The Quad City Botanical Center is building a new $135,000 Ability Garden outside its entrance at 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island, which is expected to be complete by late August.

Ryan Wille, executive director of the QC Botanical Center, Rock Island, holds the conceptual plan for the new Ability Garden (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The new Ability Garden concept plan was designed by Eric Hornig of Hitchcock Design Group and is being constructed by Aledo-based Outdoor Innovations. This concept plan will be referenced throughout the construction process, as the entire garden will be custom built throughout all the steps to ensure appropriate mobility.

“I think it’s a pretty unique thing in public gardens, especially in the Quad Cities,” QCBC executive director Ryan Wille said recently. “To be witnessed by the 55,000 people that come through our doors every year, to be designed with inclusion in mind.”

“Prior to this new construction, there was an ability garden that had run its course condition-wise,” he said, noting an ability garden is designed to be accessible by anyone.

The design for the Botanical Center’s new Ability Garden.

It’s specifically designed for people experiencing mobility challenges, such as in wheelchairs or on crutches, Wille said. “It was time for that garden to get refreshed. It was kind of showing its age and no longer up to ADA standards. It was time to replace it.”

The Botanical Center received a $50,000 legacy gift in late 2019 from Linda Litt, who was from the Quad Cities and died at 72 on Jan. 23, 2020. Her family is in Minnesota now. The QCBC hosted a celebration of life for Litt in July 2021.

The project was made possible with a $50,000 gift from Linda Litt, who passed away in January 2020.

“Toward the end of Linda’s life, what she missed most was the ability to get out and work in her garden,” Wille said. “She started to experience mobility challenges, so when the opportunity came up to be part of this project that could be accessible to so many, her family was very intrigued by that idea.”

By getting additional grants, the QCBC turned the new garden into a $135,000 project.

“It wasn’t part of the plan while she was still with us, but I think she’d be happy with it,” he said. Other main funders were Regional Development Authority, Roy J. Carver Trust, Tri City Garden Club, Merck Pharmaceuticals and Moline Foundation, Wille said.

A sensory-friendly garden

Ken Hoffman of Outdoor Innovations will be using modern design techniques and appropriate materials that include neutral color stone and softer stone material. Plants in the Ability Garden will be sensory friendly.

Something exciting is happening at the QCBC entrance, with construction of a new Ability Garden (photo by Jonathan Turner).

There are existing oak trees, and a new gazebo under a tree will be added. There will be privacy screening to block traffic noise. There will be sensory plants added, those that are comfortable to the touch. The tallest flower beds will be three feet high.

“We’re looking at plants that can soothe to the touch, like a lamb’s ear,” Wille said. “Nothing of course that’s going to poke you or stick you. Hopefully, the plants will be inviting for you to touch, and will create a sense of serenity.”

Located just outside the garden gates as part of the garden entrance, this unique garden will provide a number of elevated garden beds accessible to guests who find bending to ground level difficult or impossible.

The QCBC is partnering with the Handicapped Development Center, to plant the beds when the time comes, and Hand in Hand will come back every Friday during growing season to help take care of them.

“We’ll have planter beds with overhangs, so you can actually wheel a chair under it, if you wanted to,” Wille said. “All these will be smooth corners. The previous garden had 90-degree turns, narrow. At the time, that was the standard. Now, we’ll have four- to-five-foot wide turns, and you’ll be able to cruise right through it on a wheelchair with no challenges whatsoever.”

Trend to be accessible

In public gardens nationwide, there is a trend to make things more accessible, he said. “This is important to us to not only offer for people with mobility challenges, but it’s outside of our gates.”

The site of the new Ability Garden, outside the Botanical Center, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island (photo by Jonathan Turner).

That means it’s literally accessible 24/7, at no cost to visitors, Wille said. “It’s accessible from that standpoint as well. It’s gonna be a beautiful spot for photos, for relaxation. Like I said, these are modern design techniques.”

The center is working with Hitchcock Design Group, based in Naperville, Ill., which specializes in parks and recreation projects, with landscape architects. “That’s what they do every day,” Wille said.

There will be benches in the new gazebo, with a capacity for about 20 people.

Hand in Hand has partnered with QCBC for about five years, Wille said. “It’ll be their garden. We have a longstanding partnership,” he said. Hand in Hand empowers children and adults of all abilities to learn and grow by providing inclusive programs and supporting families.

For more information on the Botanical Center, click HERE.