The Birthplace of Better Homes & Gardens

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Succulents


James Baggett (right), the editor I freelance for at Country Gardens magazine, has long legs. Fortunately I do too, or I would have been running during a tour he gave of Meredith Corporation’s headquarters in Des Moines last week. There was a lot to see and not nearly enough time; the facility encompasses 180,000 square feet of office space on four levels with a 230-foot skywalk. There are lovely and intriguing works of art everywhere, such as this tile mural.


And this these metal snowflakes. Wouldn’t you love having them where you work?


I was in the Midwest to give a presentation at the Iowa Arboretum. Executive director Mark Schneider (right) drove us from Ames to Des Moines, then came along for the tour. A trompe l’oeil mural, which celebrates the building’s use of natural light, makes the lobby seem much larger. According to one online source, throughout the facility, lighting dims or brightens depending on the amount entering via windows, thereby maintaining a consistent level of illumination and resulting in a 30% energy savings.


In addition to Country Gardens, Meredith publishes Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, Traditional Home, Parents, and many more. Perhaps the best known is Better Homes & Gardens. Notice what kind of plants are between us?


Here he’s showing one of many roll-out displays that illustrate the history of the company. Edwin Thomas Meredith started it all with Successful Farming magazine. Today Meredith has 1,000 employees split evenly between its Des Moines and New York offices; produces TV shows that air on a dozen different channels across the US; and enjoys a lucrative licensing deal with Wal-Mart.

Meredith test garden

The Meredith test gardens are famous for their beauty and sometimes are used as an outdoor studio. (Photo from


This, however, is how they looked the day I was there (April 12).


Being a spoiled Southern Californian, I don’t normally brave 51-degree temperatures. But this was a photo op I couldn’t resist. (Photo by James Baggett.)


Food prepared in Meredith’s many kitchens is up for grabs once photographed. I sampled an outstanding lemon cookie. I don’t know what upcoming issue it’ll be in, but I’m keeping an eye out for it.


Speaking of food, Iowa is the nation’s leading producer of corn. At Mr. Baggett’s suggestion we visited Stam, a famous Des Moines chocolatier which—as you can see—has its own take on candy corn.

And here’s a cool coincidence; he also blogged about my visit. Included is a magazine-worthy photo that makes the small succulent bouquet I brought him seem amazing.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 8.37.47 PM

So, do you have a favorite Meredith publication?



Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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11 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Gareth April 20, 2013, 4:40 am

The metal snow flakes are really cool so colourful and an inventive idea!!

John Drexel April 20, 2013, 7:50 am


Excellent article and images. Having a graphic arts background I often wondered what the Des Moines headquarters of an iconic publishing empire was like. Looking forward to the release of your new book in May.

Thank you,


carolyn magnani April 20, 2013, 8:27 am

Debra, I live in the greater Des Moines area and attended the symposium at the Iowa Arboretum when you spoke. I love succulents but gained a new appreciation for them as you demostrated using them as bouquets and even bridal bouquets. Loved your presentation!
As a retirement job I work as a container designer at Piney Ridge Greenhouse which is one of the top greenhouses in our area. I have already used your techniques in a couple of containers.
I feel fortunate to live near Merediths Test Garden and always make a couple visits during the summer months when they are open for a short window of time on Fridays only.
Hope you visit our area again in the future and perhaps you may have the experience of our winter weather or our summer heat and humidity.

karen April 20, 2013, 8:49 am

I got quite a kick out of you braving 51degree temps! LOL In Boston (where I grew up) 51 is “break out the shorts” weather. I moved to FL 3.5 years ago and I, too, am getting spoiled! I’m reluctant to do much outside unless the thermometer reads 60+.

To answer your question, my fave Meredith mag is Family Fun! It is down-to-earth and not geared to the YUPPIE influence so prevalent in today’s parenting magazines.
My kids are all adults now, but I still enjoy Family Fun which is a testament to its common sense approach to leisure time and activity for everyone, Love it!

Great informative post today! Thank you for sharing your visit there with us!

Jeannine April 20, 2013, 9:36 am

Beautiful pictures and the chocolate corn is a hoot! Jeannine

Sheila Schultz April 20, 2013, 9:57 am

Love your photo with the Big Red Spade, every garden needs one! BTW, I’m eager to add Succulents Simplified to my collection of books focusing in succulents… congrats on it’s soon-be-release date!

Candy Suter April 21, 2013, 3:40 am

Wish I had been a mouse in your pocket! What a great place to visit. Decorated really awesome. You must have had a great time. Looks like you were a bit chilly though. Must have been nice to get back to the warm weather. Super post sweet girl!

Theresa Forte April 22, 2013, 8:44 am

Lovely armchair tour – thanks for sharing!

Cassidy April 22, 2013, 8:17 pm

Better Homes and Gardens is one of my favorites! Thank you so much for sharing about your experience! This looks like a fun trip!

Allan Becker April 23, 2013, 9:40 am

Corn filled with hazelnut puree? Wow, what a treat!

Debra Lee Baldwin April 26, 2013, 10:13 am

Thank you all for your comments! It’s fun to get a behind-the-scenes look at something we all take for granted, isn’t it?

There were boxes of magazines (current issues of each) lining one hallway. Mr. Bagget said, “Help yourself,” and handed us each a bag with a reinforced bottom the same shape as the magazines. Despite the greedy urge to take one of each, I quickly realized that magazines are heavy. I ended up taking only four or five, giving four to my host in Ames, and keeping one (Family Circle, the issue with the cupcakes on the cover) for the flight home.

Free magazines, gallery-quality art and amazing free food are not the only perks of working at Meredith. The corporate Lear jet makes going to meetings at the company’s offices in New York a quick commute.

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