On an Iowa acreage, Jane and Jack Hogue do what they love: Garden, transform timeworn items into treasured heirlooms, and keep their proud rural heritage alive for others to enjoy. When they started a garden business in their back yard 27 years ago, Jane and Jack Hogue envisioned it as a hobby that would connect them with their three children and Jane’s late father. It turned out to be so much more. “We had no idea it would lead to a full-time garden career,” Jane says. “It’s now more a way of life than a hobby.”
The Prairie Pedlar, a garden and event center located on seven acres near the Hogues’ Odebolt, Iowa, farm exudes authenticity. This place is not trying to look vintage. It’s the real thing. The cornfields surrounding the farmstead, the barn, the chicken coops, granaries, and other outbuildings salvaged from nearby farms, and even the plants growing in 75 display beds are all integral to their rural heritage.
Jane grows and sells the latest, best-performing annual flowers and perennials, trees, and flowering shrubs along with heirloom varieties. The cottage garden next to the old Sears Roebuck barn blooms colorfully with verbena, reseeding petunias, zinnias, and tall ageratums. Opt for cottage garden plants when you need an informal patchwork of color.
The Cottage Garden illustrates an unorganized garden style that’s likely to have a mixture of pass-along plants. “Cottage gardens aren’t always picturesque but every plant in it is a treasure,” Jane says. “Farm wives plopped it down in the space that was available.”
The gardens teach about sunlight and shade plants. They demonstrate color and flowers that attract butterflies. On this organic farm, the Insect Chaser Garden grows with herbs that can be used to repel bugs. Mint, lavender, and southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) all repel moths and other bugs. Fernleaf tansy, at two feet tall about half the size of wild tansy, is an ant repellent.
Zinnias are one of Jane’s favorite flowers because they’re drought tolerant, come in many sizes and colors, and “butterflies dance from one to another,” she says. Each garden grows with the double purpose of delighting and educating. Flowers for every letter of the alphabet are planted in the children’s “kinder-garden,” including K for kale, N for nasturtium, V for verbena, S for snapdragons, and, of course, Z for zinnia.
Gladiolas, ‘Red Spider’ zinnias, and a stained glass-and-iron garden ornament are the perfect bright colors against the ‘Silver Queen’ artemisia behind in the Hummingbird Garden.
The bold Grass Gardens “give you a chance to really make a statement,” Jane says.
The Palette Garden was named for the brilliant array of colors that would be found in an artist’s collection of paints.
A birdhouse made by the Hogues’ son, Tyler, anchors a spot in the orange color section of the Palette Garden. It sits on the leg of an old kitchen table. “Never throw anything away,” Jane says.
The corners of the quadrants of the formal Terrace Garden are anchored by European-style statues of the four seasons. The statue of Winter is on the far right.
The Folly, a 10-sided former corncrib sits beside the Terrace Garden. Jack and Jane Hogue find fresh life in old buildings. The transformations may involve new roofs, foundations, adding cupolas and screen doors, and even removing the sides, as they did for the Wedding Gazebo. Each building then brings its own story to its new location.
Brides clamor for Prairie Pedlar’s chic-country wedding ambiance—every weekend is booked. In a former life, the Wedding Gazebo was a 10-sided granary but now sports a cupola with a bell that’s rung at the conclusion of a wedding.
Brides often use the old wheelbarrow, gleaned from an estate sale, as a repository for gifts.
Bus tourists are common visitors, often on the trail of more than 55 quilt squares painted on Sac County barns. The Prairie Pedlar sports a quilt square in a pattern, appropriately, called “Double Aster.” It’s painted in a subdued color scheme to pair with the weathered gray barn wood. “There’s something about quilting and gardening that go hand in hand,” Jane says.
Nostalgia here runs deep and true. “My rule is that if it’s something that can be in anyone’s garden, I don’t use it,” Jane says. “Everything here is unique to us. It has to be a treasured memory or have a story about the history of the property, or be something that a garden friend has given us. We have to have a connection to it. It has to touch your heart a little bit.”
A crack in the large mirror salvaged from a pharmacy gets disguised when the mirror is placed within lush surroundings. Sweet autumn clematis clambers up the birdhouse-topped post.
Every garden should have a sundial, Jane believes. “It’s a true icon of garden art.”
An old kitchen side table with crackled pink paint displays a pair of cement chickens and containers filled with succulents.
Jane likes the look of white iron furniture in the garden.
The field stones that the lines the edges of some beds come from neighboring fields. Not only are the rocks local, they have a deeper meaning. “Stone has such strength to it, a massive sense of it in correlation with all the things we move around,” she says. “Rock is the solid part of your garden. The rest is changeable.”
Find a new use for organic materials. Jane and Jack Hogue cut out a lackluster hedge of what they believe is Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) and stacked it in a pile. Then Jane saw the beauty in the twisted limbs so they crafted a 15-foot-tall arbor covered with a metal lattice roof.
Gray, weathered barn wood is the perfect neutral background for colorful annuals such as coleus, petunias, and verbena.
No one expects butterflies to rest inside the weathered butterfly house but “there’s something charming about little animal houses in the garden,” Jane says.
A long border with perennials, annuals, and shrubs adds color next to the neighboring cornfield. ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, zinnias, ‘Ramblin’ Red’ petunias, and ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas fill the space.
Butterflies flock onto the landing pads provided by ‘Goldstrum’ rudbeckia, coneflowers, and sedums.
It’s a rich life, not measured by money but by the memories they create and the pleasure of sharing their gardens. Long ago, the Hogues vowed to keep the Prairie Pedlar as long as they were still having fun. “On hot summer evenings as we’re battling mosquitoes and pulling weeds we look at each other and ask, ‘Are you having fun?’ ” Jane says with a laugh. And they are. “It would be hard to put down the hoe and walk away from the garden and never return.”
See more of the Hogues’ unique gardens here.
© Caruth Studio