A visit to the Quad Cities provides garden travelers the opportunity to explore at least a half dozen remarkable gardens in two Midwestern states and four unique cities.
The Quad Cities are Rock Island and Moline Illinois separated by the Mississippi River from Davenport and Bettendorf Iowa. And each community offers multiple opportunities to enjoy flowering gardens with events throughout the year.
Let’s start in Davenport on the Iowa side of the river and the Vander Veer Botanical Garden. Founded in 1885, it is believed to be the oldest botanical park west of the Mississippi River. It’s a generous 33 acres but because of the lush wide streetscapes and historic district surrounding the park, it feels much bigger.
Originally, it was named Central Park, inspired by the Frederick Law Olmstead design of New York’s signature green space. Later, the city honored a park commissioner by naming Davenport’s signature space in his memory.
While there are any number of seasonal gardens, fountains, and quiet spaces that make Vander Veer Park a possible day-long exploration while visiting the Quad Cities, it’s the Rose Garden that will dominate your time.
Established in 1948, it is an All-America Rose Selections garden, featuring more than 1800 roses in 145 varieties that bloom much of the summer. For many years, the park horticulturists struggled with fungus on the roses that did not respond to chemical or organic fungicides. Not until they removed the six-foot-tall yew walls surrounding the beds did the conditions improve. Today, smaller three-foot yews surround the roses allowing for greater airflow and an impressive view for visitors arriving in the park.
Obviously, roses are among the more challenging flowers to grow, something that concerned Iowa State University horticulture professor Griffith Buck. His goal was simple ̶ to breed hardier roses so more people would plant them.
Today, there are several species of disease resistant, cold hardy Buck roses sold across the country. You can see many of them in beds devoted to Dr. Buck at Vander Veer Park. But if you’re intrigued by the rare Blue Rose, you will find another bed devoted to Out of the Blue (Rosa cv), which is really more of pale lavender.
Adjacent to the Rose Garden is the Vander Veer Conservatory, which, for more than 100 years, has provided rotating seasonal gardens under glass. There’s no permanent bed in the Conservatory, thus allowing for greater flexibility in seasonal shows. Among the most popular is the mum show each October.
Davenport is also home to the 4.5 acre Stampe Lilac Garden. Featuring more than 100 varieties of lilacs that bloom most of the summer, this garden in Davenport’s Duck Creek Park also includes peonies and about 30 varieties of irises. Top it off with flowering Crabapples, mature European beech trees, Japanese maple trees and a meditation area filled with shade-loving woodland plants, the Stampe Lilac Garden is a treasure from May through early July. Check out this video that showcases the garden.
When the city turned 100 years old in 2003, Bettendorf debuted the Centennial Garden.
Designed in the shape of a flower with 10 petals, one for each decade of the city, today the Centennial Garden showcases 226 varieties of plants.
Rock Island, Illinois
This is where you will find the Quad City Botanical Center. New to the community in the summer of 1998, the center is 10.6 acres on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Among the larger collections is 50 varieties of irises donated by local gardener and volunteer Norma Bond. Staff favorites include the purple Batik Bearded Iris (Iris germanica), as well as the Dot and Dash, Armegeddon, and Superstition.
This is a garden to put on your list if you are traveling with children. A small train garden huffs and puffs near the real tracks of the Burlington Northern railroad. The fairy garden and Hobbit Hut are adorable for all ages.
And the latest addition for kids is the Mississippi Headwaters area. Really just a lovely, meandering splash pad for a hot summer day, the lessons include plantings from the north woods, including white fir, catalpa, shagbark hickory, northern pin oak, Ohio buckeye, American beech, American hornbeam, and three varieties of birch.
The grounds include a small tropical atrium and a physically enabling garden for the disabled, as well as plenty of room to grow additional garden space.
Another small park to keep an eye on in the Quad Cities is the Longview Park and Conservatory in Rock Island. It’s small, just a quarter acre, and long and narrow. It was built as a WPA project in the 1930s. Look closely at the sidewalk to see stamps from the WPA in the concrete.
This park has suffered from plant disease and limited resources in staff and funding from the city but is currently being revitalized with emphasis on a Japanese rose garden. Quaking aspen trees make this a lovely destination in the autumn months.
If you use a John Deere product in your garden, you may recognize that John Deere’s world headquarters is in Moline
That’s also where you’ll find the Deere-Wiman House and Butterworth Center, two Victorian-era homes with spectacular gardens. Renowned architect William LaBaron Jenney designed the Deere-Wiman house and original seven-acre garden. While the hundreds of iris and peony blossoms make spring an ideal time to visit, it is the blooms of the lisianthus (Eustoma gradiflorum) that gardeners most enjoy. Typically a perennial, the Zone 5 harsh winters of the Quad Cities make it an annual. Garden tours of both homes are available upon request.
Unique Garden Decor
We’re always looking for durable and creative art pieces to enhance our gardens, so while in the Quad Cities, certainly make time for a visit to the Isabel Bloom Factory Store in Davenport.
Isabel Bloom was a student of Iowa’s most famous artist, Grant Wood. She developed a love for sculpting clay and that’s what led her to create molds for adorable concrete statues.
Because they are concrete, they are indeed heavy, but they are ideal for leaving outdoors all year long if you like. Isabel Bloom was a Pisces, so many of her creations feature fish. The most popular one ever created is simply called “Hugs,” featuring two chubby children hugging one another.
But there are oversized butterflies, rabbits, frogs, and other outdoor critters that would surely enhance your garden space, indoors or out. Take note – the Quad City Botanical Center is home to a 200-pound bunny rabbit statue in the lobby. It’s an Isabel Bloom creation.
WHEN YOU GO:
The Quad Cities are home to dozens of major chain hotels, but one of our favorites is The Current, a 78-room boutique hotel in downtown Davenport, just across the street from the Figge Art Museum. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the dining room is a treat, but you must plan time for evening drinks on the rooftop.
Featured image – Stampe Lilac Garden / City of Davenport.
A travel writer from Kansas City, Missouri, Diana Lambdin Meyer is an award-winning member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists. She happened to marry Bruce Meyer from Davenport, Iowa who is now her photographer. Bruce and Diana enjoy visiting gardens in their travels around the world.