Although it's been roughly more than one year since construction of the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park began, the vision for this new focal point has been nearly 100 years in the making.
The original 1924 master plan designed by Hare and Hare included a beautiful garden center that was never realized. On Saturday, Hermann Park Conservancy will inaugurate the McGovern Centennial Gardens, the park's largest and most ambitious improvement project, with a public dedication and celebration during which visitors will enjoy talks with the creative team, garden and art tours and kid activities.
"I really believe that this garden is going to be the kind of place that is so beloved by Houstonians that when you have family coming from out of town, the first thing you are going to want to do is come here," Doreen Stoller, Hermann Park Conservancy executive director, says.
Located just northwest of Miller Outdoor Theatre on grounds that previously accommodated a semi-circular parking lot, this 15-acre parcel's transformation into a remarkable destination that offers many types of experiences is a month away from total completion.
"What's great about this garden is that it isn't a one-trick pony," Jane Curtis, director of horticulture, says. "There are private rooms where you can be shaded and secluded and sit alone on a bench and read, and there are very active areas with interactive and educational components."
"This garden is going to be the kind of place that is so beloved by Houstonians."
Adjacent to a young crape myrtle-lined, 300-space parking lot accessible from the intersection of Hermann Drive and Crawford Street, the Cherie Flores Entry Pavilion spans the width of the gardens as a modern gateway into a distinctive environment imagined by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects with White Oak Studio Landscape Architecture.
Architect Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, known for his glass cubed Apple stores, designed this soft contemporary indoor/outdoor pavilion as a reflection of the times, to contrast the period architecture found in the surrounding neighborhoods that are dotted with historic Mediterranean and Colonial homes. Materials such as wide siding and dark gray stone dissolve into a reflection pool that leads into a 350-foot-long — about a football field and a third in length — formal lawn fringed by 16-foot-wide perennial beds and steel arbors.
"The whole function of the pavilion is to be a portal," Curtis explains. "As you walk through this portal, the roof sweeps away to the sky and the walls sweep to the sides to frame a panoramic view of the formal lawn."
Wind up the gently rising trails of the 30-foot garden mount that has a trickling waterfall to indulge in a bird's eye view of the overall plan. This impressive feature, inspired by the architectural aesthetics of the Renaissance era, is crowned by a small circular landing area from which one can bask in the complexity of this $31 million project — $7.5 million of which have been set aside for a maintenance fund.
Themed garden rooms
The Tudor Family Pine Hill Walk is an homage to East Texas and to the roots of Hermann Park.
"We've created a series of themed horticulture rooms," Curtis says. "This isn't a botanical garden and this isn't a garden where you will see one of everything that grows in Houston. Rather, we wanted to offer cohesive experiences for park guests."
Among these six areas is a family vegetable garden teeming with raised beds that will host education programs for children and adults. An arid garden, inspired by the northern plains of Mexico, serves as an example of beautiful landscape design with plants that don't require much irrigation — aloes, agaves, yuccas and nolinas — a complement to the adjacent rose garden that will eventually bloom with heirloom and modern-day varieties.
The Tudor Family Pine Hill Walk is an homage to East Texas and to the roots of Hermann Park, the conifers recalling what the arboreal life might have looked like when George H. Hermann gifted the land to the city in 1914.
A new wedding destination?
"One of the things we get asked a lot is: Can I get married in Hermann Park?" Stoller says. "We haven't really had a place suitable for weddings because we don't want to close off the Japanese Gardens or the Reflection Pool."
The Celebration Gardens was designed with weddings and private events in mind. Alongside an indoor space in the Cherie Flores Entry Pavilion, expect this new addition to Hermann Park to be a favorite for love birds that want to tie the knot in a charming al fresco setting.