Quad City Botanical Center plants new Ability Garden

Donors fund new $138,500 project

A new Ability Garden is sprouting up at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island that will provide gardening opportunities and improved accessibility for disabled people as its top priority. 

The donor-funded $138,500 garden is under construction at the botanical center, located at 2525 Fourth Ave. Once completed later this summer, visitors will be able to tour the Ability Garden outside the garden gates. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is expected in mid-August. 

Ability Garden
Fresh concrete has been poured at the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island to make way for a new Ability Garden, which will cater to disabled visitors. CREDIT NICHOLAS CAVE

This new, free admission garden will give disabled visitors and volunteers a sense of ownership of the space where they will be able to tend the raised flower beds, Dave Searl, the center’s head gardener, told the QCBJ. 

“The garden connects people and plants together in fun and meaningful ways,” said Paige Underwood, special events and marketing manager for the botanical center. 

Quad Cities agencies, such as the Handicapped Development Center (HDC) and Hand in Hand, will visit regularly to allow their clients to plant flowers and actively tend to the garden.

The new project was made possible by the support of multiple donors and organizations including the Linda Litt Legacy, which was the lead donor with a $50,000 gift. Other contributors  are: Roy J. Carver Trust ($34,000); Regional Development Authority (RDA) ($25,000); Merck Pharmaceuticals ($22,000); Moline Foundation ($7,500) and the Tri-City Garden Club, in-kind donation. 

Tina Early, the daughter of the late Linda Litt, said the new garden is the perfect way to honor her mother’s legacy. “Gardening gave her a sense of purpose, accomplishment and serenity. In her early years, she would grow a variety of flowers and plants that flourished all season and cut and share them with all her friends and family to enjoy,” Ms. Early said. 

“As her physical capabilities diminished through her illness, she so missed the ability to get down on the ground and garden,” she recalled. “The best we could offer was to put her in, near or looking at the beauty of a garden.”

Ms. Early sees the new garden as a way for her mother to eternally share her plants and flowers. “She would get so much satisfaction from knowing that her gift created something so beautiful and accommodating to many,” she added.

In addition to being accessible to those with physical disabilities, including wheelchair-bound visitors, the garden also will be sensory friendly. Ms. Underwood said visitors will enjoy the colors, the soft textures, and the sweet smells of the garden’s flowers.

Accessibility and the sensory focus were the two main factors considered in the planning. The project was designed by Eric Hornig, a landscape architect and a principal of Hitchcock Design Group in Naperville, Illinois. The Ability Garden is being built by Outdoor Innovations, a landscape design company in Aledo, Illinois.

Ken Hoffman of Outdoor Innovations will be using modern design techniques and appropriate materials that include neutral color stone and softer stone material, according to the botanical center. Part of those design aspects will include a decorative metal sound shield that will reduce the noise from the surrounding area. 

With the installation of more water and electricity features in the garden, the Botanical Center now will be able to use the space in a variety of ways. The center now will now have additional events space to host weddings and other gatherings, Mr. Searl added. The added electrical capacity also will allow the center to expand its popular holiday light display held over the holiday season. 

“For us, we want this garden to be something that anyone and everyone feels welcome in,” said Ryan Wille, executive director of the Quad Cities Botanical Center. “It is designed in a way that makes it accessible to anyone regardless of mobility status, financial means, horticultural knowledge, or anything in between.” 

Mr. Wille also added: “We hope that it gives people a sense of calm, triggers horticultural curiosity that can translate to homes, inspires connection with nature and can be used by our community in both fun and meaningful ways.  We truly believe that everyone in our community needs to experience our gardens each season, and completing this project puts us one step closer to making sure we are doing everything we can to make that happen.”

$750K grant to sprout continuous growth

The Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island has received a $750,000 Illinois Public Museum Capital Grant grant for its future Storybook Landscapes project.

That project, which is in the planning stages, is Phase 3 of the center’s Children’s Garden. 

The grant, announced in March, was the largest in the center’s history and the maximum amount awarded by the state. 

A total of 36 Illinois museums shared $19.7 million in Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants to improve their facilities and develop new exhibits. It was made possible through the Rebuild Illinois Capital program.

The grant program is administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It was open to any museum operated by the local government or located on municipally-owned land. The maximum grant awarded was $750,000. 

Paige Underwood, the botanical center’s special events and marketing manager, and Dave Searl, head gardener, said the center is growing and expanding with several projects in the works. 

“The best part about the children’s garden is that the children are learning without even realizing it,” Ms. Underwood added. 

Among the future projects will be a new entrance with sliding doors to the Sun Garden helping provide greater accessibility. The existing children’s garden will undergo its biggest transformation with a new Storybook Landscapes area set to be completed in 2023. 

Over the next seven years the garden’s strategic plan places top priority on the following concept plans for the Children’s Garden; the Education Center, Heartland Ag Garden, Eagle Overlook, Palisades, Upper Mississippi Forest, Transportation Garden, and Elements of Energy Garden. 

“We grow a little bit every year,” added Mr. Searl, head gardener since 2000. 

Get the free QCBJ email newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the people, companies and issues that impact business in the  Quad Cities area.