Favorite Places: Discovering Houston's Discovery Green

One of the entrances to Discovery Green, highlighting the connection between nature and the city that the park provides. 

One of the entrances to Discovery Green, highlighting the connection between nature and the city that the park provides. 

A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has nearly everything an urban resident could ask for. Adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center, the beautiful park features open spaces for events, a landscaped jogging trail, a picnic area, public art, a small lake for kayaking and ice skating, a playground, various gardens and fountains, restaurants, a putting green, a shuffleboard court and a seamlessly integrated parking garage, among other features.

Here are a few things to know about Discovery Green. 


Designed by Hargreaves Associates and Lauren Griffith Associates, the park features 11 different landscaped gardens, all with unique themes. There's a butterfly and hummingbird garden, a rose garden, a scensory garden and a tropical garden, among others.

Designed by Hargreaves Associates and Lauren Griffith Associates, the park features 11 different landscaped gardens, all with unique themes. There's a butterfly and hummingbird garden, a rose garden, a scensory garden and a tropical garden, among others.


1. It's been a good investment.

With its landscape designed by leading landscape architectural firm Hargreaves Associates in San Franscisco, the park helped revitalize downtown Houston. While the total cost for land aquisition, development and landscaping reached $125 million, it has lead to $625 million in downtown developments, including a high-end residential tower, the Embassy Suites Hotel and the Hess Tower office development. There's another $1 billion in private hotel, office and housing projects still coming down the pipeline, according to the Discovery Green Conservancy. Not to mention, it's greatly increased the popularity of the George R. Brown Convention Center, attracting large businesses and industries to hold their events in Houston.

"The park has catalyzed development of the east side of downtown, as one surface parkinglot after another has been converted into corporate, residential and entertainment space," wrote Ann Duncan, the park's Chairman of the Board, and Barry Mandel, its president and director, in a letter to the public commemorating the park's 5th anniversary, in 2013.


Park visitors find time during a summer day for a kayak ride on Kinder Lake before a rain storm pushed people back indoors. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Park visitors find time during a summer day for a kayak ride on Kinder Lake before a rain storm pushed people back indoors. Photo by Maria Sprow.


2. It's well-loved.

Before the park opened to the public in 2008, stakeholders believed about 500,000 people would visit the park each year — but the actual numbers have consistently more than doubled that projection. Nowadays, the park hosts more than 600 events each year; the events alone attract an estimated 1.2 million people annually. Events include everything from Zumba classes and parkour training to poetry slams, festivals, flea markets, language classes, movie nights, concerts and city-wide holiday celebrations. "Discovery Green felt like a home away from home to so many people as soon as it was opened," wrote Duncan and Mandel.


Another view of Kinder Lake, showing the George R. Brown Convention Center at right. The convention center area is currently undergoing additional renovations with the creation of Avenida Houston, a 99,000 square foot pedestrian plaza spearheaded by preparations for the 2017 Superbowl. 

Another view of Kinder Lake, showing the George R. Brown Convention Center at right. The convention center area is currently undergoing additional renovations with the creation of Avenida Houston, a 99,000 square foot pedestrian plaza spearheaded by preparations for the 2017 Superbowl. 


3. It was created through a public-private partnership.

Before it was a park, Discovery Green was home to two large, unsightly parking garages and a small green space. Residents considered it an "undeveloped, concrete eyesore." In 2002, the city aquired part of the land, and a group of philanthropists approached the city's mayor about a long-term vision of turning the space into a urban park capable of redefining the city's downtown landscape. By 2004, the city had purchased the rest of the land needed and created the Discovery Green Conservancy non-profit to operate and maintain the park. One of the Conservancy's first jobs was to get public input on the project, an extensive process that included a series of public meetings and focus groups. Today, the park is funded through donations from foundations, companies and individuals, as well as proceeds from revenue-generating events and venues.


Many of the park's areas are separated by shaded paths and lush landscaped gardens, perfect for residents and visitors just wanting to relax during lunch or after work. 

Many of the park's areas are separated by shaded paths and lush landscaped gardens, perfect for residents and visitors just wanting to relax during lunch or after work. 


4. The park includes several public art installations

Public art is an important component of Discovery Green, helping shape visitor's interactions and experiences with the park. While Discovery Green does have seasonal and visiting installations, there are several long-term, permanent pieces the park is most known for. 

Perhaps the park's most famous public art installation, Monument au Fantome is a 33-foot-tall, free-form red, white and blue structure adjacent to the convention center. Its form and pieces mimic parts of an imaginary city, including a church, a dog and a tree. It was created by Jean Dubuffet, an internationally reknowned French sculptor who passed away in 1985. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Perhaps the park's most famous public art installation, Monument au Fantome is a 33-foot-tall, free-form red, white and blue structure adjacent to the convention center. Its form and pieces mimic parts of an imaginary city, including a church, a dog and a tree. It was created by Jean Dubuffet, an internationally reknowned French sculptor who passed away in 1985. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Possibly the most photographed installations in the park, the Synchronicity of Color art boxes were commissioned by the Discovery Green Conservancy to add color to the park and connect the underground parking garage pedestrian entrances to the park. They were designed by Margo Sawyer, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin who was involved with the park's master planning. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Possibly the most photographed installations in the park, the Synchronicity of Color art boxes were commissioned by the Discovery Green Conservancy to add color to the park and connect the underground parking garage pedestrian entrances to the park. They were designed by Margo Sawyer, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin who was involved with the park's master planning. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Consisting of two large, curved limestone circles placed approximately 70 feet from each other, the Listening Vessels act as sound reflectors so that visitors sitting in front of one vessel can hear the whispers of visitors sitting in front of the other. They were created by structural artist Douglas Hollis, who was inspired by natural landscapes and wind and water activated sound structures that could help extend human senses. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Consisting of two large, curved limestone circles placed approximately 70 feet from each other, the Listening Vessels act as sound reflectors so that visitors sitting in front of one vessel can hear the whispers of visitors sitting in front of the other. They were created by structural artist Douglas Hollis, who was inspired by natural landscapes and wind and water activated sound structures that could help extend human senses. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Created by American pop artist Jim Dine in 1983, The House (Heart) is a heart-shaped bronze cast featuring hand markings and the tools it takes to build a home: hammers, axes, a saw, a brick, a mallet. The tools link the present to the past and the work we do with our hands to our humanity. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Created by American pop artist Jim Dine in 1983, The House (Heart) is a heart-shaped bronze cast featuring hand markings and the tools it takes to build a home: hammers, axes, a saw, a brick, a mallet. The tools link the present to the past and the work we do with our hands to our humanity. Photo by Maria Sprow.


Residents enjoy the shade provided by Oak Allee, a cooridor of 100-year-old heritage oaks that connects the George R. Convention Center to the rest of downtown. Photo by Maria Sprow.

Residents enjoy the shade provided by Oak Allee, a cooridor of 100-year-old heritage oaks that connects the George R. Convention Center to the rest of downtown. Photo by Maria Sprow.


5. Discovery Green is Green

When they first began planning Discovery Green, stakeholders made the decision to follow environmental best practices for construction, sustainability, water efficiency, energy conversation, material procurement, and more. The park is powered by 100 percent clean and renewable energy — including wind and solar — and uses recycled groundwater to fill its lake. The park's innovations and attention to environmental stewardship earned it a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Perennial Plant Association Southern Symposium to Discuss Sustainability Issues

Register Now for the Oct. 7 Conference in Dallas

A field of dahlias. Photo from Pixabay.

A field of dahlias. Photo from Pixabay.

The Perennial Plant Association (PPA)  Southern Symposium is right around the corner! Landscape designers and contractors, plant growers, garden center retailers and others can benefit from attending the Oct. 7 conference, which will focus on landscape sustainability issues and navigating extreme weather conditions.

The 2nd Annual Southern Symposium takes place at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden's Rosine Hall. Seating is limited, so those who want to attend should register today, or by Oct. 3 at the latest. 

The day will start with speaker Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who will discuss native perennial plants and their different uses in the landscape. Attendees will also get an update on Rose Rosette disease from Texas A & M University Associate Professor and Plant Pathologist Dr. Kevin Ong and hear from Susan Martin, the owner of Gardener Sue's News, about perennial plant benefits that go beyond eye candy, and how to market those benefits to customers and clients. Jenny Wegley, the botanical garden's director of horticulture, will give a lunchtime tour of the tripeaceal gardens. Afterward, Peace Tree Farm Owner Lloyd Traven will share his knowledge of the difference between and meaning of sustainabile, organic, Certified Organic and other gardening labels. The day will finish with Kelly Norris, the author of Plants With Style and the director of horticulture at Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, discussing stylish plant alternatives. 

Industry Continuing Education Units are Available from the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and the National Association of Landscape Professionals. 

The cost to attend is $99 for PPA members, $50 for industry students and $149 for non-members. Symposium sponsors include Local Plant Source, Halleck Horticultural, North Haven Gardens, Living Earth, Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, Eason Horticultural Resources Inc. and Southwest Perennials Inc. More more information, contact Leslie Halleck at info@lesliehalleck.com. 

The Perennial Plant Association also has regional symposiums in or near Columbus, Baltimore, Chicago and Boston. For more information on those symposiums and other events, visit www.perennialplant.org

Six Reasons Why the Future is Bright (and Green!) for the Commercial Landscaping Industry

Photo by Maria Sprow.

Photo by Maria Sprow.

It’s an election year, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s marketplace. While the economy is slowly plodding along, we don’t know exactly where we’re going to be a year from now, we don’t know when the next recession will hit, we don’t know how new technologies will continue to effect the job market.

“Because of uncertainty, there are many firms in the Green Industry today that are kind of content with the status quo. They may be holding back on investment,” said economist Charlie Hall, a professor with the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, during his mid-year economic outlook. “You’ve got a situation where folks are very reluctant to pull that trigger on making strategic investments in their business.”

But it’s important to take that uncertainty with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of opportunities and good news coming for horticultural industries. In fact, while times might be uncertain now, the future is bright — and green — thanks to a variety of factors coming into play.

1. Immigration Views are Changing.

Though current political rhetoric regarding immigration is divisive, polls now show that most American views on immigration are more inclusive. Even more conservative polls show that the vast majority of Americans are against mass deportation of illegal immigrants, and roughly 60 percent oppose building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. That’s good news, because our future economy and housing market will rely heavily on immigration. In fact, by 2028, most American cities will look like today’s Houston, ethnically-speaking.

“A lot of our population growth over the next 20 years is related to our immigration policy. We need that population growth. You only have to look at Russia, the former Soviet Union, to see how that entire economy unraveled because of demographics. … They didn’t have enough young people for their infrastructure,” Hall said, adding that the same thing could happen here were we to close our borders. “The strongest growth in our economy occurs with comprehensive immigration reform.”

2. Millennials Are Growing Up.

Our country’s 77 million Baby Boomers have been retiring for years now, and are continuing to retire at the rate of about 10,000 per day. For years, this has caused a bit of a slump for our industry, as Boomers have been influencing our industry since the 1950s. As Boomers have left the workforce, we’ve leaned on Generation Xers as our main customer base — but there are 11 million fewer of them, which has decreased the size of our market.

Fortunately, there are 92 million Millennials, all of who are now finally reaching adulthood, and the oldest of who are 35 years old. Millennials are the most debt-saddled generation in history — having taken on $1.3 trillion in student loan debt — and they are buying homes and starting families later in life than their predecessors. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t buying homes, or that they even need to buy to influence the industry.

3. Millennial Values Are Green.

There’s a lot to be said about the ways in which Millennials are different from the generations before them — and many of those differences are positive for the commercial landscaping industry and green industries. They support businesses committed to social and environmental causes. They’ve shown an affinity toward both edible gardening and environmental conservation. Millennials want to live in more urban environments, which might mean fewer home sales. But they also value walkable cities and shared experiences, so it also means more parks and better public spaces.

Millennials, accustomed to the conveniences afforded to them by technology, also want to be able to work from anywhere — whether it’s from home, in a shared co-working space, in a park, or elsewhere. Businesses wanting to attract Millennials must invest in their beautifying, improving and greening their work spaces, as shown by progressive companies such as Amazon and Google. Basically, Millennials value work-life balance and have shown that they are willing to spend their money on experiences that improve their quality of life, or the quality of the world.

 4. Studies Show Quality of Life Benefits

Researchers during the last decade have produced study after study showing just how important trees, plants, green landscaping and access to nature is to our quality of life. Not only is landscaping beautiful and relaxing, but studies have shown that trees and plants in urban settings promote exercise and community-building by encouraging people to go outdoors and providing shade in summer months. Other studies have shown that walking in a more natural setting decreases more stress than walking in a setting without trees and plants.

In fact, you don’t even have to go outdoors to reap the benefits from trees and green spaces; studies have shown that just looking at nature — trees, flowers, water — for a few minutes reduces anger, anxiety, blood pressure and muscle tension. Green spaces around inner-city Chicago apartment complexes have been shown to reduce violent crime by 56 percent. Trees along streets reduce noise from traffic, speeding and road rage. In hospitals, patients who are placed in rooms with a view of trees and green spaces have shortened post-operative stays than patients without those views. In workplaces, biophillic-based landscapes can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction. One study showed that “10 percent of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with no connection to nature.” And for students, exposure to trees and green spaces can reduce ADHD and improve standardized testing results, among other benefits.

5. Landscaping Opportunities are Skyrocketing

When our industry first started, landscaping was largely a residential pursuit as homeowners wanted to maintain and improve their yards. But social changes and technological and scientific advances in the industry now allow us to create green spaces and infrastructures in spaces that have traditionally been hardscaped: office complexes, transportation corridors, shopping and retail complexes are all now reaping the benefits of greenspaces. Not only that, but we’re no longer limited to landscaping along the horizon. Green walls and green roofs allow for landscaping in more compact and vertical spaces, and visionary designers and architects are using those technologies and advancements to create self-sustainable, energy-producing structures that will redefine the way we live.

 6. The World Needs Us

Incorporating trees and plants into urban and commercial landscapes obviously helps improves air and water quality. Not only do trees store carbon dioxide, our primary greenhouse gas, in their stems and leaves until it is released again as oxygen, but a mature tree can also absorb up to 240 pounds of air pollution particles — dirt, dust and soot — each year.  Of course, our growing urban populations require more trees; it takes two medium-sized trees to release enough oxygen for one person.

But trees, plants and sustainable landscaping are good for solving other environment-related problems, too. A mature tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water during a large storm, and more water can be absorbed by neighboring plants and soil, making softscapes and green infrastructure essential in urban areas that experience stormwater run-off and flooding. Sustainable landscaping and green infrastructure can also decrease energy costs, reduce soil erosion, increase biodiversity and create wildlife habitats.

Uncertainty Is Opportunity 

Commercial landscaping companies should be looking forward to the future — but the future is already here. Despite the economic uncertainty, more people are taking on mortgage debt and people are spending more today than they did prior to the recession. "People will buy health and well-being," Hall said. "People afford the things they want." 

"I tend to view uncertainty not just as inertia, but I think it's a time for opportunity," Hall said during is mid-year economic outlook, adding that 25 percent of people have paid for landscaping services already — meaning that the industry has the potential to quadruple when the other 75 percent begin making purchases.

But the industry does have some marketing work to do to show and educate people on the massive difference between what a world with landscaping looks like and what a world without it looks like. 

"We are in the quality-of-life business. We have just been the last to tell people," Hall said during a breakout session at the Texas Nursery and Landscaping Association's Nursery/Landscape Expo. "The medical field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. The architectural field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. We are the last people tell people how great we are. We are going to have to change that a little bit."