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45-acre garden plan takes shape

Campus green space could break ground in 2014

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 00:01


William Guerra

The Board of Regents planted the seeds for the Gardens and Greenway Project in 1998 when it designated a 45-acre plot of land on which to develop a public garden and various outdoor teaching platforms. Now the project is coming together.

Doug Welsh, program coordinator for the project and veteran horticulturist, said green spaces are vital in a campus setting because they are a place to rejuvenate and restore the soul. Universities such as Duke, Caltech and the University of Pennsylvania, ranked among the top-10 universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report, have arboretums and interactive gardens used as teaching tools, Welsh said.

The project will likely break ground in 2014 with either the restoration of White Creek or the construction of the Teaching Gardens Complex, Welsh said. Construction and long-term management of the Gardens and Greenway will be funded primarily through foundations, private donations and corporate sponsors.

“If we are smart, we plan better,” Welsh said. “If we don’t plan for green spaces, there won’t be any. The Gardens and Greenway project will put the ‘land’ back in Aggieland.”

The vision for the property was given life in 2012 by Mark Hussey, current interim president of the University and then-vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, when he publicly announced his support of the development of the land that spans from White Creek behind the AgriLife Complex all the way to the Bush Presidential Library property.

“The Gardens and Greenway project is an opportunity for A&M to showcase and enhance its worldwide impact in agriculture, life sciences and the environment,” said William Dugas, acting vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in an email.

Once complete, the Gardens and Greenway will include a teaching complex, amphitheater and rose garden, among other features. In the summer edition of Texas A&M Foundation’s “Spirit” magazine, Welsh likened the project to the University’s backyard, as the Memorial Student Center is referred to as Texas A&M’s living room.

Nine graduate students from the Texas A&M Department of Landscape Architecture — Quingshu Wang, Yuxi Cheng, Pengzhi Li, Xiaohan Gao, Siyu Chen, Ao Shi, Dan Zhao, Wenyan Ji and Jing Lei — worked in cooperation with Jon Rodiek, leader of the master plan effort, to collect the data, calculations and zoning information necessary for the creation of the master plan in just eight months.

“The grad students were fully involved,” Rodiek said. “They designed everything. They are on campus and know the needs of this site. They are also dedicated because they believe in what they are doing.”

For Siyu Chen, the landscape architecture graduate student who designed the space in front of the Borlaug Center, this was a very special project.

“The campus is ours and it’s very valuable to us because we are Aggies and have a real design to make our place better,” Chen said.

The project will feature the Teaching Gardens Complex, which will include a schoolhouse and pavilion that will accompany three acres of gardens for outdoor teaching and demonstrations. A themed garden will display A&M’s rich agricultural history while another will display herbs and human-use plants. Student designed and constructed gardens will rotate in the children’s area as well as a Butterfly Garden.

The Feed the World Plaza will commemorate past Texas A&M researchers like Norman Borlaug and become a rentable space for tailgates, farmer’s markets and graduation day celebrations. Plant varieties developed by Texas A&M’s own scientists will be planted on the site because of their influential role in feeding people across the globe.

“It’s a daily habit to eat,” said David Cottrell, sophomore soil and crop science and rangeland management major. “People should be aware of where their food comes from. This can be showcased through hands-on learning experiences.”

Another major feature of the project will be the reconstruction of Grove Amphitheater. Once home to Yell Practices, movie nights and other social events, this recreated version will provide room for 500 to 1,000 students.

The Post Oak Savannah Ecosystem Restoration will feature wildflowers, including engineered maroon bluebonnets developed by TAMU AgriLife extension.

“That’s what’s so exciting about this,” Welsh said. “A&M’s own agricultural developments from cotton to corn to maroon bluebonnets can be showcased in these gardens. “

The rose garden will be located near a courtyard, outdoor living area and new main entrance to the AgriLife Complex. Texas-tough rose species developed at A&M will surround the central arbor with concentric circle designs. Welsh said he expected this venue, as well as the meadows, arboretum and various gardens to become destinations for engagements and photo shoots.

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