Spectacular New Public Gardens in Dallas

Newly opened gardens at University of Texas Dallas

Lush Hour ... In May, I attended a symposium at the Nasher Sculpture Center organized by director Jeremy Strick and UTD's Richard Brettell, who had gathered some of the key players in global gardening, all of whom are designing public gardens in Dallas. In varying sages of completion, these gardens are being constructed by some of the country's most prestigious landscape architects and are breathing life and soul into the city's changing skyline.

Gardens at UTD

Peter Walker, whose West coast-based landscape design firm created the gardens at the Nasher Sculpture Center, just unveiled a $30 million garden project at UTD, funded almost entirely by philanthropist Margaret McDermott. "There's no equivalent of the Pritzker Prize in landscape design so not as much attention is paid," Walker said during the symposium. "But we’ve got the best landscape architects in the world in this room today, and they're all working on gardens in Dallas.”

Gardens at UTD

UTD Provost Hobson Wildenthal was the force behind the idea to landscape the school, where bland concrete buildings and vast expanse of parking lots resembled “an abandoned Walmart, as one national magazine put it,” Wildenthal told me over the phone.

The new gardens encompass 800,000 square feet planted with 5,000 trees and shrubs, many of them native; a mall groomed in St. Augustine grass; six pools, including a circular one that pumps a continuous column of fog; and four human-scale chessboards.

Coming Soon ...

During the next two years, least four other major gardens will be complete, including gardens at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, which will open to the public in October (unfortunately I don't have any renderings yet of this one). Designed by master gardener and Japanese gardens expert John Powell of Weatherford Gardens, the Crow gardens will include a new collection of Asian antiquities and contemporary Asian sculptures.

"The idea is to take an extremely dated landscape around the building and make it a better background for the new sculptures," says Powell, who's creating a series of small gardens that will wrap around the museum. "They will take the visitor on a journey, almost like a Japanese stroll garden. There will be tight corridors with detail and open areas," and include a dry landscape garden with gravel; a modern, monochromatic garden with a ground cover of juniper, Japanese black pines, and stone slabs; there will also be woodland settings with Japanese maples and a wall of black bamboo. "These gardens are designed to be an escape from the noise and the dirt of the city," he says.

Gardens at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science are due to open in early 2013. The 14-story, cube-shaped building, under construction now, is designed to float over a landscaped base, which is being designed by Dallas landscape architect Coy Talley.

There will also be an acre of rolling roofscape comprised of rocks and native drought-resistant grasses from the Texas prairies, and different landscaped areas that depict abstract cross-sections of Texas including East-Texas inspired forests with large canopies of trees. The gardens will be watered from a rainwater collection system that will capture run-off from the roof and parking lot to fill two 25,000 gallon cisterns.

Check out the museum's webcam to see the building in progress.

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which is under construction now and will open sometime in 2013, is situated on 23 acres on the western edge of SMU and will include a 15-acre urban park designed by Michael Van Valkenburg, who is professor of landscape architecture at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. (Van Valkenburg also designed Deedie and Rusty Rose's gardens for their Antoine Predock-designed contemporary estate on Turtle Creek.)

The Bush gardens will be a mix of cultivated and wild, with grasses from Texas's native blackland prairies, seasonal wildflowers planted in a sheltered meadow, savannah and woodland clearings designed to provide habitat for butterflies, birds, and other wildlife.

There will also be a grove of canopy trees indigenous to North Texas, including cedar elm, pecans, blackjack oaks, and courtyards planted with prairie phlox, mealy blue sage, American beautyberry, Southern magnolia, and Mexican plum. Hedges of native Yaupon holly, native to Texas, will produce berries essential for sustaining native animals such as bluebirds and armadillos.

Land south of the library will be a recreation of a prairie, with a floodplain forest, wildflower meadow, and native Texas grasses. A storm-water management system will collect and reuse runoff.

There will also be a cultivated rose garden, designed with the same proportions, solar orientation, and formal organization as the White House Rose Garden. A large water garden will have water lilies, irises, and sedges.

The Park over Woodall Rogers

Under construction now, The Park is a 5.2-acre wedge of land spanning across Woodall Rogers Freeway between Pearl and St. Paul streets. The $80 million project is intended to draw pedestrians from the nearby Arts District and Uptown neighborhood into its promenade of gardens, gathering spaces and performance venues.

Slated to be finished in the spring of 2012, the ambitious project is being led by Houston-and West Coast-based landscape architect James Burnett, who is overseeing a massive team that includes lighting and water designers, engineers, and restaurant designers.

The park will include a promenade of pond cypress trees, a botanical garden, a children's garden, a dog park, a 7,800 square foot lawn, several oak groves, a restaurant, an outdoor performance hall, and an interactive fountain inspired by the shape of a calla lily.

The Park over Woodall Rogers

Wondering how a park of this scope can possibly be constructed over a highway? Here's a FAQ page that explains it all.

Note: a version of my story originally appears in the July 2011 issue of Dallas Modern Luxury magazine on page 66.