No More Topiaries?

Beloved River Oaks garden landmark forced to close for private school expansion

Beloved garden landmark forced to close for private school expansion

River Oaks Plant House exterior front day
The River Oaks Plant House is losing its lease, effective Dec. 31. River Oaks Plant House/Facebook
River Oaks Plant House topiaries on median
Topiaries have lined the esplanade at Buffalo Speedway at Westheimer. River Oaks Plant House/Facebook
St. John's campus map aerial
St. John's School's property has grown significantly in the last year, with the recent acquisitions shown in green. St. John's School
River Oaks Plant House statues, planting pots, plants
River Oaks Plant House, located directly across the street from St. John's, is widely known for their custom topiaries, garden fountains, statues and plants. River Oaks Plant House/Facebook
River Oaks Plant House exterior front day
River Oaks Plant House topiaries on median
St. John's campus map aerial
River Oaks Plant House statues, planting pots, plants

The River Oaks Plant House, a fixture at the corner of Westheimer and Buffalo Speedway for more than 30 years, is being forced to close to make way for the expansion of St. John's School.

On Thursday night, St. John's alumni received an email from headmaster Mark Desjardins detailing the closing of the beloved plant house, which is known for its larger-than-life custom topiaries in the shape of animals on Buffalo Speedway, along with garden fountains, statues and plants. Desjardins said the property, which the school owns, is needed for carpool and parking space during the construction of the new Campus Center on the north side of the campus.

 Desjardins said the property, which the school owns, is needed for carpool and parking space during the construction of the new Campus Center. 

"We want to assure our community that the School has made great efforts to conduct itself with integrity as a good neighbor and has met or exceeded its legal obligations to the River Oaks Plant House," Desjardins wrote.

The email detailed the school's recent developments with the nursery, noting that although the school was only required to give a 30-day notice of termination, officials delivered a "generous" 90-day notice to the owners. The lease will be terminated on Dec. 31.

Desjardins noted that as a tax-exempt organization, St. John’s would incure a "significant tax liability" if the nursery remained in business on any part of the 2014 calendar year. "As fiduciaries and stewards of the School’s resources, the Board is opposed to using school resources earmarked for our faculty, students, and programs to underwrite the operating costs of the River Oaks Plant House," said Desjardins. 

A phone call to the plant house's owners to ask about future plans and the fate of the topiaries was not immediately returned.

St. John's acquisition of the property marks the second time this year that a nearby beloved establishment is being forced to close due to the school's expansion.

In January it was announced that the private school had purchased the 13-acre property where Blanco's has existed for 30 years, forcing the legendary country-western bar to close for good, effective on Nov. 30. The West Alabama property, purchased from Kitch and Marcy Taub, cost $91 million according to the school's website detailing their planned expansion.