardening magazines actually exist? Well, if you see a photo of an emerald-green lawn, an eerily well-kept flower bed, or a patio that looks strangely unused in “Better Homes and Gardens,” chances are it was taken at the magazine’s Test Garden in Des Moines.
Better Homes and Gardens uses a private display garden on the grounds of its company headquarters in Des Moines for many of its photo shoots. The BHG Test Garden lies just outside the downtown offices of the corporate headquarters, an oasis occupying just half a block. With 22 distinct areas, the Test Garden serves not only as a colorful wonderland of flora but also as an outdoor studio for photography, a venue for corporate entertaining, and a lunch spot for employees.
Despite its urban locale, it has modeled as several unique backyards, seamlessly flowing into one another. At every turn there is a whole new vista that appears to be completely unrelated to the landscape around it. Each section of the garden could be an entirely new backyard, where the magazine can photograph its how-to sequences, document new plant performances, and suggest landscaping and patio ideas.
The Test Garden is open to the public on Friday afternoons from noon to 2 p.m., May through September. The rest of the time it is in use, magically standing in for the backyards you wish you had.