Midwest Living Review
ORIGINAL REVIEW FROM HANNAH0: It's always nice, on a cold winter day, to step into a steamy, verdant conservatory. And, if all you want is a hit of lush humidity, you'll be satisfied with the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a small but appealing downtown attraction. Pathways wind among tropical foliage, and thanks to a stairway, you get to see the plants from different levels. Bright orange koi swirl in a pond beneath a bridge, providing a constant source of entertainment for little kids. Indeed, whenever we've come here, we've noticed that there are many young families, perhaps because toddlers don't catch on, as adults do, that once you've walked the figure-eight path, you've pretty much seen it all. Beyond the main conservatory, there are bonsai trees, orchids and other small indoor displays, plus a few outdoor gardens (in season). There is also a lunch-only cafe and a gift shop. Operated by the Des Moines Water Works, the botanical center isn't a blockbuster attraction, but with admission costing just $5 for adults, it's a great local resource, especially when the weather outside is frightful.
I personally am underwhelmed by the botanical center, but I suppose as they go, this is a perfectly nice one, if rather small. Certainly, it's a great place to kill an hour or two with toddlers. And it's a good local resource, especially as an events venue. But I probably wouldn't make room for it in my itinerary if I was a visitor, unless I had a deep interest in plants and gardening. The kids backpacks were kind of lame; just full of rather dull, dated-looking materials that didn't particularly inspire me and Natalie to engage Eleanor and Ben. Granted, they were a bit too young for it, but even so, how hard can it be to find an attractive plant-related picture book and some more engaging coloring sheets?
UPDATE FROM GINGER IN 2015: An $11.6 million project included renovations of the original 1979 building (a new lobby, new offices, the addition of a "living wall," new retail area, new restaurant area) as well as outdoor garden space that opened to the public in 2015. The outdoor space features a water garden, riverside garden, shade tree Allee, a conifer and gravel garden, hillside garden and waterfall, and event lawn. A master plan for the botanical garden's 14-acre site calls for future additions such as a wildflower garden and woodland garden. The new space is a big improvement over the old one but it still feels like a pleasant place to visit once, not something you'd return to over and over. The kind of programming that Omaha's Lauritzen Gardens does, such as its annual Poinsettia Show, would help draw repeat visitors. Doug and I ate lunch in the new restaurant; it was VERY busy and we had to wait quite a while for our order. The menu is limited but interesting — we each had a half-and-half combo of a lentil salad and chicken sandwich (the menu changes monthly, so what we ate is no longer on the menu as I write this!). It was almost $30 for the two of us including drinks but no dessert, which seems kind of pricey for lunch.