Just south of Dallas Center, trees, shrubs, native Iowa grasses and plants ignite the landscape in a thousand shades of green. This is The Brenton Arboretum, 140 acres of prairie enriched with more than 2,600 trees and shrubs, all planted since its 1997 opening. Admission is free to this natural arena of research, education and recreation.

The master plan, created by Anthony Tyznik of Chicago-area’s Morton Arboretum, seamlessly folds education into the natural environment. Mowed paths mark the trails. "The trees are planted by species, so you can see the similarities and the differences between like plants," says Lee Goldsmith, director of education and outreach. "The trails are about a mile each, with benches placed for the best views" says Goldsmith. "And there is a paved road, so you can park and pick up on a trail easily."

Summertime Fun

Here, you will find some of the most enticing playtime places on the planet, including The O’Brien Nature Play Area, opened in 2012. This Nature Explore Certified area surprises the imagination with battery-free fun at the stumperie, butterfly gardens, living tunnel and tree tent.

Just up the hill from the O’Brien Nature Play Area, the open-air Pavilion offers stunning vistas of Arboretum grounds. Its living roof is studded with thousands of plants; sun/wind screens and a fireplace ease outdoor discomfort. The paved road and parking provide easy access. At The Arboretum’s entrance, the Vista Room is a cool oasis on a hot summer day, or a warm welcome from the frigid winter. Kitchenette and bathroom amenities are secondary to the expansive views of Arboretum grounds.

The Arboretum’s Pavilion and Vista Room are free to enjoy unless rented for special events. Both sites are available for rent to members; it’s easy to become a member.

A Research Hub

On-site studies evaluate seldom-found species for hardiness and use in central Iowa. This year’s addition of the Stormwater Trail is a prime example of results-oriented research, with plantings designed to reduce runoff and erosion of Iowa riverbanks.

Director of horticulture and general manager Andy Schmitz observes specific species in their native habitat as he collects seeds for the Kentucky Coffeetree. The seeds are being grown for the expanding collection at The Brenton Arboretum and its new 20-acre Stine Addition. Working in partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF), the arboretum is also researching a hybrid of the American Chestnut that resembles the magnificent original and is resistant to the blight, pests and pathogens that plague the tree. These long-term commitments demonstrate the important role of The Brenton Arboretum in preserving beloved species.

The Brenton Arboretum was established by Sue and Buz Brenton and their children. The land is part of the original "home farm" acquired by Dr. James Brenton and his son, William Henry in 1853, and had been the family farm ever since.