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Centennial Gardens

Historic park to get a major makeover for its 100th birthday: Houston's new hot wedding spot?

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Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, sidewalk, November 2012
A football field-sized event lawn extends to the base of a 35-foot garden mound.  Courtesy rendering
Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, site plan, November 2012
Doreen Stoller explained that the construction documents will be tightened next spring for a ground breaking in Aug. 2013.  Courtesy rendering
Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, aerial, November 2012
The main entrance to the Centennial Gardens will be through a pavilion designed by renowned architect Peter Bohlin. Courtesy rendering
Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, sidewalk, November 2012
Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, site plan, November 2012
Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, rendering, aerial, November 2012

Hermann Park, the vast green space that has served as a jogging route and picnic destination, a place for meditation or play, and generally a respite from urban life for Houston residents, celebrates its centennial in 2014.

In recognition of the milestone, the Hermann Park Conservancy is gearing up for the final project of a Master Plan, which was adopted in 1995 in hopes of reviving the historic park: The Centennial Gardens, which will break ground next summer for a completion in Nov. 2014. 

"We wanted to recreate the intent of the original plans . . . not so much literally as conceptually," Doreen Stoller, executive director of the Hermann Park Conservancy, tells CultureMap.

The new 15-acre gardens are based upon the layout initially designed by George Kessler in 1915, and revised by landscape architects Hare and Hare in the 1920s, but with added modern elements that take into account how people use the park now — insight that the Conservancy hopes to gain more of during a public meeting Thursday afternoon.

 The new 15-acre gardens are based upon the layout designed by landscape architects in the 1920s, with modern elements that take into account how people use the park now. 

Centennial Gardens will replace the woefully neglected Garden Center, which has floundered due to disjointed planning. The first step will be to expand the property by relocating the horseshoe parking lot to a plot bordering Hermann Drive, where it can interact with the surrounding neighborhoods through access points on the exterior (via Crawford and Jackson) rather than the interior of the park (along Hermann Park Drive). 

The main entrance to the Centennial Gardens will be though a pavilion, designed by Peter Bohlin, that will function as a sort of portal into the gardens (with the added amenities of public restrooms, a shaded courtyard and a meeting space for garden clubs and horticultural societies).

Stoller said that the Conservancy was surprised and delighted that Bohlin — a renowned architect whose firm designed the trademark glass Apple Store, among other things — agreed to a project of such significance for the city of Houston.

All elements of the gardens have been thoughtfully considered: Bordering sidewalks will be laid out so that visitors will feel a part of the garden even when they're outside of the fence; flora will be selected with a focus on seasonality, so that the garden will have something to offer during all times of the year; a promenade extending from the corner of Caroline Street and Hermann Drive into the garden will feature 18 sculptures given to Houston from other countries, which have not historically claimed an important space in the park. 

The main entrance will open onto a reflection pond and a football field-sized event lawn that extends to the base of a 35-foot garden mound. A proposed family garden will feature vegetable plants and herbs to highlight food and agricultural education. The Houston Rose Society will help choose the varieties for a rose garden, selecting heritage and antique roses that require fewer harsh chemicals than the hybrid flowers currently featured at Hermann Park.

An arid garden will host hardy plants that thrive during periods of drought. Mature, existing trees on the property will be retained in a wandering woodland walk, offset by an understory of flowering shrubs like azaleas and camellias. A Chinese pavilion gifted to the city from Taipei will be transplanted from its middle-of-nowhere home to a pine hill walk.

Stoller said that many Houstonians have expressed interest in renting the garden for weddings and other special events, an undertaking that will eventually be possible for up to 200 guests at the Celebration Garden. Rental fees will support maintenance in the park.   

After this last series of community input meetings, construction documents will be tightened in the spring in anticipation of groundbreaking next August. Stoller said that the Hermann Park Conservancy will host centennial celebrations throughout 2014, like public art programs, a kite day and an organized bike ride.  

The Hermann Park Conservancy will hold a public meeting at the Garden Center, 1500 Hermann Drive, on Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m.

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