Our History

The Idaho Botanical Garden is a private, non-profit corporation existing without state or federal funding. The garden is completely dependent on tax-deductible contributions from community-minded citizens, corporations, foundations, and site rental.

The Mission of the Idaho Botanical Garden is to provide a full garden experience for all ages that enhances community quality of life through plant collections, our education programs, and our entertainment, cultural and community events.

The Garden began as the vision of Christopher Davidson, Ph.D. in Botany, who brought together the Garden’s first Board of Directors in 1984. Their mission was to stimulate an interest in, appreciation for, and an understanding of gardening, horticulture, botany and conservation of natural resources. This was to be achieved by development of a plant collection and education within an aesthetic landscape.

The Garden leases 33 acres from the State of Idaho. It is located on land once known as #2 Yard of what was once Idaho’s Territorial Prison and later the first Idaho State Penitentiary. State endowment lands in the Boise foothills behind the Garden are used for nature hikes and environmental education.

Approximately 15 acres are currently under cultivation.  Education programs and cultural events occur year-round. The success of the Idaho Botanical Garden is made possible by the support of its robust volunteer program and supportive Garden members.


A Growing Tradition – 30 Years of Garden History!

The Idaho Botanical Garden, one of the first and oldest botanical gardens in Idaho, is a lush 15-acre tapestry of dappled shade and vibrant splashes of color. Nestled in the Boise Foothills, it is a sanctuary in the heart of the Old Penitentiary Historic District. The Garden promotes horticulture in the Treasure Valley using native and domestic plants adapted to the intermountain region. Today the Idaho Botanical Garden has blossomed into fourteen specialty gardens, each with a unique focus. Included are a contemporary English Garden, a Meditation Garden, a Children’s Garden, and an Heirloom Rose Garden. The Jane Falk Oppenheimer Heirloom Rose Garden, planted in 1989, consists of over 300 roses in 107 varieties, primarily varieties that have been under cultivation for more than a century.
Youtubeimage30th Ann.

Garden History Timeline


The Idaho Botanical Garden, a 501(c)3 organization, is established to develop a botanical garden on a 42-acre site of old prison grounds leased from the Idaho State Historical Society and the State of Idaho. Local botanist, Dr. Christopher Davidson, assembles the first board of directors comprised of 17 civic leaders and professionals. On opening day, Boise industrialist Jack Simplot plants the first tree, a 20-foot northern red oak in the Garden. The tree is still standing today in the Meditation Garden.

The Garden founders and board build an irrigation system, nature trails, and plant two acres, including the Meditation, Rose and Herb Gardens. Several key board and community members help the garden to take shape, including Hans Borbonus, Jane Oppenheimer, Pat Wilson, Bill Lenzi, Dale Higer and Ann Murdoch. Garden admission is $1.00.


The Garden’s first Master Plan is completed and approved. Seven thousand plants are planted in the first two years of the garden, with 95% being donated, establishing a lasting  tradition. Thirty years later, the majority of plants growing in the Garden are donated by generous industry and corporate partners throughout Oregon and Idaho. Education is a priority for the Garden; the first lecture is held in May 1985, A Japanese Garden for Boise by Arthur Hart, Director of the Idaho Historical Society.


The Garden grows to 163 members. The first Warm Springs Garden Tour is spearheaded by Marge Findlay, the event season continued into the fall with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party chaired by Margaret Tillotson. The Garden raises $83,880 to “oil the wheels that keep our Juggernaut going,” states Dr. Davison in the 1986 Annual Report. The Cottage, is donated
by the Boise Medical Center and moved to the Garden to be the first administration office and a gathering spot for community classes and meetings. 2,500 plants are purchased and planted throughout the two acres of established gardens.


The completion of the Plaza Garden makes the Heirloom Rose Garden, Iris Garden and Butterfly-Hummingbird Garden accessible for visitors to enjoy. Named for Jane Falk Oppenheimer, who, along with her husband Arthur, donate the funding to initiate this rose garden. Education programs for Idaho school children expand with the endorsement of the Idaho Department of Education.


In the Garden’s second decade the Garden continues to expand its reach into the community with Garden Tours and the inaugural Great Garden Escape concert series.


The first Winter Garden aGlow lights up with fewer than 2,000 lights strung throughout the garden. The event welcomed about 200 visitors.


The Muriel and Diana Kirk English Garden is the Garden’s first formally-designed garden. It captures the founders’ idea of bringing the horticultural world to Boise.


The Lewis & Clark Plant Native Plant Garden commemorating the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804-1806), officially opens to the public. This garden’s goal is to display 145 plant species collected during the expedition between Great Falls, Montana and The Dalles, Oregon. We have nearly reached that goal, with more than 125 of the species currently in place. This garden addresses the significance of the Corp of Discovery’s journey, how Native Americans contributed to the expedition’s success, the great diversity of Idaho plant life, and how native plants may be used in today’s urban landscapes.


Ground-breaking takes place in the Children’s Adventure Garden, a place where our youngest visitors are encouraged to explore the world of nature through play in a naturalistic setting. The first Outlaw Field Concert Series hosts nationally-known musical artists to perform. The first annual Scarecrow Stroll brings people of all ages to view the creative scarecrows donated by the community.


Construction continues in the Children’s Adventure Garden including the relocation of the Vegetable Garden and new ramp access to the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden. The Pumpkin Patch is added to the Scarecrow Stroll. More than 300 pre-school age children walk the grounds to look at the scarecrows and then select a pumpkin to take back to school.


The Water Conservation Landscape is completed along Old Penitentiary Road. The Water Conservation Landscape focuses on water conserving plants that are attractive to humans as well as insect pollinators and


Record breaking attendance as the Garden sees more visitors than ever—120,000—reaching a new membership milestone. The Children’s Adventure Garden completes several projects, including the Koi Pond. Winter Garden aGlow celebrates its 15th season with over 58,000 visitors. Movies in the Garden features six family-friendly movies in a summer drive-in atmosphere starting with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”!


The Garden partners with the Bureau of Land Management to propagate and grow native perennial forbs for post-fire restoration in 500,000 acres of Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.


The Treehouses in The Children’s Adventure Garden opens to the public in early October. The Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden is celebrated as a Boise 150 icon. Winter Garden aGlow now includes over 350,000 lights, with 70% shining as LED’s. The Tribute Paver program is launched under the towers at the entrance way into the Children’s Adventure Garden. More than 150 pavers are purchased in the first year in recognition of loved ones, birthdays, anniversaries and pets. More than 140,000 visitors enjoy the Garden annually.


Membership grows to more than 4,000 households and Garden admission is $7.00 for adults.