The Monks Botanical Garden will expand its outdoor gardens



The Grand Des Moines Botanical Garden is preparing to develop the remaining 7 acres of its property which are not currently planted or open to guests.

Plans include a dry meadow garden that features plants native to the Midwest, a natural amphitheater for educational garden programming, a new cafe along the Des Moines River, a willow-planted plains playground, and an elevated boardwalk. which allows guests to walk among the trees.

The whole project could cost up to $ 23 million. Botanical Garden officials say they are still in the planning stages and have yet to start fundraising.

Everything that is planned is based on the Botanical Garden’s mission to explore, explain and celebrate the world of plants, said Jackie Pullen, chief operating officer. She presented the plans to the city’s Urban Design Review Board on Tuesday as part of the botanical garden‘s ongoing lease with Des Moines.

“The most important element is community engagement, the ability of people to come together and everyone’s access to gardening,” Pullen said.

The lease has been in effect since 2013 and includes the 14 acre property where the Botanical Garden is located at 909 Robert D. Ray Drive.

Behind the iconic dome are several outdoor gardens. About half, from the dome north along the Des Moines River, are fully developed.

The remaining area – which extends to University Avenue, the I-235 pedestrian overpass, and the river – is at the center of the new plan.

The first project will be the Dry Grassland Garden, with self-seeded annual native plants. It will also present a sculpture by the world famous artist Juanjo Novella.

Amidst plants like aster, coneflower and milkweed, which attract bees and butterflies, visitors will discover the importance of preserving native species in order to protect declining pollinator populations, said Emmanuel Didier, founding director by Didier Design Studio, the landscape architect working on the development of the plan. Horticulturalists at the Botanical Garden will prepare an exclusive seed mix for the space.

“It really is a celebration of natural ecology,” said Didier.

The Dry Grassland Garden is scheduled to open in October.

Nearby, the authorities are planning an amphitheater set in the natural topography. Overlooking the dry meadows garden, it will host courses and other programs from the Botanical Center.

Beyond these features, authorities plan to build a River Cafe, which would include a place where guests could buy food and drink or use the restroom as they walk through the various gardens. Outside the cafe, the botanical garden envisions raised beds planted with edible fruits and vegetables.

Then in the lower area near the river there would be a willow garden with areas of sand and water to play in, as well as spaces hidden among the trees. Inspired by Ledges State Park, the idea is that families and children “touch, smell and engage with the natural world” by playing and immersing themselves in it, Didier said.

“It can get very fancy,” he said.

â–ºMore: With a new reflection garden open, what’s next for the Grand Des Moines Botanical Garden?

Finally, the Botanical Garden provides a canopy walk, an elevated path that takes visitors through a heavily wooded area. The plan allows the Botanical Center room to use the wooded, hilly topography without having to remove trees for accessibility, Pullen said, although some invasive species are removed and replaced with natives.

“You are basically walking through the trees,” she said.

The canopy walk will be suitable for wheelchairs and will include places to rest and observe the rest of the botanical garden from a different perspective.

In addition to the outdoor gardens, officials plan to beautify the existing entrance to the Botanical Garden, create connections to the river and the I-235 viaduct, and add an outdoor entrance to the Trellis Café, which is currently not accessible only by entering the dome or garden plot. Garden leaders are also working on plans to take over stewardship of the nearby Robert D. Ray Asian Garden, which is being redesigned and renovated.

Members of the Urban Design Review Board expressed their enthusiasm for the plan and praised the team’s presentation.

“I think what you develop here is a real asset to the city, the region and the state,” said Steve Wilke-Shapiro, board member.

Also this week, the board of directors of the Grand Des Moines Botanical Garden announced that it has hired Kim Perez as the new CEO of the garden. Perez, originally from Iowa, has served as president and CEO of The Cradle, a Chicago-area adoption agency, and executive director of the People’s Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps families low income there.

Stephanie Jutila resigned as President and CEO of the Grand Des Moines Botanical Garden in September.

Kim Norvell covers growth and development for the Registry. Contact her at or 515-284-8259. Follow her on Twitter @KimNorvellDMR.


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