Early March visit to Mercer Botanic Gardens in Humble Leave a comment

March 12, 2024

Two weekends ago, during a trip to Houston to see family and friends, I made a morning visit to Mercer Botanic Gardens in the northern suburb of Humble. The gardens were just waking up for spring, and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll along garden paths and trails. This nicely pruned-up loropetalum tree in full bloom greeted me near the entrance.

This was my first visit to Mercer, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Harvey submerged buildings and grounds under 8 feet of fetid water. When the water finally receded, trees lay uprooted, benches were askew, and 5-foot mounds of silt covered plantings. The leadership at Mercer didn’t give up. They undertook a restoration of the gardens and the destroyed visitor center, which reopened last year.

According to a 2023 article in the Houston Chronicle, “Before Hurricane Harvey, [Mercer] had 10,000 [plant] species in their collection. After the devastating effects of Harvey, including a tornado that ripped through part of the park, the collection was nearly cut in half. ‘Currently we’re between 7,000 to 8,000 species and rebuilding,’ [education director Christy] Jones said.”

You’ve got to admire the determination of staff, volunteers, and supporters of the garden. And now let’s explore.

Fringe-needled longleaf pine is a distinctive East Texas native not found in my own region of Central Texas. I always admire this tree when I see one. Here’s a little historical context:

“Two centuries ago, longleaf pine forests stretched across the southeastern United States, from east Texas to Virginia. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) was the dominant tree species on an estimated 60 million acres, and an important part of the mixes of tree species on another 30 million acres…Today, longleaf pine ecosystems are found on just over three million acres, or three percent of its historic range, primarily in scattered tracts on federal, state, and conservancy lands.”

National Park Service: Big Thicket National Preserve

Sounds like a good reason to plant one or more, if you live in East Texas and have the space.

I was also excited to see a yellow-berried yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), a fun change from the usual red-berried variety.

Parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii) was abloom with white flowers tipped with hot-pink anthers. Leaves resemble those of parsley, its namesake.

Bumblebees were humming among the pretty flowers, although they eluded my camera.

Parsley hawthorn is native throughout the Southeast from Florida to East Texas.

Along a trail winding through the rear of the garden, I spotted a collection of Louisiana iris planted in elevated flue liners.

And a white-flowering tree of some kind

And a shiny-leaved camellia with faded burgundy flowers

A shade pavilion and boardwalk wrap around a large pond with handsome bald cypresses.

It’s a nod to the swamplands that Houston and its surroundings were built on. The Gulf is now vying to lay claim, but I hope the redesigned Mercer can find a way to coexist with rising waters.

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Digging Deeper

March 16: Attend the third annual Budding Out Plant Sale & Festival on 3/16 at the John Fairey Garden in Hempstead. Rare and distinctive plants from the garden’s nursery and from select plant vendors will be for sale. Additional offerings include art, ceramics, jewelry, food, music, and presentations. Admission: $5 for members, $10 for non-members, children under 12 free. Hours: 10 am to 4 pm; members get early admission at 9 am (memberships available on day of event).

March 30-31: Come see the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society Show at Zilker Botanical Garden on 3/30 and 3/31, from 10 am to 5 pm. Includes a plant show with specimen cacti and succulents, handcrafted pottery, daily silent auction and hourly plant raffles, and expert advice. Admission is included with paid admission to Zilker Garden, $5 to $8 for adults, $3 to $4 for children (under 2 free).

April 6: Come out to Austin’s Mayfield Park on 4/6 for the Mayfield Park Gardening Symposium & Fundraiser, 8:30 to 11 am. This annual benefit for the park includes a raffle, plant sale, and garden speakers.

May 4: Explore “brilliant backyards, perfect pools and pergolas, and outdoor rooms and gardens” on the ATX Outdoor Living Tour on 5/4, 10 am to 3 pm. Landscape architects, designers, and builders will be on hand to answer questions. Tickets are $33.85 for adults, $17.85 for kids age 10-17.

May 11: Save the date for Austin Home’s Great Outdoors Tour on 5/11.

June 1-2: Take a self-guided, 2-day tour of ponds and gardens in and around Austin on the annual Austin Pond and Garden Tour, held 6/1 and 6/2, 9 am to 5 pm. Tickets are $20 to $25.

Come learn about gardening and design at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, authors, and gardeners a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Stay tuned for more info!

All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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