Since opening in late 2014, the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens has become one of Houston's most alluring attractions: At the end of a long, neatly-trimmed green surrounded on all sides by flowers, a 30-foot-high ziggurat rises over a cascading waterfall, offering 360-degree views of Hermann Park, the Museum District and beyond. Like the reinvigorated park around it, as well as other notable civic treasures like Discovery Green, Buffalo Bayou Park and the Houston Zoo, the Hermann Park Conservancy and its McGovern Centennial Gardens resulted from private fundraising efforts that continue to look for innovative ways to "green" the city and get Houstonians outdoors.
But like all public-private partnerships, the Hermann Park Conservancy that manages the McGovern Centennial Gardens and the older—yet no less alluring—Japanese Garden needs public support to keep things green.
"In 2002, the Conservancy commissioned a study to determine the Park’s maintenance needs and identified an annual 20,000 hour gap in what the Parks and Recreation Department is able to provide and what the Park needs to be properly preserved," says Kimina Jamison, volunteer coordinator for the McGovern Centennial Gardens. "Each year since then, the Conservancy Volunteer Department has worked to successfully close this gap by overseeing 20,000 hours plus of volunteer work."
This Saturday morning, the Conservancy is holding a volunteer orientation session for Houstonians who want to help with the upkeep of the city's oldest park. (And after this week's weather, you know the park will need it.) The orientation kicks off at 9:30 a.m. with a short history of Hermann Park and details of various volunteer opportunities within. Afterwards, you'll enjoy a short scavenger hunt and tour of the McGovern Centennial Gardens. Volunteers who want to stay and get started are invited to do so from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., but are asked to wear sunscreen, long pants and closed-toe shoes and bring a bottle of water; gardening is hot, sweaty work, y'all.
"The Conservancy’s dedicated garden volunteers help pull weeds, trim plants, deadhead roses, spread mulch, or complete other related tasks," says Jamison. And if you're unable to perform that kind of physical labor, don't fret—there's still assistance you can provide. "Garden greeters are also needed to help answer visitor’s questions."
Another orientation session will be held next Thursday, January 26 from 3 to 4 p.m. Once orientation is over, volunteers have the option of working shifts in the McGovern Centennial Gardens on Wednesday or Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers who want to help in the Japanese Garden are also invited to work shifts on Thursday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m.
One of the reasons our famously philanthropic city excels at public-private partnerships is the public's willingness to get involved, whether donating their time or money. "Volunteers are crucial to maintaining and improving the health of Hermann Park," says Jamison. Thankfully, Houston has no shortage of helping hands.