Hoerr Schaudt Design Helps Garden Explore, Explain, and Celebrate the World of Plants

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On October 2-4, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden gave the public a peek into Phase I of the Garden’s dramatic redevelopment.

“Landscape design is one of the great arts and this garden is the last jewel in Des Moines’ crown of cultural institutions,” said Douglas Hoerr, partner of Hoerr Schaudt. “Gardens are a living art, requiring commitment and dedication long after opening day. I am excited that the The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden gives that gift to the citizens of Des Moines,” he said.

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Project Role

Since 2004, Hoerr Schaudt has worked with different groups and individuals committed to re-imagining a more dynamic botanical experience for the citizens of Des Moines. In 2011 the firm began work with the stakeholders of today’s Greater Des Moines Botanic Garden to envision a garden that explores, explains and celebrates the world of plants.

As the landscape architect for the project, Hoerr Schaudt helped re-imagine how the Garden’s mission could be expressed through its design. The firm helped the Garden define its overall vision, assisted with fundraising, created a master plan for the entire garden, and then designed a series of garden rooms and experiences that will connect people to horticulture in exciting ways. Programming was a driving force behind the design. The Garden creates a space to educate people not only about individual plants, but about the microclimates, plant associations and the different styles of planting that thrive in a Midwestern environment.

Design Intent

Few options would have existed for the Garden’s compact site without closing the portion of Robert D. Ray drive that once continued past the entry and went through the entire site. Eliminating vehicular access opened the opportunity to create more than 20 new gardens and establish a better sense of arrival and anticipation.

The gardens previewed on October 2 represent the largest and most intensive phase of the Garden’s overall development. Many features in the Garden landscape emphasize a connection to water in honor of its proximity to the city’s main waterway, the Des Moines River. The Riverside Garden, Allée and Belvedere Garden, Conifer and Gravel Garden, Celebration Lawn, Hillside Garden, Parking Buffer Garden, Café Terrace and Water Garden work together to showcase the connections between people, plants and water.


Parking Buffer Garden – visitors are welcomed by a botanical experience from the moment they arrive as they pass complex perennial planting zones along the entrance drive before reaching the parking area.

Café Terrace – visitors enjoy views of the Water Garden from the terrace and hear the sound of water beneath them as a 110 foot-long water feature spills gently into the Water Garden.

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Water Garden – This is one of the very first gardens visitors see as they enter the gardens from the visitors’ center. An ipe-wood deck hovers above the water and provides close-up views and information on water-based plants.

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Riverside Garden – Planting design at the Riverside Garden is inspired by native river plant communities and visually draws the river’s natural landscape up into the site.

Allée and Belvedere Garden – 20 State Street Maples line a ceremonial promenade that is the formal spine of the garden. The recycled brick banding and inlay along the walk originated on the site nearly 100 years ago when it was a brickmaking factory. Understory plantings along the allée include a new iris collection.

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Conifer and Gravel Garden – Sculptural dwarf conifers set in gravel display unusual varieties. This style of gardening requires less water than many and is a teaching opportunity for water conservation.

Celebration Lawn – this space offers a new venue for weddings and celebrations that is distinctive for its showy perennial and annual garden.

Hillside Garden – The hillside waterfall in this garden is an interactive water feature that encourages visitors to walk behind it and engage water. Designed on axis with the Belvedere, it takes advantage of the natural topography of the site and creates a sense of drama and excitement.

Role of the Gardens in Des Moines

Once all phases are complete, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden will be the largest, most intensively-planted Botanic Garden in the state of Iowa. Des Moines has a thriving and vibrant arts community and has been well-served by superlative museums and performing arts venues. Until now, however, a gap in its cultural spectrum has been in the art of botanic and horticultural design. The Garden enriches the city of Des Moines by being a place of robust horticultural diversity that offers teaching moments to nearly everyone who visits.

Learn more at the garden’s website or watch a video about the opening produced by the Des Moines Register.

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