History

A New Beginning

At 5 p.m. on the last day of 2012 the doors of the then Des Moines Botanical Center were locked for the last time by employees of the Des Moines Water Works, managers of the facility since 2004. At 9 a.m. on January 2, 2013, employees of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden opened the doors for the first time, a simple act with profound implications. Under the leadership of President and CEO Stephanie Jutila and governance by the board of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, the institution that has welcomed millions of visitors since it first opened in December 1979, begins a dynamic renewal funded by a successful capital campaign to raise $11.6 million dollars for the Phase I expansion and facility improvements.

  • 1929: The seeds for what would become the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden were first planted in the spring by the Des Moines Garden Club and the Des Moines Founders Garden Club. Hopes were dashed by the stock market crash in October that year.
  • 1956: Members of the same garden clubs revived the idea, which was tied to the construction of two new swimming pools. The pools were built but the gardens remained but a dream.
  • False starts ensued in 1960 and 1964.
  • 1966: An old brick yard comprised of about 14 acres is secured by the City of Des Moines. It will eventually become the site of what is today the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
  • October 1, 1969: The incorporation of the Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center is followed by steady progress toward realizing the dreams first shared 40 years before.
  • 1971-1977: $85,000 was raised by the Friends.
  • August, 1977: $2,577,000 was received from Economic Development Work Project funds to build the domed conservatory and the City of Des Moines added $700,000 to build the production greenhouses.
  • October 29, 1977: Groundbreaking for the conservatory.
  • October, 1979: The conservatory receives a truckload of tropical and subtropical plants, a gift from Longwood Gardens.
  • December 15, 1979: Grand opening day is bitterly cold - the poinsettias in the lobby are frozen stiff from the doors being opened so many times.
  • 1988-1991: A capital fund drive by the Friends funded the North Wing and new meeting rooms, additional production greenhouses, a reorganized entrance and gardens along the river.
  • 2003: Declining revenues and increasing expenses lead the City to consider closing the facility, at which point the Des Moines Water Works offers to assume management, which began January 4, 2004. Subsequently the City of Des Moines contributes $600,000 for updating infrastructure and repair work done by the Water Works.
  • December 2007: The opening of the Gardeners Show House in one of the production greenhouses with frequently changed seasonal displays has an immediate positive impact. Funded by the Friends and built by Water Works employees, it is maintained by the Iowa State University Extension Polk County Master Gardeners and the Botanical Garden volunteers.
  • 2008: Des Moines leaders - J.C. “Buz” Brenton, Tom Urban, Janis Ruan and Fred Weitz - in collaboration with the City of Des Moines, begin to lay the groundwork for rebranding the existing Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, to assume management of the Botanical Center.
  • 2009: Following a nationwide search, Landscape Architect Doug Hoerr, principal at Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture of Chicago, is hired to develop a vision plan.
  • 2010-2011: Work continues to secure operating support, including $245,000 a year for 10 years by Bravo Greater Des Moines, $200,000 per year from the City of Des Moines and $200,000 in-kind operating support from Des Moines Water Works.
  • May 2011: The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden assumes the 501(c)(3) designation formerly held by the Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center and signs a 28E agreement with the City of Des Moines for the lease, operation, management and maintenance of the Botanical Center. A governing board of directors forms and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden Capital Campaign Committee begins its work.
  • June 2011: DuPont announces a $3 million contribution to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden’s “A New Beginning” Capital Campaign.
  • September 2011: Following a nationwide search, Stephanie Jutila is named the first president and CEO.
  • June 2012: The master plan developed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architecture is approved by the Des Moines City Council.
  • January 1, 2013: The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden lease with the City of Des Moines begins, marking a new era of leadership, operations and management.
  • March 2013: Robert D. Ray Drive closed north of the Botanical Garden’s parking lot to make way for new gardens.
  • Spring-Summer 2013: Grading and prep work for the outdoor gardens began.  
  • July-September 2013: The facility closed to the public for updates to the conservatory, lobby, meeting rooms and office suite.
  • Fall 2013: Planting in new landscape areas begins along with the kickoff of fundraising for the $6.2 million Phase II of the Master Plan.
  • Spring-late Summer 2014: Planting in new landscape areas continues as Phase I of the Master Plan nears completion.
  • Spring-Summer 2014: Phase II construction began.
  • April 4, 2015: New outdoor gardens (seven acres) open to the public for the first time.