The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden represents the latest push to bring defined green space and nature into Iowa’s capital city. The project has completely transformed the lackluster site into a premier cultural institution, as well as making it the largest botanical garden in the state.
The revitalized gardens were built on the foundations of the existing facilities but were designed from scratch. The site sits right on the river’s banks, but its original design all but ignored this adjacency. The new plans celebrated the key role of water in the city by making the river and native aquatic vegetation visually and physically accessible. A 110-foot-long water rill spills down from the cantilevered café terrace into the pond, creating a soothing soundscape that blocks out the damps noise from the interstate, and an Ipe wood path hovers above the water and provides close-up views and information on water-based plants. The design allowed for the Botanical Garden to be open year-round, with blooms and programming happening all seasons.
Great care was taken to remediate the site so that the new Botanical Garden will thrive long term. The soil ecology was restored via an excavation process that dug down 10 to 12 feet in order to remove debris and waste, and a clay cap was added five feet below the ground surface to properly route drainage and prevent contamination. The gardens were also designed to the 200-year flood mark, ensuring that they’ll adapt to changing river levels.
Over the course of its first season, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden experienced extreme success. Attendance increased by 53% over 2013 numbers to more than 300,000 visitors. The Botanical Garden has become a central cultural institution in Des Moines, helping people to better understand, explore, and enjoy horticulture and the natural world.