Right off I-45 on Park Place Boulevard is an oasis of nature and art at the Houston Botanic Garden, which has weathered both a pandemic and a devastating freeze with impressive aplomb. This holiday season, you can enjoy this jewel in Southeast Houston either day or night.
On a daytime visit, you’ll be treated to a delightful combination of plants, flowers, trees, and vegetation from all over the globe. Scattered through the grounds are original art installations that range from neon poetry to sculptures of wild birds, ornate fountains made of jade ceramic tiles, and a series of audio and video works.
In collaboration with the Lawndale Art Center, the HBG commissioned a series of sculptures and installations by six Texas artists for an exhibition called Art in the Garden: Celebrating BioDiversity! A work by Lisa LaFleur features neon pink letters mounted against a football field-length wall, a gesture toward concrete poetry and an example of visual art embedded in the natural world. Plants adorn her bright letters, and since the theme is “Mother,” her art dovetails well with the Mother Nature surrounding her piece.
Elsewhere is Texas Bee Oasis II, a work by Jen Rose made of 3,000 hand-sculpted, porcelain bee cups. The formations of buzzing bees emulate small flowers and mushrooms in bloom. It’s not every day that form follows function so seamlessly in a piece. These works live in wooden weather stations in the garden.
The plant life is cleverly arranged, with stools for outdoor classes, and a Corner of Curiosity for more exotic specimens. The Global Collection begins with bursts of purple and red — even in December — and offers a three-acre square of fascinating examples of vegetation from all over the world. There is plenty to see from Texas, but just as Houston is an international city, this collection sees things from an international and global perspective.
It’s fun to travel from Mexico to South Africa, and back to Texas, as you walk around taking it all in. There are vines, banana trees, onyx from Arizona. There are shrimp plants, Chinese button bushes, bamboo, and palm trees of various stripes. There are camellias and roses, agave and yucca. Needless to say, the breadth and depth of the collection is impressive.
In the midst of rocks from the American West, you can see artist Joyce Matula Welch’s sculptures of small birds punctuating the rocks and plants on your path. Another highlight is a digital video by Virginia Lee Montgomery that shows an amazing transformation from cocoon to butterfly juxtaposed with mechanical and modern imagery. All of these works (and another piece is expected soon) connect well, which you’ll notice as you roam the grounds, be it an Upland Forest or a Pollinator Garden.
For an adventure at primetime, after the sun goes down, the HBG offers a wonderful gift of light in their Lightscape holiday presentation. It is a family-friendly, all-ages walk of wonders through the gardens as they are lit up against a big Texas sky.
There are snowflakes on the sidewalk in the form of light installations, and a range of beautiful light configurations and structures created by artists working within the topography of the gardens.
Highlights include the Geoforest and a stunning fire garden, with the blazes seeming to dance with the accompanying Christmas music that plays for each part of the walk. There is something for everyone in this light show: a lighted triangle of trees you can walk through; a garden of huge lighted pink and orange and purple flowers swaying in the Texas breeze; a path filled with thousands of small white lights that feels like you are surrounded by twinkling stars or snowflakes.
Not only was this a peaceful and enjoyable experience, but the music that accompanied each phase of the tour seemed spot-on for the lighted artistry that was before you. A Houston winter wonderland, indeed.
The light show will take place through Jan. 2. Tickets range from $25 to $60 for adults, and start at $18 for children age 3-12. Learn more here.