Community can become part of the community's garden

December 23, 2004
CHARLA BORCHERS LEON and PAT PLOWMAN
Victoria County
Master Gardeners

In the spirit of giving, the Victoria County Master Gardeners have given back to the community nearly 7,500 recorded hours in direct community service this year. Now during this season of giving to others, a new gift to the community is under way with expansion of Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) commencing at the beginning of 2005.

According to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), nearly 40 million Americans took a garden tour or participated in some garden-related travel activity in the mid- to late 1990s. Nearly three-fourths of garden travelers (71 percent) visited a botanical garden; 36 percent attended a garden show or festival; and 29 percent went on some sort of garden tour. Another 16 percent participated in some other gardening activity. These facts illustrate the growing interest in planned gardens and educational-related activities associated with them around the country. Interest in gardening in Victoria County is no exception, and, in fact, numbers of individuals interested and graduating from the Master Gardener program are on the rise, as are attendees at its gardening symposiums, plant sales and garden tours.

While VEG is completely planned, constructed and maintained by the Victoria County Master Gardener Association (VCMGA), it is a part of the educational program of Texas Cooperative Extension and Texas A&M University System in Victoria County - and is, therefore, a scientific-based educational project based on good gardening practices for the citizens of the county and surrounding areas.

VEG, in fact, helps to guide young people as well as adults to a lifelong appreciation for the living world and their part in its ecosystem. This outdoor learning site is open daily, free to the public from dawn until dusk, and is almost in your extended back yard a short distance away - on the grounds of Victoria Regional Airport next to the Officer's Club at 333 Bachelor Drive.

As a destination hands-on learning site for youth, gardening enthusiasts and the general public, VEG is currently home to Phase I, which consists of the intricately designed children's garden and vegetable garden. These areas can be seen on the accompanying diagram to the right and west side of the Officer's Club with concentric shaped design patterns in the children's garden as well as more traditional mini-garden shapes surrounding the center focus gazebo in the vegetable garden. With the generous support of the community in 2001, both of these gardens became a reality in the spring of 2003.

Butterfly, birding, sensory and native gardens, as well as whimsical elements like alphabet stepping stones, colored cement butterfly and sun face patios, a stocked water lily fish pond, and a life-size birdhouse classroom provide the perfect setting for children in this learning environment. Children hop through door and window openings of the birdhouse pretending to be birds flittering to and fro from the classroom benches inside the birdhouse while learning about the berries and seeds the birding area provides. The butterfly area challenges the imagination with flitting butterflies laying eggs on host plants and turning first into caterpillars, then back to butterflies in their continuous life cycle.

Garden structures and hundreds of marked plants in designed beds outlining pathways and sidewalks have provided "a classroom in the garden" setting for thousands of area youth and visitors to the community. Guided educational tours are available by contacting VCMGA at Victoria's Extension office.

The year-round producing vegetable garden is graced by an entrance arbor and a welcoming gazebo with bench seating for several at a time. The raised gardens are wheel chair accessible and are designed to accommodate the needs of all citizens interested in working in or visiting them. Vegetable garden produce is used or donated to worthy organizations in the community to help feed the less fortunate of the community.

Due to the generosity of Crossroads Foundation, VEG contains a fully-mechanized greenhouse for propagation and care of Master Gardener plants. Constructed by Master Gardeners with oversight assistance from licensed professionals, the greenhouse serves as the setting for demonstration projects with controlled growing conditions - which supports the educational component of the Master Gardener program.

The groundwork has been completed with success and Texas Master Gardener recognition, and plans are ready to bloom into action for the additional phases of the garden, which will encompass the entire surrounding grounds of the old Foster Field Officer's Club. Research of the old military base field maps puts history into play with a previously existing swimming pool, patio with flagpoles, airfield dining facility, and more. Each of these foundation structures will be used in a creative and converted way to comprise VEG, phases II-V, and are planned to be the next fruits of labor for this continued destination garden in Victoria County.

The master plan for the expansion includes approximately 15 mini gardens, some of which include a patio garden with container plants, a water garden with bridge, a tropical garden, rose and daylily gardens, a turf grass variety display area with wildscape and xeriscape gardens, a seasonal garden, cut flower garden, shade garden, heirloom and historic gardens and a meditation garden.

In addition, there will be various garden structures including a gazebo large enough for hosting small ensembles and ceremonies, pergolas, a 60-foot covered arbor connecting the existing side of VEG to the new area, a labyrinth in the meditation area, fountains and benches in the common grounds area, and much more.

Imagine plants and bulbs that were grown in your grandparents' gardens, patriotic plants grown at Mount Vernon and Monticello, plants labeled as to their origin - Mexico, Spain, South America, Africa, Germany and other places - in addition to demonstration areas on weeds and composting. And each area will have educational information pertinent to it available for visitor keepsake. In respect for those with more challenged abilities, all gardens will be wheel chair accessible.

There will be something for everyone who enters and explores the grounds of VEG, and the Master Gardeners invite you to be a part of the giving campaign to help make their gift to the community a reality.

If only the now quiet patio, swimming pool and lawn of the vintage Officer's Club at the former Foster Field could come alive again, stories would unfold to help determine the exact structural items that will support the new garden expansion. Budgeted at a cost of approximately $150,000, a fund-raising program that began this fall will continue with contributions being sought from direct contact with the community for underwriting opportunities and general funding support. If interested in donating to help insure this educational gift to the community, contact the Master Gardeners at vcmga@vicad.com or call 361-575-4581. Financial assistance of any size - small or large - is a most welcomed gift. As a viable non-profit, donations to VCMGA are fully deductible to the extent of the law.

In the truest spirit of giving, may the beauty and serenity of nature abound in your lives this holiday weekend. Merry Christmas to one and all.