Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Garden
Humble, Texas
March 2008

Mercer Arboretum is located on the northern outskirts of Houston but feels like a world away. It began as a 14 acre private garden, bought by Harris County in 1974. Since then the county, and supporters of the Arboretum, have acquired adjoining land so that now it encompasses more than 300 acres, as a combination park, arboretum and botanic garden. It is divided by a major road with a 20 acre botanic garden on the east side and 280 acres of arboretum and park on the west side. In our 3 hour visit we saw only the east side before being rained out. If the weather had been nice we could easily have spent the rest of the day exploring the west side.

What we did see was pretty impressive. The entrance and the area around the visitor center are inviting and spacious enough for people to gather.

The area is also decorated with cute, whimsical sculptures. A nice touch.

The trails are nicely laid out and very attractive.

Signage is abundant and informative. There are a number of large interpretive panels and nearly all species are identified by name labels. In fact, my only complaint about Mercer is that sometimes there were too many signs.

I love seeing lots of signs because they are such an important educational tool, so maybe instead of fewer signs they should think about using a smaller size in some areas. For instance in this bed the signs are right along the trail so would have been easily readable at half the size. This would maintain the information but reduce the clutter.

I was very impressed with the Endangered Species garden. Lots of gardens debate whether or not they should put endangered species on display and, if they do, should they interpret them as endangered. They worry about the possibility of theft. I think Mercer has shown that the threat is overblown and is far outweighed by the educational opportunity presented.

The entrance to the Endangered Species garden is through a handsome archway.

They've created a very informative garden without sacrificing aesthetics by combining the endangered plants with lots of attractive companion plants. All the endangered plants are well-labeled so easy to identify. There is also a large interpretive panel about the garden.

Under the guidance of the county and its friend's group, Mercer continues to grow and develop. When we were there, work was going on to renovate the Lily Pond and Tea House. It doesn't look like much right now, but it's easy to envision how beautiful it can be in the future.

I was really impressed with Mercer. It's a free garden but certainly warrants an admission charge. There was a tremendous amount to see even in March and lots of exciting gardens were not yet visible. The garden of gingers looked to be one of the largest around, but very few of the plants had emerged yet. The same was true of the Iris collection. Makes me want to plan another trip to see Mercer at another time of year.

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