The History of Powell Gardens


As Kansas City’s Botanical Garden, Powell Gardens plays a vital role in the community as a space for release, rejuvenation, and the celebration of the fleeting nature of nature itself.

Visitors enjoy themed display gardens, a three-mile nature trail, rotating exhibitions, exceptional architecture, and more.

Established in 1988, Powell Gardens is a non-profit public garden.

Maintaining 970 acres of lush, rolling hills and windswept meadows, with more than 175 acres and a large collection of plants open to the public for education, exploration, and recreation. Many of the plants in the Gardens are regionally native, and all highlight the changing seasons within the Midwest spirit of place.

Our Mission

To be an experience that embraces the Midwest spirit of place and inspires an appreciation for the importance of plants in our lives.

Our Vision

Experiencing Powell Gardens, the region’s botanical garden, is an integral part of living in the Kansas City area. Powell Gardens is recognized as the signature destination showcasing the beauty of the Midwest landscape.

History of Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden, began in 1948, when George E. Powell, Sr., a prominent Kansas City businessman, acquired the beautiful tract of land that is now Powell Gardens.

Mr. Powell learned firsthand about the harsh and unpredictable life of farming during his childhood on the family farm. In 1917, he left to pursue a business career in Kansas City. He, along with his son George Powell Jr., and others, took over ownership of Yellow Transit Freight Lines, now YRC Worldwide, in 1952. Throughout his successful business career, Mr. Powell never lost interest in the lands of Missouri. He, his family, and friends enjoyed many weekends on his farm in Johnson County, Missouri.

In 1969, in keeping with his stewardship philosophy, Mr. Powell donated the 640-acre farm to the Kansas City Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, who used it as a regional camp until 1984.

In 1984, with the University of Missouri’s School of Agriculture as a catalyst and partner, the Powell Family Foundation began developing a horticultural and natural resource facility called Powell Center. As a part of this development, Powell Center retained Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Environmental Planning and Design, the leading U.S. consultants for botanical gardens. The firm recognized that the site would be ideal for development as a botanical garden.

Kansas City’s Botanical Garden Begins

In 1988, official ties with the University of Missouri ended and Powell Gardens Inc., a not-for-profit organization, was established. A 19-member board of directors, in which several Powell family members serve, governs Powell Gardens. The Friends of Powell Gardens Board was a separate organization with its own Friends of Powell Gardens Board members until the mid-2000s.

Staffing at the Gardens fluctuates between 35 employees during off-season and close to 70 in peak season. Powell Gardens is a 501(c)3 public charity, supported through private donations, admission, memberships, gift shop, and rental revenues.

Major Milestones

  • 1988 Powell Gardens opens to the public as a botanical garden.
  • 1991 Perennial Garden opens.
  • 1993 David T. Beals III Woodland and Stream Garden opens (originally named the Rock & Waterfall Garden)
  • 1995 Meadow Pavilion opens.
  • 1996 Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel opens.
  • 1997 Visitor Education Center opens.
  • 2001 Marlese Lowe Gourley Island Garden opens.
  • 2002 Garden Gatehouse opens.
  • 2006 Fountain Garden opens.
  • 2009 Heartland Harvest Garden opens.

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