It was a cold and windy day February 6, 2020 when the Bluebonnet Master Gardener 2020 Training Class toured the Leach Teaching Gardens at Texas A&M University. Nonetheless, the class bundled up in jackets, hats, gloves and winter boots and did not let the blustery day deter their enthusiasm to get out in the gardens.
AgriLife’s Joseph Johnson, Program Manager – The Gardens at Texas A&M University, met the class in the AgriLife building atrium where he gave a brief history of The Gardens and their purpose. He explained that the concept of the overall project, The Gardens at Texas A&M University, is for training, research and to enhance the green space on campus. The Leach Teaching Gardens is Phase I of the 27-acre garden project on Texas A&M campus. The Leach Teaching Gardens, which opened June 15, 2018, encompass seven-acres and are named after lead donors Amy & Tim Leach.
Mr. Johnson explained that each garden section, or “room”, has a theme and is designed in the size of an average urban home’s yard. This way, homeowners who visit the gardens will see design, techniques and plants that can realistically be used in their Texas yards and gardens.
When the gardens were designed, the design criteria required use of the native soil and water rather than bringing in soil or treating the water. As the soil in the area is sandy loam and the water has a high salinity content, this presented special design challenges. One area in the garden that illustrates the challenge with the local water, is where the irrigation system sprays on the lower leaves of some young trees. The salt in the water damages the leaves, especially in warmer temperatures, so the damaged leaves fall off the trees. Eventually the trees will grow tall enough so that the water does not spray the leaves and the trees will survive. Mr. Johnson explained that the teaching point is that a drip irrigation system is so important in the Brazos River Valley area.
The garden areas the class toured included the Earth-Kind garden provided by donations from the Texas Master Gardener Program which includes a rainwater harvesting system, a vegetable garden, a water garden, a butterfly garden, a pollinator garden, a vineyard, bird garden, the Food and Fiber field featuring wheat (corn in warmer months), a peach and plum orchard, the Mexican Heritage Garden celebrating the many plants originally from Mexico that grow well and are common in Texas gardens, sections celebrating Texas’ rich German and Czech heritage and of, course, an Aggie Maroon & White garden.
A special section of the garden was left totally in its native condition as its center piece is a magnificent 200+ year old post oak tree, dubbed the Century Oak. Mr. Johnson explained the measures that taken to protect this special tree from damage during the construction of the rest of the garden and the importance of not disturbing the area around the tree. He explained that that post oak are sensitive trees that do not do well when their environment is disturbed. Nor do they transplant well. He is working with others on a research project to try to develop techniques to grow and transplant post oak so that in the future, areas where post oak are lost due to urbanization and other disturbances to their environment may be replanted.
Although Winter may not be the most robust growing season, a visit to the Leach Teaching Gardens on a cold windy day in February clearly illustrated that Texas gardeners can have beautiful and interesting gardens year around by planning and choosing the proper plants. Many in the tour group expressed desire to come back in the Spring to the gardens again.
The 2020 Bluebonnet Master Gardener Training Class is appreciative of Mr. Johnson’s knowledge about and passion for the Leach Teaching Gardens, and especially grateful for his willingness to bundle-up in winterwear to provide a such a fine informative garden tour on a day most folks would rather stay indoors!
From more information about the Leach Teaching Gardens, visit: https://gardens.tamu.edu/leach-teaching-gardens/