History of Project GREEN

In the late 1960s, Iowa City, like many urban areas, was undergoing a process of urban renewal and redesign. This was a time when environmental and aesthetic issues began to be considered in the planning of public areas: People wanted towns and cities to be beautiful as well as functional.

Interstate 80 was completed in eastern Iowa in 1966, making transportation safer and more convenient for Iowans. But the new interstate entrances and exits were barren of trees — not the beautiful introductions to Iowa City that residents hoped for.

However, city planners didn’t always keep the need for beauty in mind when making changes.

Three Iowa city residents, Nancy Seiberling, Gretchen Harshbarger and Jim Maynard, realized that the wave of redevelopment was an opportunity to make Iowa City more beautiful, and in 1968 they banded together to start our organization for this purpose.

An organizational luncheon meeting was held on March 29, 1968, with the immediate goal of replanting the median of Iowa Avenue, which thus became the first project undertaken by Project GREEN (and which it still maintains to this day). Project GREEN’s name was established as an acronym for “Grow to Reach Environmental Excellence Now.”

In 1968, among other accomplishments, Project GREEN did the following:

  • provided a garden tour of six Iowa City area gardens
  • held a lecture series on landscape design and gardening in cooperation with the Iowa City Public Library
  • prepared materials for school use for Arbor Day observances
  • provided a weekly “What’s Blooming” column in the Iowa City Press Citizen
  • initiated an annual awards program recognizing excellence in architecture, landscape design and graphic identification design
A Project GREEN Garden Tour around 1971

In 1970 the first Project GREEN Garden Fair and plant sale was held to raise needed funds and also to provide an opportunity for the public to obtain high-quality, locally grown plants at reasonable prices. The plant sale was held annually for 48 years, until 2018.

c.1972 Project GREEN Garden Fair & Plant Sale

These fundraising events allowed Project GREEN to start on a series of public area improvement projects:

  • 1968: Iowa Avenue medians
  • 1969: Highway 6 Bypass, Riverside Dr. to airport
  • 1970: Melrose Avenue medians
  • 1971: Highway 6 Bypass, Gilbert St. to Sycamore
  • 1972: Chauncey Swan Plaza
  • 1973: Highway 218 South

In 1978, a program now known as the Mary Gantz GREEN Grants was established to “improve the visual environment” at our local public schools, by “encouraging wildlife, providing shade, serving as a learning experience for students and beautifying open spaces in the Iowa City area.” The GREEN Grants were initiated as a two-year pilot project, but proved to be so popular that they continue today and more than $250,000 has been contributed by Project GREEN to this program.

Project GREEN’s Kindergarten Tree Project

Project GREEN continues ongoing maintenance and updates as needed of the early major projects, and has continued to initiate new projects through the decades, including:

  • 1979: Muscatine Avenue tree plantings, First Ave. – Scott Boulevard
  • 1989: College Green Park
  • 1999: Foster Road – North Dubuque Street Intersection
  • 2000: Willow Creek Hospice Garden
  • 2001: Johnson County Courthouse grounds
  • 2002–04: South East Junior High School, north entrance plaza
  • 2005: North Dubuque Street (Meadow Lane to I-80)
  • 2009: Historic 1876 Coralville Schoolhouse grounds
  • 2012: Highway 6 Gilbert St Intersection
  • 2013: Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
  • 2014: 1105 Project community services facility landscaping
  • 2014: Ashton House and Project GREEN Gardens

In addition to Project GREEN’s improvement and maintenance projects, the organization continues to emphasize public education about gardening topics. Our popular Winter Garden Forum lecture series offers three speakers each year on topics relating to gardening, public gardens and sustainability.

And Project GREEN’s largest event, established in 2019, is the Open Gardens Weekend, held annually around early July. This inspiring and educational event offers a tour of numerous gardens to the public (anyone excited about gardening can open their garden), free of charge thanks to local business sponsorships.

Project GREEN continues its work to make the greater Iowa City area an even more beautiful place to live,
today and into the future.