Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SHANGRI LA BOTANICAL GARDENS & NATURE CENTER


In late May 2009 I made a trip to the new SHANGRI LA Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Orange, Texas to see what it was all about. Orange Texas is situated just a few miles west of the Texas Louisiana border in the far southeastern corner of the state of Texas. The Shangri La facility sits on 252 preserved acres and is now run by a non-profit organization. There are educational boat trips along the Adams Bayou to view the interior of the bayou preserve from boats and boardwalks. I didn't take the boat trip on this visit but I did walk the garden trails and I was significantly impressed enough to blog about here on my nature forum. Shagri La had been listed as one of the field trips on the Texas Native Plant Society's 2008 symposium. Since I missed that event I had promised myself to keep the listing of recommended sites and visit at least some of the areas they highlighted when I got a chance. Upon arriving I was surprised to learn they had recently been chosen as a Top 10 World Green Project by the American Institute of Architecture. I'm not usually too impressed by man-made garden centers as I prefer natural and wilderness settings, but I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed their main focus was on wetlands conservation and education and a native bayou experience. It was really refreshing to see this new nature center incorporating the existing wetlands on the property and preserving the wildlife habitat already there. They pretty much built this facility around a preserved bayou area and one of the main focal points was the walking trail out to the bird observation blind. Nice!
The natural landscaping began right from the parking lot area where the short stroll along the walkway led past native beds of woodland plants and leaf litter providing an example of native piney woods this area is known for.

After the visitor entrance and main educational buildings there was pathways through various themed gardens like the Children's Garden, Line Garden, Color Garden, etc... Even for adults a walk through the Children's Garden was pretty impressive. This area was all about sensory gardening! Little handmade signs encouraged younger visitors to see, touch, smell, listen, and even taste a variety of botanical friends growing in raised beds at perfect 'kid height'. Really spectacular rows of blue bottle trees with hanging bird house gourds were amazing and they just burst with color everywhere! Martin house condos were erected in a long line suspended high overhead on sturdy support structures. Even on this overcast day it was quite a sensory experience to stroll through this section and it was definitely not just for children!














...we passed through an Epiphyte greenhouse with Spanish Moss draped down from tree branches and a curvy path leading past some gorgeous specimens of orchids and other tropical bloomers....






...A couple of frog lily ponds.............












...and the interior of the courtyard which was made up of WETLAND squares! What a unique concept! Right next to the picnic/concession areas were square pockets of wetlands with native wetland plants growing in them! How's that for an intimate experience with a wetland environment?...





...In fact, I think the central theme here was wetlands, bayou country, and waterways and I can see how it earned the respect of the architectural community. They had these cute little flowing water trough canals connecting one garden section to another throughout.....

















...many native Texas plant selections and adapted plants as well along the pathways...........



















...but the best part came at the HERONRY!....


...After turning down the path away from the garden areas, the trail veered off through more natural terrain and past more mossy-covered bayous and Cypress trees with their knobby knees jutting out from watery depths. Even before reaching the 'Heronry Blind' sign I could hear distinct sounds of water birds - and it sounded like there was A LOT of them in there somewhere!

We headed past the sign and into this little outpost building which was really a specially designed observation blind! You could gently lower certain board slats in order to observe the nesting birds out in the bayou without disturbing them too much!

I thought this was really cool and I'd never seen anything like it set up for the public to observe bird behaviors in a natural setting before. I was pretty impressed with this part and it really stole the show and sold me on this new Shangri La nature education facility.























This seemed to be a very popular part of the tour as there were people in and out of the blind cabin commenting on how beautiful the birds were the whole time I was there. This was part of the old bayou that had been here for years and served as a hatchery and nesting area for several species of heron. The nature center had now acquired the land and preserved the existing bayou, incorporating it into their exhibit! Neat huh? They made this section into a birding observation and education area for the public! What a great way to help local residents realize the importance of something they might see right in their own backyards everyday, and a great way to help visitors from other areas understand and experience the coastal bayous of south Texas up close and personal!

I don't know if I've ever been as close to a Roseate Spoonbill in the wild as I was here, and I'm sure I've never witnessed the nesting behaviors as closely as I was able to do on this day. A Snowy Egret carefully pruned while the nestlings sat patiently waiting in the precariously balanced bundle of twigs for a nest. The Roseate male defended his mate sitting on the nest from other birds and the constant chatter of bird communications filled the air as we all watched in awe of these magnificent creatures and wondered how those big birds managed to successfully nest on those skimpy bare branches. With the small slats in the cabin only occasionally opening and closing, the birds didn't seem bothered at all by the human presence close by. I hope they can keep it that way as more and more people travel here to visit the gardens. It certainly looks as if they are on the right track and I would recommend a stop here if you are traveling the I-10 corridor between the Louisiana and Texas border. It is only a short 2 or 3 mile drive off the hwy. and well worth the effort. For more information you can visit their website at:

http://www.shangrilagardens.org/






video video

8 comments:

Ann said...

I am one of the lucky ones to live in Orange and be able to take advantage of the gardens during all seasons. After three hurricanes in the last four years, it is amazing to see how the Stark Foundation has adapted their garden plans in response to massive tree loss and floods.

ADVENTURES IN NATURE said...

Hi Ann, how interesting that you live in Orange and you found my post on Shangri La! I wish I could have taken the boat ride into the interior of the preserve. I planning to do that this winter or fall when it is cooler and not so many mosquitos! Glad you saw the post since you are a local! Lucky you to have all that beautiful bayou country to explore everyday. Thanks for the comment!

Jim Miller said...

What a great virtual tour! Almost as good as visiting first hand which I certainly intend to do one of these days. Thanks for sharing.

ADVENTURES IN NATURE said...

Thanks for the comment! I think a first-hand trip would be much better - I didn't get to do the boat ride down the bayou and into to preserve, and there's lots of sections I just didn't have space to report on...it is worth the effort if you are anywhere nearby!

Johnny said...

Nice coverage! I hadn't heard of the Center – think I’ll plan a trip over sometime in the fall…

troutbirder said...

What a wonderful looking preserve. I adding it to my list of To Visit Places. Thanks

ADVENTURES IN NATURE said...

Hi Troutbirder!

Yes, it really is a jewel hidden in Orange, TX, just over the border from LA. It was worth the stop!

thomas peter said...

The natural landscaping began right from the parking lot area where the short stroll along the walkway led past native beds of woodland plants..native wetland plants