Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden: A New Design Typology
After seventeen years in the making, the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden opened in the fall of 2013. With a $63 million construction budget, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens had transformed the eight-acre site along White Rock Lake in the northern part of the grounds into something new that merged typologies. The adventure garden fuses seventeen educational interactive displays with lush native or adapted plantings and water features. It is part botanical immersion and part outdoor curriculum.
An entry plaza, small amphitheater, and generously sized café placed adjacent to the garden entrance easily accommodates school groups. Through the whimsical metal entry gate with the state flower and butterfly is a plaza with a lively at-grade fountain surrounded by shade structures and seating.
A water narrative starts at the entry and continues throughout the site. One of the unique challenges to the site is a significant grade change. The design turns this into an advantage with generously sized water features flowing from the entry to the edge of the property by the lake. The Cascades allows a close up view of water as it falls.
Close to the entry, a First Adventure garden accommodates the youngest of visitors.
The Moody Oasis is on the roof of the Exploration Center and includes various plants to attract pollinators. The Exploration Center below has an indoor interactive space as well as offices and volunteer check in.
This oversized pot with sculptural flowers marks the entry into the “Plants Are Alive” exhibit, which includes a number of interpretive signs and interactive elements to explore basic botanical principles.
Several finely detailed arbors incorporate misters and increase visitor comfort during the hot and humid summer days.
One of the most delightful spaces in the entire garden includes a wood structure with a green roof, which seems reminiscent of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. This section of the garden highlights native Texas wetlands.
An elaborate exhibit called Pure Energy features interactive exhibits looking at sustainable forms of energy. The content and format feels similar to something found in a children’s science museum.
The Texas skywalk is lined with specimens of native trees and creates an unusual experience of walking through the canopies. The Pure Energy Tower at the end captures an expansive view of White Rock Lake and discreetly incorporates an elevator.
Additional exhibits include a secret garden, edible garden, and more. Generous winding paths make it easy to move through the east and west sections of the garden from the high point to the lake, though the circulation and grade change makes it a little cumbersome to take in all of the adventure garden in a single visit. Perhaps that is just as well, as it leaves something new to find on the next visit.
The approach to providing exhibits that are supportive of curriculum and education in service of visiting schools raises a few questions. Is adventure limited to education? What about unstructured play? Where is the open space where kids can be kids? There is also the perennial question of balancing experience and equitable access. It costs approximately $80 for a family of four in one car to visit for the day. The Rory Meyers Angel Fund covers transportation and admission costs for low-income children. What about others?
As a previous resident along White Rock Lake for years, I have appreciated watching the construction, opening, and continued refinement of the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden. With Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens holding the #1 ranking of things to do in Dallas on TripAdvisor, it will continue to be a valuable asset to the region for years to come.
Landscape Architect: MKW + Associates
Architect: Dattner Architects
Exhibit Designer: Van Sickle & Rolleri, Ltd.
Lighting Design: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Civil Engineer: Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers
Structural Engineers: Datum Engineers
MEP Engineers: Blum Consulting Engineers, Inc.
General Contractor: The Beck Group
by Lisa Horne, ASLA, a project director at RVi in Dallas, Texas, and past co-chair of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environment PPN. She may be reached at lhorne (at) rviplanning.com.