New amenities, including a grand entryway, boardwalks, and water features, will transform Mercer Botanic Gardens over the next decade as part of a plan to expand the gardens and make them more flood resilient.
Mercer approved its master plan, designed by Halff Associates Inc., in 2019, after buying more than 47 neighboring acres outside the special flood hazard area.
Phase 1 of the plan began March 8 and will take six months to complete. Improvements include building three greenhouses on higher ground to replace the Central Garden greenhouses. The extra elevation is expected to keep nursery plants safe from high water and provide a staging area for staff and equipment during disasters like Hurricane Harvey, which caused catastrophic damage at the botanic gardens.
“We decided we couldn’t just rebuild, because we would always be in harm’s way,” said Chris Ludwig, Mercer’s director. “The best option was to move our greenhouses to higher ground and make the facilities that couldn’t be moved more flood resilient.”
Before building the greenhouses, crews will excavate part of the property to create a detention area, using the excess soil to raise the property above Hurricane Harvey’s flood line. Plans also include demolishing the Central Garden greenhouses and using the space as an open lawn area for events and family-friendly outdoor movies.
Another priority will be to open Storey Lake and the Creekside Ramble by mid-April. Both areas closed in 2016 after sustaining significant flood damage. These areas will eventually link to other planned amenities.
Most development will occur over the next decade on a 47.44-acre plot adjacent to Mercer. Amenities include three greenhouses, water features, trails, an observation greenhouse for exotic plants, a water wall, and an amphitheater. A boardwalk will span the pond, leading visitors past a Japanese Garden to a ziggurat – a tall earthen tower resembling the structure at McGovern Centennial Gardens, near the Houston Zoo. A twisting pathway will lead to the top of the tower so visitors can view Mercer from above. The boardwalk will also provide a shortcut to Storey Lake and a new rookery and water feature.
Baldwin Boettcher Library, which has been closed since Hurricane Harvey, will reopen as Mercer’s entrance. Additionally, Precinct 4 will restore Mercer’s Botanical Information Center, also damaged during Harvey, and open it to Baldwin Boettcher staff for library programs and classes.
Mercer’s west side, which remains mostly undeveloped, may also see a few improvements and new amenities over the years, including a Reflective Garden, Tree Village, and Maple Mall. A restroom and garden space is expected to open at the front of the westside parking area in fall 2021. Property also has been set aside on both sides of Mercer for connections to the Cypress Creek Greenway.