The Des Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden will have a new look that includes a “living wall” and a new retail shop when it reopens to the public in September.
The gardens were closed in July and August while renovations took place as part of an $11 million capital improvement project to update and renovate the facility. Doug Hoerr of Hoerr-Schaudt Landscape Architects in Chicago designed the master plan for the Des Moines Botanical Garden’s renovation.
Community leaders and others involved in the project say their goal with the work is to create a world-class public garden. Within five years, they hope the Botanical Garden better introduces the Des Moines community to the world of plants, plays a role in educational programs and integrates the Garden into the Principal Riverwalk, among other goals. The facility’s programming also will be expanded and fit with the mission of “Exploring, explaining and celebrating the world of plants,” according to a press release.
“We need more urban green spaces in Des Moines, and this will be a great urban green space,” says Stephanie Jutila, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
Once the Botanical Garden’s grounds are complete, she says it will be a great place for visitors, as well as those who want a nice place to do yoga or those who want to attend an outdoor music event. In addition, the gardens will give visitors a chance to see plants that aren’t the normal ones seen in streetscape design.
“It’s a great destination and place to visit,” Jutila says.
Renovation work begins in spring, continues into summer months
Work began on the first phase of the Botanical Garden renovation in March with parking lot and exterior work that included new gardens and exterior landscaping. Renovation work moved inside the building, which was built July 1, 1979, when the building closed for two months for construction. The first phase of renovation takes into account seven acres of the 14-acre site.
The nearby John Pat Dorrian bike trail that goes along the Des Moines River is still open during the construction. Jutila says the trail, along with the Center Street bridge, provides great access to the Botanical Garden.
New features that will be available in September include:
• A new café operated by chef Lisa LaValle. Café-goers will be able to view the new water garden, the downtown Des Moines skyline and the Principal Riverwalk from the café and its exterior terrace.
• New pathways for visitors to walk on while they go through plan collections.
• An elevator, which visitors can use to go up to the conservatory balcony and then look down onto the indoor garden.
• Renovated meeting and program rooms on the north side of the building. Updates include new audio-visual systems.
• An updated lobby area with a “living” green wall, the first of its kind in Des Moines. The wall will contain live plants that will continue to grow from floor to ceiling in a carpet-like fashion. “We’re very excited to have this,” Jutila says.
• A new entry garden, water education garden, a walkway bordered by shade trees and a new outdoor space for events.
Planting will take place in the new landscape areas this fall.
Phase II will start in the spring and the summer of 2014 with the goal to have all work completed and the entire property available to the public for use by summer 2015. The second phase is expected to cost $6.2 million, and fundraising is actively taking place right now, Jutila says. During this portion of the renovation, most of the exterior gardens will be closed while work is done to build new gardens and plant landscape.
Des Moines’ public garden
The plan for Des Moines’ public garden began in spring 1929. The Des Moines Garden Club and the Des Moines Founders Garden Club had hoped to create a public garden for the city. However, the stock market crash later that year, which marked the start of the Great Depression, delayed progress of the gardens.
The garden clubs’ members tried to revive the concept of a public garden and tied it to the construction of two swimming pools elsewhere in the city. The pools were built, but the gardens were not. The effort to build the gardens were again revived in 1960 and 1964, according to the Botanical Garden’s website.
In 1966, Des Moines city officials acquired a former brickyard. The 14-acre site would later become the Botanical Garden.
The Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center organization formed in 1969 and helped create what became known as the Des Moines Botanical Center. Between 1971 and 1977, the group helped raise $85,000 toward the construction of the center. An additional $3.2 million through a work project grant and a contribution by city taxpayers gave the money necessary to build the domed conservatory and the production greenhouses.
Ground broke for the conservatory in 1977, and it opened in December 1979. According to the Botanical Garden’s website, the grand opening day was so cold that the poinsettias in the lobby froze from the doors being opened so many times.
The Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department operated the Botanical Center for its first 25 years. Through the years, the “Friends” group raised money to build meeting rooms, more greenhouses and other features. However, city budgetary problems led to a slow decline of the center, and city leaders considered closing it in 2003, which led to Des Moines Water Works taking over management of the facility in 2004. The facility was renamed the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center.
The opening of the Gardeners Show House in December 2007 renewed interest in the Botanical Center. Community leaders became interested in what the future of the Botanical Center could become. A group came together and worked with city leaders to create a new vision. A nonprofit group was formed, and a governing board took over control of the center under a long-term lease from the city of Des Moines. Doug Hoerr, the landscape architect, was hired after a national search to create a vision for the facility, which has been dubbed “A New Beginning.”
Des Moines Water Works ended its management at the end of 2012, and the newly named Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden began in 2013. Stephanie Jutila began as the president and chief executive officer, and the garden is governed by a new board. With the new name, also began a campaign to raise $11.6 million for the first phase expansion and facility improvements.
While the facility is now operated by a new board, it will continue to receive financial contributions from Des Moines Water Works ($200,000 annually), Bravo of Greater Des Moines ($245,000 annually) and Des Moines taxpayers ($200,000 annually), all for 10 years.
Gardens introduce Des Moines residents, others to wide variety of plants
Even though the Botanical Garden is undergoing a dramatic renovation, the garden will continue to give visitors the chance to view a variety of plants from the bonsai collection in the conservatory to the coleus, plectranthus, gesneriad and orchid collections inside the Gardeners’ Show House.
Under the dome, visitors can see tropical plants that include orchids, palms and other trees that are not native to Iowa. The geodesic dome stands 80 feet at its tallest point and is 150 feet wide. Advocates and the builders for Des Moines’ dome visited similar ones at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the World’s Fair in New York City and the American Pavilion in Montreal, all in the1960s, to gain ideas for what could be built in Des Moines.
The exterior gardens aim to show visitors what types of gardening can take place from the first thaw to the first frost. The outdoor gardens display something different each season.
She says the Botanical Garden will have something for people of all ages from workshops about gardening techniques, landscape or floral design, and garden ornament instruction to music events at the Garden to children’s activities.
“Public gardens are living museums,” Jutila has previously said in a press release. “Our collection is based on plants and art or literary pieces that reflect or are inspired by plants.”