Houston Botanical Garden

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Houston Botanical Garden

In January 2015, a physical home for the HBG was at long last secured on a 120-acre parcel along Sims Bayou in southeast Houston, not far from Hobby Airport off of Interstate 45. The site, leased to HBG by the city, also happens to be the current home of Glenbrook Golf Course, a somewhat down-and-out public golf course overseen by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Established in 1924, the 18-hole course is the second oldest in Houston.

Houston Botanical Garden

By the year 2020, however, America’s fourth largest city will be able to claim a “premier” botanic garden all its own in the form of Houston Botanic Garden (HBG). (To be clear, there are much-beloved botanic gardens at Mercer Arboretum just outside of Houston proper in unincorporated Harris County).

Houston Botanical Garden

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Visitors approaching Houston Botanic Garden by car will proceed off of Park Place Boulevard and down a tree-lined driveway dubbed Botanic Mile. The drive winds through the park before crossing over Sims Bayou atop a striking bridge that itself would be topped with large potted trees. Flanked by woodland gardens and meant to evoke “the experience of other great scenic drives like the celebrated approach to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina” while displaying the “amazing diversity of colorful and ornate trees that grow in Houston’s climate,” Botanic Mile will also feature a walkway for those who prefer to hoof it.

Houston Botanical Garden

Named after Thelma and Charles Mercer, Humble’s Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens entices visitors daily with free admission and 250 acres of land along Cypress Creek. Although 14.5 acres of the land originally belonged to the Mercers—who used it for their home and garden—the area has since been purchased by Harris County and expanded to include several well-maintained hike trails, a butterfly house, restroom facilities and picnic areas. The nationally-recognized arboretum and botanical garden boasts the largest collection of native and cultivated plants in the region. Among the many highlights are native Dogwood trees, vibrant pink camellias, rare camphor daisies and orchid trees. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon spotting colorful Pine Warblers, Black-capped Chikadees and Cardinals as they flit overhead. Located in Harris County, Precinct 4

Houston Botanical Garden

Named after Thelma and Charles Mercer, Humble’s Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens entices visitors daily with free admission and 250 acres of land along Cypress Creek. Although 14.5 acres of the land originally belonged to the Mercers—who used it for their home and garden—the area has since been purchased by Harris County and expanded to include several well-maintained hike trails, a butterfly house, restroom facilities and picnic areas. The nationally-recognized arboretum and botanical garden boasts the largest collection of native and cultivated plants in the region. Among the many highlights are native Dogwood trees, vibrant pink camellias, rare camphor daisies and orchid trees. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon spotting colorful Pine Warblers, Black-capped Chikadees and Cardinals as they flit overhead. Located in Harris County, Precinct 4 Map Street View What’s Nearby

Houston Botanical Garden

The vote, in January of last year, was for the city to enter into a 30-year lease agreement with Houston Botanic Garden. The nonprofit needs to raise a total of $20 million by the end of 2017 before it can take over management of the site. The plan is to then turn the course into a botanic garden.

Houston Botanical Garden

This lovely 20-acre botanical garden laid out along Cypress Creek features a variety of thoughtfully landscaped areas devoted to herbs, bamboo, endangered species, native plants, perennials, and succulents. Stroll though the seasonal color garden or shade yourself in one of several pavilions and enjoy the tranquility—and don’t forget to check out the nearby 300-acre arboretum.

Houston Botanical Garden

Bayou Bend, the former estate of philanthropist Ima Hogg, is the oldest and most famous of all Houston gardens. Surrounding Hogg’s gorgeous 1928 mansion are 14 acres of formal gardens that reflect the Country Place era of American landscape design, with distinct “rooms” formed by neatly manicured shrubbery, a style inspired by formal European gardens. The many magnolias, crepe myrtles, and other flowering trees impart a Southern flavor, and as for azaleas, well, there’s a reason this is a major stop on the River Oaks Garden Club’s annual Azalea Trail.

There are also worries over localized disruptions during the construction of the garden along with concerns that once the project is completed it will have somewhat of a detrimental High Line-y gentrification effect. That is, while pumping money into the Houston economy it will simultaneously alter the character of the area, raising rents and property values in the area surrounding Glenbrook Golf Course.

“This just isn’t a good fit for our low economic area,” Larry Bowles, president of the Park Place Civic Association recently explained to the Houston Chronicle. “Most of our people will be priced out of the garden once it’s built.”

As the Houston Press detailed this past October, Glenbrook Golf Course’s decline has proved somewhat advantageous to those living in the adjacent Meadowbrook and Park Place neighborhoods. While the course itself is still operational, area residents have used it a community park. What’s more, many locals navigate the area via the golf course’s network of footpaths, which act as a pedestrian link between the neighborhoods. Opponents worry that the garden would severe this link.

As mentioned, Houston Botanic Garden will be divided into two distinct sections. The South Gardens will function as an arrival area complete with an entrance pavilion and visitor’s center along with a seasonal farmers market and sweeping expanse of lawn. Described by West 8 as a “relaxing, day-to-day place for picnics and strolling,” the so-called Events Lawn would also host concerts, film screenings and other cultural goings-on along with community gatherings.

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Yes, this spectacular three-story glass greenhouse attached to the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a great place to see butterflies. But it’s also a simulated rainforest built around a 50-foot waterfall, and features dozens of tropical plants and flowers—chosen for their butterfly-attracting qualities—that you won’t find anywhere else in town. 

Sure, this Texan swamp town of more than 2 million residents has notable arboretums, nature centers, horticultural facilities and public gardens of all shapes and sizes. And, as mentioned, Houston has parks — nearly 50,000 acres of land dedicated to park space. It’s also a city blessed with a ridiculous abundance of museums — museums dedicated to weather, natural science, human health, contemporary art, Czech culture … and the list goes on.

The original master plan for Hermann Park included a proposal for a formal garden along the lines of Paris’s Jardin des Tuileries or New York’s Conservatory Garden in Central Park. And just 100 years and $31 million later, it’s finally a reality: a 15-acre public park subdivided into discrete areas for roses, fruits and vegetables, wedding ceremonies, and more, all overseen by a 30-foot-high ziggurat-like mount. 

While concerns that the garden’s construction will disrupt/displace local wildlife are valid, the finished result promises to be a landscape that embraces the natural features of the area — and the wildlife that calls it home. “The Garden will aim to enhance the site and play up its beautiful features while creating a place for learning, gathering and recreating,” reads the master plan.

In fact, there has been much discussion and controversy when the city’s Gus Wortham Golf Course was considered for the botanic garden. Ultimately, that course was saved and Plan B, Glenbrook, became the site of choice.

Sallans doesn’t dispute that. She says for city leaders and the botanic garden group, this may be an old issue because they have tried other locations, which didn’t work out.

The plan is to open the botanic garden in 2020. Its president, Jeff Ross, declined to be interviewed for this story as the group is working on implementation details.

And, as it turns out, some folks living in the neighborhoods abutting the golf course would rather not see a stunning botanic garden designed by the same Dutch landscape architecture firm behind the redevelopment of New York City’s Governors Island take its place. And it’s not because they’re necessarily gaga over golf.

The normal not-in-my-backyard grievances play into local resistance to transforming Glenbrook Golf Course into a world-class botanic garden. For one, there is, understandably, fears of traffic congestion that come along with a tourist-luring project of such magnitude.

Ann Collum, president of the Glenbrook Valley Civic Club, tells the Chronicle: “I think the garden will be a wonderful asset for our area. But whenever we have progress, there are always some against it. There have been a lot of untruths and distortions, and some people have just latched on to them.”

A pedestrian and bike trial would also be built adjacent to the project site, running partially alongside Sims Bayou. If all goes as planned, it would connect the garden to other trails in the area.

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