Hoerr Schaudt’s vision for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden expresses the unity between people, plants, and the river.

The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was on a quest to reinvent itself. It wanted to sing the melodies of horticulture without restraint or interruption and prompt its visitors to redirect their attention from the roadways that surrounded the site back to nature’s blooms.

Though the Garden began on a high note, with ambitious plans to house its core plant collection beneath a geodesic dome, funding dwindled over the next twenty years, causing displays to languish under the leaky Plexiglas lid, and meager outdoor beds to fall into disrepair. Attendance slowed to a trickle, and even casual drop-ins found no reason to return. On one side, Interstate 235 roared incessantly, and straight ahead, a double-lane parkway cut through the grounds, slicing off frontage on the Des Moines River.

When Hoerr Schaudt was engaged at the onset of this new reinvention plan, one of the first observations our team made was that the Garden, despite its location in an agricultural region that’s all about water, counteractively turns its back on the river. It was observed that the unsung genius of the garden was water, and that tapping its potential in a new master plan would yield fresh opportunities to engage the public in horticulture, ecology, and history. The river was thus brought up to the foreground just beside the dome, and at the far end of the conservatory, a café and terrace were positioned so as to appear buoyant, floating happily above a half-acre body of water.

Beyond the water garden, an elegant sequence of spaces unfolds via carefully placed site elements, including local limestone walls, winding pathways, and a cascading water feature. The garden’s centerpiece, the Grand Allée Garden, forms a procession of pathways leading to exquisite garden rooms, a green necklace showcasing the myriad ways to combine and accent annuals with trees, perennials, grasses, and ground covers. Lush woodland walks spur from the pathways where plants nestle themselves within hillside pockets. A redesigned entrance improves access to the Center and highlights the unique experience to come.

With each experience releasing you into another, the Des Moines Botanical Garden has become a place of unfolding discovery, a living museum of modern horticulture.