News Categories: Mercer Botanic Gardens

14 Jan
By: Communications 0

Sign up now to volunteer at March Mart 2020!


The Texas Gulf Coast’s premier plant sale is just around the corner, featuring a variety of unusual and hard-to-find plants, trees, and shrubs. Like any spectacular event, it takes lots of dedicated hands to put on such a large-scale plant sale. Mercer needs your help, and now is the time to get signed up as a volunteer!

“We welcome individuals and groups – garden and community club members, high school students, and business volunteer teams. Anyone 16 and older who wants to participate is invited to apply,” said Jamie Hartwell, Mercer’s volunteer coordinator. “Volunteers with plant knowledge are also needed, as are volunteers to help break down the event after the sale. There’s something for everyone.”

Volunteer during the event on March 20 and 21 or to help with preparations. If you enjoy party planning, join March Mart co-chairs Cathie Powers, Melody Nelson, and Elaine Lucarini in decorating, set-up, and other hostess duties for the VIP event on March 19.

Volunteers can also join grower Brandon Hubbard at the Northside Horticultural Propagation Center to get the plant inventory ready for sale.

“Come out and see Mercer’s greenhouses first hand,” said Hubbard. “We’ll be repotting, making signs, and doing general maintenance on Saturdays, Feb. 22 and 29, and March 7 and 14, from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers can also come out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon.”

March Mart chairperson Kitt Burnsides is expecting a banner year.

“We had more than 2,000 visitors in 2019 and predict this year’s sale will be bigger and better,” she said. “We strive to bring tried and true favorites, along with many new varieties.

“This year, we’re featuring ‘Mercer Grown’ plants that include 100% organically grown vegetables and host plants, as well as annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, roses, natives, gingers, and edibles – including fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs. Outside vendors will offer carnivorous plants, ferns, orchids, camellias, and tropicals.”

Positions like cashiering, ticket writing, wagon check-out, and much more are also available. To volunteer for March Mart, complete the online application at Organizations should contact Jamie Hartwell directly at 713-274-4160 or

If you would like information about how to become a Mercer member, contact The Mercer Society at 713-274-4166 or email

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14 Jan
By: Communications 0

Name That Flower: February 2020

This graceful shrub grows up to 7 feet tall and has pointed narrow leaves 4 to 9 inches long. The white fragrant flowers appear in cascades around Thanksgiving and continue to bloom through spring.

A native of China and Southeast Asia, this plant is best suited for well-drained soil and partially shaded gardens protected from high winds and late afternoon sun. The shrub should be planted in fertile soil to avoid pests and disease.

Reveal: Glory-Bower (Clerodendrum wallichii ‘White’) in the verbena family.

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14 Jan
By: Communications 0

Revel in the Rose

From Guns N’ Roses and Orson Welles to Shakespeare, roses have captivated and entranced us for centuries.

A symbol of hope, this prominent flower represents new beginnings, balance, and love. In ancient Greece, the rose was closely associated with the goddess Aphrodite. In the Illiad, Aphrodite protects the body of Hector using the “immortal oil of the rose,” and the Greek lyric poet Ibycus praises a beautiful youth by saying that Aphrodite nursed him “among rose blossoms.”

Wild rose bushes grew on hillsides of the island of Crete thousands of years before Christ’s birth. Roses and images of roses have also been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians.

Historians believe the Chinese and Egyptians first cultivated roses approximately 5,000 years ago by selecting plants based on flower color. Early Americans also held roses in high esteem and gathered regional rose species for food and medicinal purposes. Grown organically, the flower petals can be added to salads and tea for color and flavor. High in vitamin C, rose hips are valued for their nutritive and tonic qualities and used to make jelly and meat glazes.

Rose gardening gained prominence near the end of the Middle Ages because of the flowers’ use in the elaborate gardens cultivated by royalty and wealthy households. Since then, roses have only grown in popularity, popping up in household gardens, traffic medians, and commercial landscapes across the nation.

The ideal time to plant roses is October through early April, when it’s not too hot to stress the plant. Heavy clay soil should be amended with organic matter and sand for better drainage. This will encourage moisture and air in the soil for stronger roots, stems, and flowers. Roses are heavy feeders, so fertilize if you want blossoms. Rose trimming in Houston is usually done in mid-February. Remove the smaller, interior twigs first and then shape to the desired height in your garden. If the roses have grown vigorously over the summer, another trimming in early September is recommended.

Rich in beauty and history, the rose collection at Mercer continues to flourish. The Shakespeare Garden features three small shrub roses – “Martha Gonzales,” a deep red flowering shrub rose with fern-like foliage; “Republic of Texas,” which is a yellow petite rose; and “Sweet Pea,” a shrub rose with dark pink blossoms. Along the Remembrance Walk, find a yellow “Lady Banksia” on a swing arbor blooming in spring. Look for the ”Peggy Martin” rose, dubbed the Katrina rose after surviving Hurricane Katrina, in the Herb Garden.

Several plantings of white roses were installed recently in the Formal Garden near the water wall. These are upright shrubs that bloom throughout the year.

The Healing Garden at Mercer offers hope to people affected by natural disasters. It is adorned with pink Drift roses and white Iceberg roses to signify new beginnings along with a red Valentine rose for love. An expansion of Mercer’s rose collection is slated for this fall.

If you enjoy growing roses and would like to help in the gardens at Mercer, the March Mart Rose Committee meets on Monday mornings.


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
-William Shakespeare

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14 Jan
By: Communications 0

Top Gardening Trends for 2020

From the victory gardens of World War II to the manicured, mid-century modern gardens of the 1950s, the biggest gardening trends often reflect our hopes, dreams, and lifestyles – and the 2020 trends are no different.

After generations of heavy pesticide use, finicky exotics, and sprawling lawns requiring significant water use, Americans are embracing environmentalism, conservation, and healthy lifestyles.

As a result, today’s gardens are often mixed-use beds featuring a blend of hardy natives that can withstand drought and flooding, pollinator host plants, and ornamental edibles. Read more below to learn more about some of this year’s top gardening trends.

Themed Gardens

Trends come and go, but themed gardens will never go out of style. With warmer weather on the way, moon gardens are making a comeback. Dating back centuries, moon gardens include groupings of night-blooming and reflective plants to create spaces that glow in the moonlight.

“People are looking to extend their time outdoors by making the garden more inviting after dark,” said Mercer Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin. “Others prefer the clean, formal look of all white flowers.”

To bring the trend to your landscape, look for plants with white blooms, variegated foliage, and silver or white leaves. Add soft, warm lighting to spotlight unique plants in the landscape paired with smaller pathway lights to outline the shape of your garden. You can also get ideas for your moon garden by visiting Mercer’s Formal Garden.

Edible Gardens

With the rise of lifestyle blogs, farmers markets, and Pinterest, Americans are finding creative and attractive ways to incorporate vegetables and edibles into their homes and gardens. Today’s trendiest gardens are both beautiful and edible, featuring ornamental vegetables and flowers.
From window sills to the backyard, edible plants are popping up in more locations than ever, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. In fact, one in three households grow some of their own food, according to a 2014 report by the National Gardening Association.

“Anyone with a yard can bring ornamental plants and edible flowers into the landscape,” said Martin. “These plants look good in flower beds and don’t need protection from critters like many vegetable gardens.”

Winter veggies like cabbage, kale, and Swiss chard add vibrant hues of green, purple, and pink to winter landscapes. Best of all, these leafy greens can be harvested at the end of the season and replaced with spring color.

“Edible flowers are also a good option for gardeners interested in growing their own food while maintaining the traditional look of a landscaped bed,” said Martin. “Flowers like violas, marigolds, and dianthus are beautiful, tough, and healthy.

“Winter is a good time to grow edible flowers,” he said. “They look great in the landscape and can be used in a variety of dishes.”

Martin advises anyone interested in growing edible flowers to harvest the blossoms early in the morning or by midday for the best flavor. More than just a whimsical garnish, flower petals feature unique flavors that can enhance desserts, salads, and main courses. They can be candied, pressed into cheeses, frozen and served in drinks, or served fresh in salads, he said.

According to Suzzanne Chapman, the Mercer botanical collections curator, modern gardeners are learning that blended gardens are often just as beneficial as they are pretty. Multi-use gardens save space and attract pollinators, which are essential for food production.

Smart plant pairings may even make gardens healthier by repelling pests and eliminating the need for pesticides, especially around edibles. For example, chives and coriander repel aphids, one of the most common garden pests, and marigolds feature sunny blooms that repel many destructive insects.

Visitors to Mercer can view pairings of ornamental vegetables and perennial flowers in the vegetable display garden. Once the veggies mature, the plants are harvested and used for children’s outdoor cooking programs.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to show visitors what you can grow and blend in with garden perennials,” said Chapman. “Mixing veggies with perennials gives you a great chance to add pretty plants and healthy food to your diet.”

Native Plant Gardens

There’s no shortage of reasons why people love gardening with native plants and flowers. They’re attractive, drought tolerant, low maintenance, and beneficial to wildlife. Most importantly, they’re perfect for the lazy gardener.

“We’re seeing more Mercer visitors interested in planting native plants,” said Chapman. “Homeowners want to grow plants for pollinators and wildlife that can adapt to our crazy weather.”

As people become more environmentally conscious, they look for plants that don’t require supplemental watering and expensive pesticides to stay healthy. “Natives are the most forgiving plants,” said Chapman. “They are tough as nails, and many tolerate floods. They look great no matter what.”

Natives have even become popular among commercial growers, popping up in medians and neighborhood gardens across the county.

“Landscaping companies are planting more natives in medians and neighborhood common areas because they can stand the Houston heat and flooding,” said Martin. “Homeowners are seeing the beauty of these native plants, and they want them at home.”

Popular Texas natives include lantanas, muhly grass, live oaks, and Texas sage. For gardeners interested in something a little more exciting than the standard live oak, Martin recommends the Texas ebony tree. “It’s one of our most underrated native trees,” said Martin. “It’s super easy to grow, and it produces lots of blooms for bees each spring.”

Wildscapes and Pollinator Gardens

The declining population of key pollinators like bees and butterflies has many gardeners fighting back by planting pollinator gardens and wildscapes. These low-maintenance gardens often include pollinator host plants that bees, butterflies, and other beneficial wildlife need to survive.

“Pollinator gardens are easier to grow than vegetable gardens, and they attract more wildlife,” said Martin. “It’s a big trend to attract more bees and butterflies. Everyone wants a monarch waystation and backyard wildlife habitat.”

It’s a trend people can feel good about following. As of September 2019, Monarch Watch had 26,573 registered monarch waystation habitats. And with the United States consuming 2.2 million acres a year of monarch and wildlife habitats, establishing a pollinator garden is a trend worth following.

To get started, gardeners should choose a sunny area to plant milkweed and other flowering native plants. Some gardeners even create wildscapes in their backyards, which are landscaped areas that remain untouched most of the year to provide year-round habitat.

Click here to learn how to plant your own pollinator garden.


Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the trend toward multi-use gardens. Gardeners want beauty, but they also want gardens that benefit themselves, pollinators, and wildlife. For more information about gardening, visit Mercer or stop by one of The Mercer Society’s upcoming plant sales to discuss questions with onsite experts.

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30 Oct
By: Communications 0

Name That Flower: Midnight Horror

Native to tropical areas of Asia, this fast-growing tree reaches at least 30 feet tall. The plant only blooms at night and produces a fetid odor attractive to bats and other pollinators. Can you name this plant?

Midnight Horror

Oroxylum indicum

Meet Midnight Horror. The enormous seed pods of this unique plant (Oroxylum indicum) grow nearly 4 feet long. They hang from bare branches and resemble swords. This plant – popular in Asia – features edible leaves, flowers, and fruit.

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