The seeds for a public garden in Des Moines were first planted in the spring of 1929. The stock market crash the following October thwarted progress and over the years several renewed plans failed to take root. The formation of a Friends organization in 1969 fared better and what was to be known as the Des Moines Botanical Center finally opened in December, 1979. Operated the first 25 years by the City of Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, the Botanical Center began to languish in the early years of the 21st century and the Des Moines Water Works stepped up to manage the facility, renaming it the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center, beginning January 2004.
The opening of the Gardeners Show House in December 2007 refuted the notion that nothing ever changed at the Botanical Center and community leaders began to lay the foundation for what has become the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, with a governing board operating as a 501(c)3 nonprofit under a long-term lease from the City of Des Moines. Management of the institution by the Des Moines Water Works ended December 31, 2012, and January 1, 2013 marked a new beginning for the newly renamed Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.