Located along the eastern curve of Wade Oval, the garden traces its origins to 1916, when Eleanor Squire donated her archive of horticultural books to the Garden Club of Cleveland. With Squire’s gift, the Club established a library in a former boathouse near Wade Lagoon, which opened as the Cleveland Garden Center in 1930. A 1959 flood prompted the center to relocate north to the site abutting Wade Oval. The new center, designed by architect William Platt, opened in 1966.
In 1994, the center expanded its mission, becoming the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The facility, rehabilitated by Graham Gund Architects, sits among ten acres of gardens installed over the next decade. West of the building lies an herb garden laid out in an English knot, designed by Elsetta Gilchrist Barnes (maintained by the Western Reserve Herb Society). To the north, is an octagonal rose garden designed by Charles Knight, and a topiary garden designed by David Swetland. The Hershey Children’s Garden, designed by EDAW with Behnke Associates, Inc., features a pond and peat bog, as well as a tree house, stone cliff, and cave. Paved paths shaded by deciduous trees navigate to further gardens, including a Japanese garden designed by David Slawson and a universally accessible healing garden designed by David Kamp at Dirtworks. Behnke Associates, Inc., oversaw a 2003 expansion that added an entrance plaza embellished with flowering trees and perennial beds, a terrace with reflecting pool and fountain, and the 18,000-square-foot Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse, which contains more than 350 plant species native to Madagascar and Costa Rica.
The Botanical Garden was integrated, in 2014, with the Holden Arboretum, a separate 3,500-acre landscape, to form Holden Forests & Gardens. Master planning for both landscapes, led by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, was initiated in 2021. The Cleveland Botanical Gardens are a contributing feature of the Wade Park Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.