The Des Moines Botanical Garden is an excellent way to experience the beauty of nature – no matter the weather! This living museum’s lush indoor and outdoor gardens are a treat for everyone.
The good news is you can experience the Botanical Garden year-round! So, if you’re looking for something to do in Des Moines this weekend and want to learn more, read on.
A Brief History of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
The original plan for the Des Moines Botanical Garden began in the 1920s, nearly 100 years ago. The idea started as a collective effort—the Des Moines Garden Club, the Des Moines Founders Garden Club, the City of Des Moines, and Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a local Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonist (and conservationist).
At first, the two-story garden center got slated for Greenwood Park, complete with a rose garden and ice skating. But the plans got thwarted by the economic conditions caused by the Depression. Despite the challenges, the Rose Garden got done in the 1930s and is still at Greenwood Park!
After more attempts to get the project going, in the 1960s, the city bought the current 14-acre parcel. And in 1969, The Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center got formed. By 1977, they raised enough money to start construction.
The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden held its grand opening in 1979. Since then, it’s undergone many changes, with several renovations and recent outdoor additions.
In 2015, the center opened a seven-acre outdoor garden area for visitors to explore. And thousands of people continue to enjoy the wonders of the gardens each year.
Visiting the Des Moines Botanical Garden
There’s no doubt you’ve seen the gardens’ characteristic geodesic dome when driving through downtown Des Moines.
And you won’t regret stopping by for a visit! Whether you’re a plant-lover or not, you’ll revel in the beauty throughout the gardens – no matter what time of year it is.
What you’ll see there
The conservatory has a collection of lush, tropical plants and cacti from all over the world. You can stroll through the beautiful palms and flowering plants. And be sure to stop at the waterfall to watch the koi fish.
The scenic outdoor gardens display an array of native plants and trees set in expert garden designs. There’s something for everyone here – complete with views along the riverfront. A few notable gardens include a savanna, water garden, and rose garden, to name a few.
After you’ve toured the gardens, stop in at the Trellis Cafe for a bit to eat.
What you need to know before you go
How long you spend walking through the botanical garden is up to you! You might want to see a little bit of everything or go back to revisit a garden or plant that caught your eye. Most people spend about one to two hours there.
You can stop by anytime during business hours and go through the gardens on your own.
Also, each Saturday, 30-minute guided tours are available first-come, first-serve (capacity 12). Reservations aren’t accepted, but you can sign up at the admission desk. In addition, special group tours are available for a fee and must get scheduled ahead of time.
909 Robert D. Ray Dr
Des Moines, IA 50309
Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm (closed on Mondays and holidays)
Buy a daily entrance ticket (you can purchase tickets online). Members get in free.
See their website for pricing. There are options for free tickets and community days too!
A large, wheelchair-accessible parking lot is next to the gardens at 909 Robert D. Ray Dr, Des Moines, IA 50309.
Visit their website and Facebook page for up-to-date information on hours, programming, and events.
Attend special events
The Botanical Garden hosts special events throughout the year. They’re a great way to experience the gardens, perfect for families, dates, and singles!
A few of their top events include:
- Botanical Blues: a winter concert series
- Spring Garden Festival: celebration and plant sales
- Music in the Garden: outdoor summer concert series
- Champagne and Chocolate: Holiday food and fundraiser
But that’s not all! Special programs and events are great for adults, families, and children. For example, they have date nights, storytime, yoga, educational programs, and workshops, to name a few. Check their calendar for upcoming events.
The Botanical Gardens can accommodate weddings, meetings, or events. The location is ideal, and the ambiance is like no other. See their website for more.
How to get there
From I-235, take Exit 8 B for E. 6th St. Go south on E. 6th to Des Moines St. Turn right (west) on Des Moines St. and take a right (north) at Robert D. Ray Dr. to the end of the road. The Botanical Garden is at the end of Robert D Ray Dr.
Things to do nearby
The garden is near, well, everything in downtown Des Moines! You can easily spend a weekend (or more!) with everything to do here.
After seeing the gardens, use the Principal Riverwalk to explore the riverfront. There’s lots of fun on this one-of-a-kind trail. And be sure to check out the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens and Neal Smith Trail too.
Next, head over to the East Village to grab a bite to eat, go shopping, or go ice skating (if it’s wintertime)! And if you have time, stop by the State Historical Museum for some free fun and learning.
Visit the Pappajohn Sculpture Park on downtown’s western edge if you have more time. And just down the road from there, you can discover everything Gray’s Lake and Water Works Parks have to offer!
And, after a day of fun, you’ll want to stop by Court Avenue for the excellent food and nightlife.