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Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden, Dallas Arboretum

Landscape Architecture by MKW + Associates, LLC

As visitors arrive in the Rory Meyers Children's Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum on flagstone pavers, they pass through a sculptural gateway and under an arch bearing the garden's namesake. The entry gate (31.5-ft. wide by 15.5-ft. tall) has 3/8-inch dia., solid steel rods decorated with Monarch butterflies and bluebonnet leaf patterns. The gate, arch, sign (Big D Metalworks) and shade structures (Steel Boss/Baten) are galvanized steel. An arching 10-inch dia. steel pipe frame supports the 1-ft. 7.5-inch dia. aluminum ribbon band, upon which is Harrington bold lettering in a Tnemic medium-bronze color. Pins secure the lettering to the background ribbon, and ½-inch steel tendrils are welded to the leaves and to the pipe frame.
Photo: MKW + Associates

The Dallas Arboretum, one of the country's most beautiful display gardens, is playing an increasingly important role as an educational facility for the schoolchildren of Dallas. The design team of Van Sickle & Rolleri (exhibit design), MKW + Associates, LLC (landscape architecture) and Dattner Architects was selected after a national search. They have created an engaging and wonderful 8-acre outdoor learning experience that includes a series of 14 linked and themed learning galleries, as well as an earth sheltered Exploration Center.


At the overlook, or Belvedere ("beautiful sight" in Italian) waterfall, water emerges in thin sheets over a glass roof to spill dramatically into the upper basin of the 'Cascades.' The grotto below the falls allow visitors to view and touch the waterfall from the backside. The glass roof is supported by steel columns covered by fabricated rockwork (Cemrock) to mimic the adjacent retaining walls. The grotto and bordering stream boulders are also faux rock.
Photo: MKW + Associates

The Dallas Children's Garden offers inviting indoor and outdoor learning spaces that combine plants, nature, emotion, fun, information and scientific content. The project goals were to immerse children in nature and instill appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of nature that ideally would have a lifelong impact; support school curricula and mandates; and to be visually stunning and aesthetically beautiful. From the earliest concept meetings the design team and client strongly felt water should be an important theme in the design of the children's garden. That seemed fitting, as the 8-acre garden sits above the eastern shore of White Rock Lake, and provides beautiful views of those picturesque waters. The lake's presence was also a reminder of the precious value of water in everyday life.

The site slopes to the city park bordering the lake with a vertical grade drop of 50 feet, which posed significant challenges to the landscape architects in two respects: every gallery space and garden element needed to be universally accessible, and the site grading had to preserve the major shade trees on site to the greatest extent possible. The challenge was met by the overall garden site design and layout.


The Cascade stream flows down and curves past the Exploration Center (right), making dramatic drops at the bridge, which is constructed of pressure-treated southern yellow pine, with Kebony maple for the decking and cedar logs for the railings. The stream, in part, is a cooling element for the building's HVAC system. There are 9 pumping stations and 25 pumps on site, including feature, filter and chemical feed pumps that range in size from fractional to 10 hp. Each of these vaults is located near each segment of the water system, hidden in the landscape, but accessible for maintenance. Given the site's 40-ft. drop in elevation, water has to be incrementally recirculated within discreet closed systems, although the illusion is a single continuous flow of water. The flow rates vary from 40 to 800 gpm. The water source is municipal water, as the lake water was not accessible because of ownership and budgetary concerns.
Photo: MKW + Associates

A series of serpentine paths and walkways traverse the site, carving out terraces for each outdoor gallery. The garden paths never exceed a 5 percent gradient, and the sinuous movement allows for a beautiful sequence of discovery as each gallery or garden space comes into view. Several gentle switchbacks provide special gathering areas and garden spots with shade pavilions and seating.

The site's steep topography also allowed for the carving out of an earth-sheltered location for the garden's new 10,000 sq. ft. Exploration Center Building. The building is neatly tucked into the slope. The rooftop is the Oasis Garden. When viewed from above, all you see is the rooftop garden. The Oasis is heavily planted, but also beautifully paved. The roof features a sculptural shade structure, mounded planting beds, cafe table seating and views of White Rock Lake, a perfect venue for arboretum gatherings and events.


The landscape architects conceptualized the water narrative for the visitor as a single source welling up in the entry plaza, and then spilling and coursing down the site. A bluestone circular dry-deck basin in a natural color is centered within the entry plaza. A series of programmed water jets rise and fall within the level basin, which can also be flooded with a 1⁄4" sheet of water. All pavements were specified to be slip-resistant. The colored concentric exposed aggregate around the water feature is recycled glass pebbles ("jelly beans"). The retaining wall is a colored concrete modular wall (Hercules Manufacturing). The amphitheatre bench seating is Ipe and fabricated by Facilities Construction Service.
Photo: MKW + Associates

While the site topography was extremely challenging it was also a wonderful opportunity to weave the water narrative throughout the new garden. The change in elevation from top to bottom allowed the design of a series of different water features all seemingly connected, yet each one distinct, changing as the water courses between and through the outdoor galleries and garden spaces. The landscape architects conceptualized the water narrative as a single source, welling up in the entry plaza, then spilling and coursing down the site. The flow of water is sometimes dramatic, and at other times more serene, but always providing the wonder and excitement that moving water brings.

At the entry plaza visitors pass through a sculptural gateway and under the arch bearing Rory Meyers' name. Within is a circular amphitheater with curved sloping steps and sculptural shade structures. The centerpiece is a stone paved circular basin from which a series of programmed jets rise and fall rhythmically. The level basin, which can also be flooded with a thin 1⁄4" sheet of water, appears to be the well point or starting point for the garden's water narrative. As visitors move to the beautiful overlook or Belvedere, they see what appears to be the same water, now emerging in thin sheets over a glass roof and spilling dramatically into a basin below. The Belvedere Waterfall is a beautiful thin scrim of water that can be viewed and touched from behind in the grotto below the glass roof. The waterfall is stunning, whether seen from above, in the Belvedere, or from below in the grotto.


The last pool in the garden has a sizeable drop, the water flowing out of the Habitats area and under the main garden walkway, emerging to power an 8-ft. dia. stainless steel water wheel (The Water Wheel Factory). The support piers for the waterwheel are Leuders limestone. Here, visitors can see how the watercourse steadily moves the wheel and can follow the flow under their feet while standing on a metal grated bridge. The bridge has stainless steel fence posts, rails and stainless steel mesh infill, all fabricated by Big D Metalworks.
Photo: MKW + Associates

The water courses down through the Cascades, a series of basins that line the garden's accessible main walkways, bringing visitors to the large open Discovery Plaza. The Cascades basins and weirs, in addition to being exciting water features, also have a sustainable feature. Rather than providing cooling towers to counteract the Dallas heat, the Exploration Center's HVAC system uses the cooling and aerating effects of the water features for a significant cost savings in energy usage.

At the bottom of the Cascades, the water runs under the Discovery Plaza stone pavers. The water emerges from the Discovery Plaza and then enters the Habitat Gallery. Here it assumes the form of a natural stream and series of quiet pools, suitable for this particular gallery's educational message. Two wooden bridges cross the stream and the stream banks are planted with shrubs and perennials that reinforce the 'habitats' theme.


The Cascade stream flows into the 'Pure Energy Pond', which has three "floating" decks, each dedicated to alternate energy. This is the water energy "island," which has large aerators jetting water 10-12-ft. high. Here, kids can use devices that demonstrate the power of water, from water flow levers and water shooters, to learning about Archimedes' screw, a cylindrical device with interior rotating blades that transfers water from a lower area to higher ground, used historically to irrigate crops. The decking is maple, and treated with Kebony, a biowaste liquid that's heated and impregnated in the wood to make it more durable.
Photo: MKW + Associates

The last pool has a fairly good size drop. The water flows under the main garden walkway and emerges once again, this time to power a large undershot water wheel. This is the introduction to the Pure Energy Gallery. Here, visitors can see how the water course steadily moves the 8-ft. diameter wheel, and can follow the flow under their feet while standing on a metal grated bridge. The Pure Energy Gallery celebrates water, solar and wind power within three platforms or decks set in the Pure Energy Pond, a fairly large water body with planted edges and a series of large aerator jets.

These jets, 10'-12' high, lend an air of excitement and movement to the gallery. Several energy exhibits, including water shooters and solar targets, are sited in the pond. From here, the water drops over one last stone weir and under a bridge and enters the largest gallery, the Texas Wetlands. Here the water assumes a quiet gentle flow.


At the bottom of the site, bridges crisscross water features and connect to a planted island in the 'Texas Wetlands.' Prominent plants are bald and pond cypresses (Taxodium), Serviceberries (Amelanchier), possumhaw (Ilex decidua), yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), wax myrtle (Myrica), swamp mallow (Hibiscus), sedges (Carex), rushes (Juncus), grasses (Panicum, Pennisetum, Chasmanthium), swamp lily (Crinum), yellow and blue flags (Iris), cattails (Typha) and Arrowhead (Sagittaria). The tree just right of the bridge is a 'Shawnee Brave' bald cypress.
Photo: MKW + Associates

The banks of the water course are heavily planted with native wetland flora. This wetland focused gallery has a green roof island pavilion, which is a covered teaching space with dipping decks along the island's perimeter. A second structure, a bird blind, is mounted on a deck over the water, offering a great vantage point from which to view birds and other wildlife.


The Island Pavilion features a green roof of low-growing sedums and ice plants (Delosperma sp.). The space underneath is an open-air classroom and nature lab. The pond plantings include lily pads, cattails (Typha sp.), 'Arrowhead' (Sagittaria latifolia) and sedges (Juncus sp.), all Texas natives. The bird blind (right), constructed of cedar log posts and beams, allows undisturbed wildlife observation.
Photo: MKW + Associates

In addition to the beautiful sequence of linked water features, there are several stand-alone features. First Adventure, the gallery for tots and young children, includes a playful rill of mushroom jets and a series of bubbling boulders that spill into 'Turtle Creek', a shallow stream complete with stepping lily pads and cattails.

Living Cycles includes a glass framed pond for viewing pond creatures. The pond flows across a shallow stone basin and drops to a shallow pool in the Earth Cycles Cave, which features 'dripping' stalactites.


The garden's 17 themed galleries and 150 interactive exhibits afford plenty of opportunities for children to be surprised and charmed by the play elements. In First Adventure, the gallery for the younger set, there are mushroom jets (Delta Fountains, Jacksonville) and bubbling boulders. A New Jersey artist fabricated the mushroom seats from salvage wood. For added safety, there is cushioned surfacing (Cross Country Corp.).
Photo: MKW + Associates

Concrete: CSA Concrete
Exhibit Fabrication: Maltbie
Fabricated Lily Pads and Cattails: Blue Rhino Studiosx
Fabricated Rockwork: Cemrock
Fountain Systems: InControl Water Systems
Landscape: ValleyCrest
Metalwork: Steel Boss, Big D Metalworks
Mosaiculture Structures: DeGarrio/The Design Loft
Precast Unit Pavers: Concrete Paver Systems
Rustic Terrazzo Pavement: American Terrazzo Company
Safety Surfacing: Cross Country Corp.
Site Carpentry: Signature Millwork, Stairmeister Log Works
Site Electrical: Walker Engineering
Site Utilities: C-Con Services
Stonework: TST Construction Services


Among the elements on the Water Power deck in the Pure Energy Pond are dams and sluice gates that allow children to experiment with collecting and directing water. A waterwheel (left) let's them see the power and energy of moving water.
Photo: MKW + Associates

Project Team
Owner: Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society, Dallas
Landscape Architect: MKW + Associates, LLC, Rutherford, NJ
Lead Consultant and Exhibit Designer: Van Sickle & Rolleri, Ltd., Medford, NJ
Water Features Designer (Mechanical): Delta Fountains, Jacksonville, FL
Architect: Dattner Architects, NYC
Associate Architect: McCaslin Associates, Inc., Dallas
Civil Engineering: Pacheco Koch, Dallas
Construction Manager: The BECK Group, Dallas
Irrigation Consultant: Norway Irrigation, Inc., Carrollton, Texas
Lighting Design: Horton Lees Brogdan, NYC
MEP Engineering: Blum Consulting Engineers, Inc., Dallas
Structural Engineering: Datum Engineers, Inc., Dallas

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June 18, 2019, 8:59 pm PDT

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