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Mercer Botanic Gardens After Harvey: Still One of the Gems of Harris County

Mercer Botanic Gardens has always been a work in progress…perhaps a little more so since Hurricane Harvey. The Harris County Precinct 4 Park – known for its ever-changing natural color, idyllic walkways, and dazzling displays of native plants – took it on the chin during Harvey. The flood devastated plantings and caused some of the worst damage in Mercer’s history. Floodwaters up to eight feet high ravaged paths, buildings, and gardens. They downed trees, ripped beds out by the roots, and buried  everything under layers of  mud.

Downed Tree after Harvey

Flooded Meeting Room

Ruined Beds

Back, Bigger, Better

The Botanic Gardens – a favorite of gardeners, seniors, and parents with small children– offers a civilized version of nature, relaxing strolls while holding hands, quiet contemplation, a place to learn, and a place to forget about all the stresses of modern life.

Now, under the leadership of Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, it’s becoming that again…with some major improvements that will help it better survive future floods. The county and volunteers have spent much of the last year rebuilding, replanting, restoring, and even relocating parts of the facility.

Changes

Plans to relocate parts of the gardens began after the Tax Day Flood damaged areas of Mercer closest to Cypress Creek. The devastation highlighted the need for additional acreage on higher ground. Soon after, The Mercer Society, the nonprofit providing philanthropic support to Mercer, launched the Rebuild Mercer Campaign with a goal of purchasing 34 additional acres. Much of that land had already been purchased when Harvey hit, necessitating even more changes.

By Christmas last year, the Mercer Society (TMS) relocated their Gift and Plant Shoppe to 400 Main Street in Old Town Spring. Filled with botanic treasures, holiday gifts, and an assortment of plants, The Gift Shoppe is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

By March of this year, the Gardens had officially reopened.

In September, more than 100 veterans with The Mission Continues and 17 CarMax employees volunteered to install sod and prepare raised beds throughout the Creekside Ramble and parts of Storey Lake.

Volunteers sod Creekside Ramble

Part of Mercer’s new west side.

Construction of a new library will begin in 2019. And 4.5 acres of additional gardens could be open by Spring.

Cypress swamp on Mercer’s new west side

Where to Find Mercer

Located at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road, just a few blocks north of the airport and 1960, the Botanic Gardens are a 15 to 20 minute drive from Humble and Kingwood.

You and your family may find some of these upcoming events interesting.

Mercer Winter-Spring 2019 Programs

January

Children’s Winter Camp. Wednesday, Jan. 2 through Friday, Jan. 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Children can kick off the new year with lessons in healthy cooking at Mercer’s Winter Camp. Following the Learn! Grow! Eat! & Go! Junior Master Gardener curriculum, children will use the Charlie Cart Project mobile kitchen to practice cooking techniques encouraging healthy eating. Children will also plant vegetables, taste fresh produce, and engage in fun, outdoor physical activities. Space is limited, and registration is required. $30 per child. Registration starts Monday, November 19. To register or to receive additional information, call Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160.

Lunch Bunch: Palm Textures. Wednesday, Jan. 9 from noon to 2 p.m. Palms add texture to the landscape and make any garden feel like a tropical paradise. Cheyenne Griffin, Mercer Botanic Gardens horticulturist, will discuss these textures and how to protect palms from the cold. Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Lunch Bunch is a free program offered at Mercer’s East Side Gardens and is recommended for participants ages 12 and older. To register or to receive additional information, contact Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

February

Lunch Bunch: The Basics of Backyard and Small-Scale Composting. Wednesday, Feb. 13 from noon to 2 p.m. Experienced horticulturists and gardeners often tout compost as the black gold of the gardening world because of the wonders it can perform in the garden. John Ferguson, owner of Nature’s Way Resources, demonstrates how to produce compost for small and large properties, from the backyard to golf courses. All materials, including tools and equipment, is provided by Mercer. Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Lunch Bunch is a free program offered at Mercer’s East Side Gardens and is recommended for participants ages 12 and older. To register or to receive additional information, contact Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

March

Children’s Spring Camp. Monday, March 11 through Thursday, March 14 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Spring is a time for newness and change. During Mercer’s Spring Camp, children will explore and embrace foods and cooking techniques that encourage healthy eating habits. Mercer’s education staff will utilize the Learn! Grow! Eat! & Go! Junior Master Gardener curriculum and the Charlie Cart mobile kitchen during this unique children’s camp. Camp includes planting vegetables, tasting fresh produce, and engaging in fun, outdoor physical activities. Space is limited, and registration is required. $40 per child. Registration starts Monday, January 28. To register or to receive additional information, call Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160.

March Mart Plant Sale. Friday, March 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, March 16 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Shop a variety of hard-to-find plants during one of the Texas Gulf Coast region’s largest and most anticipated horticultural events beginning Friday, March 15 at 10 a.m., with early shopping for The Mercer Society Members (TMS) at 8 a.m. An invitation only reception and plant sale for TMS Supporting Members and higher begins Thursday, March 14 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. All-day express checkout is available for The Mercer Society members only. To receive additional information or to purchase your membership, call Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160.

March Mart Training. Individual and group training will be conducted on an as needed basis. All volunteers are welcome to contact the Mercer volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net for any questions and additional information regarding March Mart assignments or shifts.

Lunch Bunch: Honeybees and Backyard Beekeeping. Wednesday, March 20 from noon to 2 p.m. Join Jerry Maxwell and Roger Nelson, members of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association, as they discuss interesting facts and details about honeybees, the amazing role bees play in our environment, and the benefits of pure honey. Learn what it takes to start your own beekeeping adventure in your own backyard. Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Lunch Bunch is a free program offered at Mercer’s East Side Gardens and is recommended for participants ages 12 and older. To register or to receive additional information, contact Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

April

Lunch Bunch: The Incredible Edibles. Wednesday, April 10 from noon to 2 p.m. Join a casual conversation with Marilyn O’Connor, the Herb Lady, and discuss ways to incorporate herbs into your garden year-round. Enjoy hands-on, scratch-and-sniff fun while exploring the textures and fragrances of various herbs. Then, stroll the Herb Garden at Mercer for more inspiration! Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Lunch Bunch is a free program offered at Mercer’s East Side Gardens and is recommended for participants ages 12 and older. To register or to receive additional information, contact Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

Ongoing Events

North Side Greenhouse Team. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Join a plant committee and grow plants year-round for events and sales or help with various projects from construction to irrigation! Contact Mercer’s volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

Gardening. Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Seek out what’s blooming and learn about plant grooming, pruning, and weeding in the Pollinator and Conservation gardens. Wear closed-toe shoes, gloves, and hat, and bring sunscreen and water. Contact Mercer’s volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

Gardening. Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Take part in plant grooming, pruning, weeding, and mulching in the Prehistoric and Shade gardens. Wear closed-toe shoes, gloves, and hat, and bring sunscreen and water. Contact Mercer’s volunteer coordinator at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

Cooking Thyme. Select Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Explore fresh food with all five senses during the Cooking Thyme program at Mercer Botanic Gardens. Children will learn the connections between cooking and the plants that grow in the garden and on the farm. This free, hands-on opportunity allows children to prepare and taste foods and equips them with knowledge to make healthy food choices. Cooking Thyme classes for children in kindergarten through second grade are scheduled Feb. 6, March 6, and April 3. Classes for children in third grade through fifth grade are scheduled Jan. 16, Feb. 20, March 20, and April 17. Registration is required, and space is limited. To register or for more information, call Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160.

Lunch Bunch. Second Wednesday of the month from noon to 2 p.m. Join fabulous speakers at these free presentations covering diverse topics. Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Lunch Bunch is a free program offered at Mercer’s East Side Gardens and is recommended for participants ages 12 and older. For more information, contact Mercer Botanic Gardens at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

Storytime in the Gardens. Every Monday at 10:30 a.m. In partnership with Harris County Public Library, Mercer presents a unique Storytime in the natural setting of Mercer for parents and children to enjoy together. Storytime garden locations may vary each week. Call 713-274-4160 to find out the location or to check for cancellations due to weather or holidays.

Mercer serves people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, sex, religion, national origin, or physical ability. Anyone seeking additional information or requiring special assistance to participate in any program should contact Mercer at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net. Visit Mercer online at www.hcp4.net/Community/Parks/Mercer.

Posted by Bob Rehak with help from Crystal Simmons

Photos Courtesy of Harris County Precinct 4

Beauty Courtesy of the Creator

455 Days since Hurricane Harvey