Spanning more than 13.5 acres of land on the banks of the Des Moines River, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens is a living botanical tapestry. Comprised of both outdoor and indoor gardens, the grounds include a tropical conservatory, shop, restaurant, and water garden.
The outdoor gardens were primarily designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture, bringing to life the master plan for the parklands. Through this plan, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens deliver its mission of exploring, explaining, and celebrating the world of plants.
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The Conservatory and Indoor Gardens immerse visitors in the living museum of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens. Specimens include plants from all over the globe, from luxurious orchids to pointed cactuses. The tropical oasis of the conservatory envelops guests in the humid air of the rain forest, complete with overhead canopy.
With cactuses, succulents and many other desert dwellers, the Desert Gardens appear as architectural as they do horticultural. This permanent exhibit, maintained by a group of local volunteers known as the Desert Diggers, is a walk through the drier areas of the world. Educational as well as enjoyable, this garden seemingly transports guests from downtown Des Moines to the driest desert around.
Sculpture – Art
Art is as important indoors as outdoors at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens. Used to draw the attention, create visual interest, or cause the guest to pause and consider her surroundings, sculpture is a vital component in the visual artistry of the space. The collection includes works by both local and internationally recognized artists, which were made possible by donations from local patrons.
With its bubbling waterfall, hanging flowers and towering trees, the tropical plantings of the Conservatory seem a world away from prairies of the Midwest. Each plant is labeled for entertainment as much as education, with exotic and unusual names such as the Traveler’s Palm, the Chenille Plant and the Tapeworm Plant. This permanent collection, with its jewel-like koi fish, is one of the most popular attractions at the Gardens.
The Outdoor Gardens encompass a wide variety of botanical beauty for visitors to explore. This includes various features, from the rose garden to the water garden and much more. With thousands of specimens on display, the Outdoor Garden celebrates the seasons, an ever-changing canvas for natural inspiration. Focusing on sustainable horticulture, this responsible and remarkable attraction is educational and entertaining for all.
Formed from a row of 20 maple trees, this 220 foot promenade is the architectural spine of the Garden plan. The hardscape of the allée (which is pronounced allay) incorporates sustainable features, such as the reclaimed brick of its construction. This walkway is at its peak beauty in late spring, when the maple trees bud and the 3,400 bearded irises that line its path come into bloom.
Art & Sculpture
Sculpture plays a vital role within the garden, complimenting and enhancing the natural beauty. Several pieces placed throughout the garden, invite visitors to periodically pause and ponder the moment. These sculptures include pieces by not only regional artists, but internationally recognized artists, as well.
Capitalizing on the Gardens’ riverfront location, the Belvedere creates a striking space for taking in the skyline. The area more than lives up to its name, which means beautiful view in Italian. Again reflecting the changing seasons, eight bold, seasonally planted urns enhance the drama of the seating area.
Trellis Café & Bonsai Terrace
The Garden’s Café, Trellis, also offers skyline views to visitors while enjoying lunch, a pastry or cup of coffee. The outdoor dining experience includes not only the skyline but garden enjoyment, as well. The café also contains an exhibition space for the Garden’s historic Bonsai Collection.
Celebration Lawn & Garden
Situated at the heart of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is the celebration lawn and its surrounding gardens. This spacious area with is lush carpet of grass creates a venue for events, performances and celebrations of all kinds. The gardens bordering the lawn are expertly planted using a variety of annuals, with seasonal punctuations to provide year-round visual interest.
Conifer & Gravel Garden
Based in the traditions of British Garden designer Beth Chatto, the Conifer and Gravel Garden is a highlight of the property. Densely planted with a vast variety of species, the exhibit showcases some of the Garden’s most rare and unusual specimens. With more than 250 species from around the world, this dry garden is a signature experience and a must-see for visitors.
The winding paths of the Hillside Garden guide visitors through woodland and prairie landscape, to a scenic overview at the top. Pathways are lined with a diverse collection of trees and shrubs, well-established lilacs and generous hydrangeas. The impressive cantilevered waterfall creates even more experience for the senses and is a particular feature of this garden.
Parking Lot & Entry Garden
A day at the Des Moines Botanical Garden begins in the parking lot, with gardens welcoming visitors from their very first moment. This seasonal garden is at its most impressive in the spring, when more than 30,000 bulbs emerge from the earth to bathe the borders in color. In summer and fall, native Iowa grasses and colorful perennials take over, keeping the color while providing abundant sources for native pollinators.
Always a classic feature to enjoy, the Rose Garden engages not only the visual but the olfactory senses, as well. At the Des Moines Botanical Garden, this is taken one step further, with roses interspersed with herbs and other edible plants perfuming the air. Developed by Dr. Griffith Buck, professor of horticulture at Iowa State University, the thriving roses pay homage to the Garden’s philosophy of honoring horticultural traditions of the Midwest.
The ecologically conscious Savanna Garden overlooks the Des Moines River, connecting back to the allée at the southwest corner. Incorporating native plants from the area, as well as those from other temperate regions around the globe, the garden interprets the natural world in inspiring ways. With long prairie grasses that undulate and dance in the river breezes, the Savanna garden welcomes visitors to sit back and unwind.
Featuring panoramic views of the Des Moines skyline, the Water Garden is a showstopper of the Botanical Garden. This permanent exhibit showcases myriad kinds of water-life, including water lilies, copper irises, and Japanese water irises, in addition to islands of seasonal and tropical plantings, as well. This year-round, half acre garden creates an engaging experience for visitors.
In addition to its impressive permanent garden collections, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens also showcases events, exhibitions, performances and programs. The Seasonal Artist Exhibit in the North Gallery features photography and art from various artists throughout the year. Changing regularly, visitors are advised to see the website for the latest showcase. The Garden also features temporary horticultural exhibits. Lasting a few months each and running throughout the year, the exhibits cover a wide variety of topics. Such past examples include Holiday Exhibition, Going Up? Living Walls,and The Summer Exhibition: 150 Years of Iowa Horticultures.
Other events include weekly Nights in the Garden through the summer, story-telling sessions for children, cooking nights, craft activities and a host of holiday programs. Educational programs at the Garden offer gardening classes and the Annual Symposium, showcasing nationally acclaimed lecturers to discuss horticulture and related topics. Children’s educational programs include art workshops, potting bench classes, youth tours and other special events. For those wishing to take the garden home with them, special plant and bulb sales provide the opportunity to do just that, and feature limited edition plants for most garden styles.
Despite the idea for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden dating as far back as 1929, the actual garden did not open until some fifty years later, in December 1979. Momentum for the garden was maintained and built through the years by the local gardening clubs which eventually became known as the Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, this energy continued with capital fund drives to create new greenhouses, meeting rooms and a rework of the garden entrance.
The opening of the Garden Show House in 2007 renewed interest in the Gardens, as frequently changing seasonal displays attracted new audiences. With increased attention and energy, in 2008, Des Moines leaders began working on a plan to revitalize, refurbish, and re-brand the gardens. These plans came to fruition in 2012, when the new master plan was approved by the City Council. Following vigorous funding and fundraising efforts, refurbishment began in 2013. Following extensive improvements, the new outdoor gardens were opened to the public for the first time on April 4, 2015.
With such a widely varied calendar of events and programs, visitors are recommended to check the website prior to visiting, in order to maximize their enjoyment of the Gardens. The website also provides recommended “Garden Etiquette”, photographic guidelines, updates on any closures or construction and other useful information. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is easily accessible from major freeways and provides parking on site. Additionally, the Smart Gardener Blog provides a wealth of information available to gardening enthusiasts whether they have the opportunity to visit the Gardens or not.
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909 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-323-6290
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