Seasonal Splendor from Quilted Gardens Nursery
By April Pearson
Barry Laws and Larry Skellenger own and operate Quilted Gardens Nursery on their picturesque farm south of Indianola. Specializing in rare trees, flowers, shrubs, succulents and container plants, they’ve been beautifying the Iowa landscape for decades. They make their exclusive mix of evergreens available every holiday season for customers who value fresh, authentic, homegrown décor.
A Tree Farm Grows in Indianola
Laws’ heart has always been in agriculture. “I’ve been growing things my whole life,” he says, “ever since I was a little kid, peddling vegetables with my wagon in Des Moines.” He started his first garden in a vacant lot his parents rented from the city, then went on to study ag education at Iowa State University. He serves as the floriculture superintendent for the Iowa State Fair and, of course, operates Quilted Gardens Nursery with Skellenger.
Skellenger is a renowned quilter whose creations have been featured in museums and exhibits nationwide. After a friend from work taught him how to sew quilts, he’s made dozens for family and friends — never selling them. Skellenger’s keenness for quilting and Laws’ passion for plants inspired the name Quilted Gardens Nursery.
Four years ago, Laws and Skellenger relocated their home and business from Des Moines to the 20-acre tree farm they’d planted nearly three decades ago. Their new house overlooks gently rolling hills, a serene pond and 25-foot-tall trees. It’s the perfect setting for Quilted Gardens Nursery.
Unique Offerings and Expert Advice
Quilted Gardens Nursery provides a wide range of interesting plants that are hard to find in Iowa, either sourcing them from out of state or propagating them in the nursery. Laws’ confidence in their ability to thrive in Iowa comes from his experience. “I’ve done a lot of work with these plants for a long time,” says Laws. “We’ve tried them in our gardens, so we know they’ll do well here.”
Barry Laws puts together a holiday wreath.
This knowledge makes Laws an expert consultant as well as a professional procurer, especially when it comes to foliage and flowers customers may have never considered before. “For a long time, people have just grown the basic type of plants offered at big box stores,” he says. “There are too many cool and unusual plants not being offered that people should try out in their garden and landscape.”
Though Iowa is a hospitable environment, some things are more challenging to grow than others. “We try to pick plants that will do well for people, but some specialty plants require a little more knowledge,” says Laws. “So we find out what customers like and don’t like and go from there. We want them to be successful, so advice is a big part of what we do.”
Quilted Gardens Nursery also offers landscaping design and installation, educational programs and opportunities, and garden materials and art. Surely such specialized services come at a premium price? Not necessarily. “People are often surprised,” says Laws. “Our costs are comparable to other providers, and you can be sure your yard won’t look like everybody else’s.”
Grown for the Holidays
The operating schedule for Quilted Gardens Nursery changes with the season. The farm will open the day after Thanksgiving for Christmas tree sales. You can also find Laws and Skellenger at various holiday events in Des Moines, including the Downtown Winter Farmers Market November 17-19 at Hy-Vee Hall, and the Christkindlmarket November 30-December 3 at Principal Park.
Visit their booth for fresh-cut bundled greens, handcrafted wreaths and table-top trees — all grown on their farm. “We want to offer something locally grown and makes the holidays better,” says Laws. “They last long, smell good and look nice.” Their booth will also feature holiday décor crafted by local artisans, including blown-glass birds, tree ornaments and sleighbells.
The Usual and the Unusual
Laws has a favorite plant, but it changes frequently. Currently, it’s a Korean pine, which he planted four years ago when they moved to the farm. Blue and white with long, soft needles, it’s even prettier than a white pine. It does great in Iowa, even though it’s native to Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
“Our tagline is Not just the usual, but the unusual too, because even though we carry common plants, we also carry things that are really different,” says Laws. “We like to be creative and help our customers achieve a space that’s as unique as them.”
You can learn more about the specialty plants and services Laws and Skellenger offer at quiltedgardens.com.