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News at the Garden

11/5/2018

The Garden is Hiring! Apply to join our Horticulture team

The Houston Botanic Garden is hiring a Horticulture Manager. See this job description for more information. Email resumes and cover letters to info@HBG.org.



10/30/2018

The journey from a golf course to a BOTANIC GARDEN

If you have been fortunate to visit the future Houston Botanic Garden site, you already know its raw beauty, with beautiful mature oak trees (Quercus spp.), gentle rolling topography, gentle breeze, draping Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), and the visual grandeur of Sims bayou. With the addition of the gardens over the next 2 years—it is sure to be a spectacular place to be. So, how do you take a precisely manicured golf course and transform it into a lush, botanic garden? HBG gained possession of the site in April and the transition is well underway.

Our horticulture team is performing regular plant and site surveys to understand the impacts to the site of decades of golf course management. Standard golf course maintenance involves intensive mowing and regular herbicide and pesticide application to create monocultures of grass, which provides good conditions for golf play, but has little ecological value. As a botanic garden, HBG will manage the site with the intention of creating beautiful gardens that will feature many different types of plants to promote biodiversity and create healthy ecosystems. Healthy ecosystems help clean our water, require less human management, and provide healthy habitat for birds and butterflies.

Once HBG ceased chemical applications, the seed bank of dormant seeds in the soil was allowed to germinate. After the seed bank was given an opportunity to emerge from the soil, HBG horticulture reduced the area and frequency of mowing to observe what plants will grow without the application of chemicals. In seed bank recovery, many factors influence how the soils can be rejuvenated to encourage plant growth. One cannot jump to final conclusions after only a few months of no chemicals and no mowing. It requires patience and observation to understand how we can nurture the next steps in eco-recovery. In some areas, we will mow select areas from time to time to reduce invasive plants from spreading. In other areas, we will add native seeds to see if they can germinate and enhance the soils as they exude nutrients that promote germination and growth of dormant seeds. All these steps will bring the seed bank back to life and create a wonderful and healthy ecosystem.

Please let us know if you would like to learn more about HBG’s eco-recovery program or join a site tour to observe nature’s resilience.



10/15/2018

Healthy soil is the first step in building beautiful gardens!

Fabulous gardens need healthy soil to show off their greatest beauty. In phase 1, HBG will require the import of over 10,000 cubic yards of planting soil to build the Global Collection Garden, Family Garden, Edible garden, wetland gardens and the coastal prairie. To prepare the highest quality soil, the typical process is to find the right mixture of sand, silt, and clay and then add the right amount of compost (or organic materials). The perfect panting soil can vary from plant to plant. For example, some plants, like azaleas and magnolias, like an acidic soil, where-as others, like cactus and some prairies plants, prefer well drained, typically dry soil. As we design for all the different experiences in the different areas throughout the Garden and we select the ideal plants to create those experiences, we also have to think about what is the best soil profile for each plant.

Currently, the soil on the HBG site is pretty typical of Houston, a black gumbo soil with little sand or organic material and an overwhelming presence of very fine particles of clay. This gumbo soil contributes to flooding in Houston as it is very difficult for water to penetrate and absorb into the land. While the presence of clay is an important aspect of creating all types of healthy soil profiles, the dominance of only one soil particle type can limit the palette of plants that HBG can successfully grow in our Gardens. Additionally, because the site has been managed as a golf course, the soil structure and nutrient profile in the existing soil is less than optimal for building diverse and beautiful plant collections.

To this end, Houston Botanic Garden has begun a rehabilitation experiment on the site with an end goal of determining if the combination of compost, plants (or cover crops), and the introduction of native microbial inoculants can transform the existing soil through natural processes into a healthy soil. Typically, a healthy soil has a rich population of microflora comprised of thousands of species of fungi and bacteria. This rich, diverse microflora is critical for plant growth; the plants provide the bacteria and fungi with organic sugars that enable them to grow, while the microbes in turn provide the plant with essential nutrients and water from the soil. Working together, the microbial community and the plants also secrete organic substances that bind the small clay and silt particles together to form peds, or aggregates that give even clay soils a friable, open structure that allows water to drain while holding water for root and plant growth, and for the soil microbial community to thrive. In this environment, even tight Houston clays can become open, fertile soils that support rich plant growth.

Rehabilitating the soil with compost that serves to both open the pores of the clayey soil as well a provide a food source for bacteria serves as a primer in the first step of our experiment. The growth of a cover crop that provides the organic sugars will stimulate dormant microbial organisms that are critical to the development of healthy soil. If this experiment is successful, HBG will reduce the amount of soil that will need to be trucked in from elsewhere while maximizing the native soil that evolved in this area. HBG strives to rehabilitate the existing dirt across the garden site with the proper combination of compost, cover crops and biological stimuli. This experiment can also serve as an example of how we can all remediate soil on a large degraded site or in our own backyards.

HBG has partnered with West 8, Olsson, and Ecological Landscape Management to advise us in the steps for our test plots where we have modified a few different variables to determine which approach is most successful and most cost effective. In our test plots, we will study 1. various amending depths to understand how deep we need to mix the compost and biologicals with the clay, 2. different types of composts to see which one works best, and 3. four different cover crops, including sorghum Sudan grass (Sorghum bicolor, var. Sudanese), white clover (Dalea candida) and Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), and tillage radish (Raphanus sativus, var. niger) to see which plant combinations are most effective at aerating and adding nutrients to the soil. At the end of the experiment, Olsson will take samples of soils impacted by each variable and perform various tests to determine the overall health of the soil.

By spring, Houston Botanic Garden will know if and how it can rehabilitate the soil on the site to be a healthy foundation for Growing Houston’s Garden!



9/30/2018

Houston Zoo Browse

Houston Botanic Garden feeds the animals at the Houston Zoo? What? That’s right. HBG collaborates with team members at the zoo to provide “browse” or food for the animals. The Houston Zoo staff visit the HBG site to selectively and carefully prune trees and shrubs.

Q. What is browse?

A. Browse is the term for twigs, shoots, and branches of live trees and shrubs that are the standard diet for many animals in the wild. Browse is a healthier option than their standard hay feed, which has a higher fat content. The tree trimmings provide free, nutritional food for the animals, and also serves as enrichment by stimulating the animals in ways they would experience in the wild.

Q. Which animals are fed from HBG’s browse?

A. The Houston Zoo produces enough browse on their site for their smaller animals, but need much more browse for many of their larger animals. Elephants are the largest consumer, but rhinos, gorillas, and meerkats are also fans.

Q. How does this partnership help the zoo?

A. Zoo staff have travelled hours from Houston to collect browse from willing site owners. HBG is one of the closest sites where they can collect browse in large quantities, saving time and fuel.

Q. How does this partnership help HBG?

A. HBG would need to trim many of the trees anyway since Houston is such a wonderful environment for plants to grow. The Houston Zoo collecting browse helps keep our pathways and bridges clear.

Q. Which plants are the Zoo collecting from the HBG site?

A. Popular trees and plants include: hackberry, mulberry, bamboo, grapevine, American Elm, pecan, ash, maple, honeysuckle, acacia and willow.




9/18/2018

Our staff is growing!

The Houston Botanic Garden is hiring a Development and Special Events Manager! Please see this job description to learn more. Resumes and cover letters should be sent to info@HBG.org. Join our budding team!


8/3/2018


7/25/2018


Recent Press


"4 Things We Know About the Houston Botanic"

Houstonia Magazine, May 29, 2018


"Virtual tour offers bird's eye view of new Botanic Garden"

Chron, May 9, 2018


"Houston Botanic Garden starts transformation of former golf course"

Houston Business Journal, April 16, 2018


"Houston Botanic Garden takes root with a tree farm"

Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2018


"Houston to begin Botanic Garden construction"

KTRK, Channel 13, March 12, 2018


"Houston Botanic Garden To Open In 2020"

Houston Public Media, March 8, 2018


"Houston's Glenbrook Golf Course to become a botanic garden this spring"

Houston Chronicle, March 7, 2018


"People in business: Laura Easton joins HBG as Vice President of development and marketing"

San Antonio Express, March 7, 2018


"There She Goes: Claudia Vassar Tends to Houston's Newest Cultural Institution"

Local Houston Magazine, January 2018


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