Educational gardens expansion opens Sunday

Beautification of Foster Field Officer's Club is finished


June 07, 2007

BY PAT PLOWMAN - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER

EDITED BY CHARLA BORCHERS LEON
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS BY HENRY HARTMAN/CREATIVE IMAGES
These photos show the visible grounds on the east and south sides of the Officer's Club in October 2004 were a patio with a fountain on it attached to the clubhouse and a turfgrass lawn that covered the swimming pool and various related concrete foundations.

The expansion project on the east and south sides of the Officer's Club currently consists of 19 new mini gardens including the container garden on the enclosed patio, water and tropical gardens, international, meditation, and xeriscape gardens, to name a few, along with various demonstration areas. Garden structures include a cathedral arbor, pergola and teahouse gazebo that have been designed and constructed by Victoria County Master Gardeners Association members.
A vision of gardens: Back in the spring of 2000, three master gardeners working on a small landscape project to beautify the old Foster Field Officer's Club at Victoria Regional Airport let their imaginations run wild and came up with the idea to create a complex of gardens in the open field that surrounded the club.

The wheels started turning, design plans were drawn up and by the end of the year the Victoria Regional Airport Commission granted permission for the Victoria County Master Gardeners Association to use the land surrounding the Officer's Club.

"VEG" IS BORN

The master gardeners met, discussed possible names for the project and eventually decided on Victoria Educational Gardens, affectionately "VEG" for short ... a very appropriate name because the mission of the Master Gardeners is to increase horticultural education to the community.

Six Phases

VEG would be divided into 6 phases - the first one being the children's garden, vegetable garden, storage shed and greenhouse - all on the west side of the Officer's Club. Phases 2 through 5, which include 16 mini-gardens, a large water garden and several demonstration areas, would be constructed on the property to the south and east of the Officer's Club.

And phase 6, still to be funded and built, would be a large pavilion with restrooms on an existing slab adjacent to the vegetable garden on the west side.

A 'Very Ambitious' Project


The initial groundbreaking was May 10, 2001, during which John Roberts, then-chairman of the airport commission, described the project as "very ambitious." At that time, there were about 50 active members, and we knew we had taken on a very large assignment.

After many months of fundraising, and with determination, enthusiasm, love of gardening and hard work, the first phase was completed and presented to the community on May 18, 2003.

For the next two years, we took a break from hard labor and concentrated on spreading the word about the gardens and encouraging the community and schools to tour the educational facility.

Since we still had five more phases to complete, we continued our fundraising efforts by writing grants and sending out a letter for community support. We conducted plants sales twice a year, had garden symposiums and co-sponsored annual garden tours. By 2005 we had raised enough funds to continue our garden plans for the east side of the Officer's Club. This would bring the investment in the project to $250,000.

Step by Step

With support from Victoria County, our expansion project began. First, Precinct 4 personnel and equipment removed tons of soil and uncovered the steps leading down to the old pool area of the Officer's Club.

We wanted to keep history alive and incorporate as much of the old facility in our garden plans as possible.

We were amazed at what had been uncovered - the bottom of the old fountain was beautiful and still in pretty good shape. There also was lots of concrete, which needed to be removed, and some unexpected obstacles that caused us to revise our design plans several times.

We took our first step by having the patio of the Officer's Club enclosed with a black metal fence. Later, this area would become our container garden.

Next, irrigation and electrical systems were installed. Then the Master Gardeners went to work turning the open field into a total of 19 gardens.

Paved walkways that are wheelchair accessible were installed. Under the direction of our chief carpenter, Ed Gregurek, we built a 60-foot-long arbor, a pergola and a cathedral arbor to provide shade and seating areas for visitors. Drainage systems and retaining walls were built. The water garden was dug and professionals volunteered their time to create a feature that will be used to teach kids about pond ecosystems.

The teahouse gazebo and perimeter fence were erected. A dual-tank 6000-gallon rainwater harvesting system was added to our plans this January to demonstrate water conservation and efficient water usage due to excess runoff water from the roof of the Officer's Club. Tons of compost have been tilled into the garden areas. Heirlooms, roses, grasses, perennials, daylilies and irises were planted in their specific gardens and the entire area was mulched. A wheelchair accessible labyrinth was constructed alongside the cathedral arbor and meditation garden.

Pavers were sold at cost for the Military Honor Garden and as a fundraiser for the Path of Family and Friends. Six years in the making, more than 10,000 volunteer hours - and now the vision is a reality.

Grand Opening Sunday


This Sunday we will unveil the expansion of VEG to the community and thank all who have contributed to our successful project. Numerous foundations, businesses and individuals were generous in helping. We also appreciate and thank all the community members who patronized master gardener plant sales, garden symposiums and annual garden tours.

The Grand Opening begins at 2 p.m. and will feature a ribbon-cutting by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce followed by the dedication of the Military Honor Garden with the raising of the flags in military splendor.

Various elected officials, representatives of the airport, Chamber of Commerce and Texas Cooperative Extension - along with leadership of the master gardeners will speak.

According to Joe Janak, Victoria County Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator who initiated our master gardener program 10 years ago, "Victoria Educational Gardens epitomizes Texas Cooperative Extension's motto: 'real learning for real life.'"

Unless rented for a private function, the garden gate remains open from dawn to dusk. Join us Sunday as we celebrate the completion and open the gates to you.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or
vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.