After a year of hard work and volunteer energy, a 7-acre parcel of land on the corner of Beechnut and Dairy View has become a community garden, a tree farm, an orchard, a soon to be completed pavilion and a gathering place for residents of all ages. Originally the plan was just to build a community garden but it has grown into a wonderful nature center with its dedication ceremony to be held on November 10th. Karen Loper, chief of staff for Texas State Rep. Hubert Vo and a director on the board of the International Management District, and Barbara Quattro, president of the Alief Super Neighborhood #25 were the organizers of the original garden project.
Loper credits neighborhood volunteers for their help in making the our whole nature center grow, along with collaborative partners like Alief ISD, from whom the property is leased; Alief Super Neighborhood, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, University of Houston School of Architecture, Apache, Trees for Houston, Wells Fargo, Dreyer’s, M2L, Hunter Industries and many other sponsors and volunteers.
On September 17, 2011, 150 volunteers broke ground and wielded shovels to create 41 raised beds, which were fully planted by mid-October. A beneficial garden was completed in December, and in the spring of 2012, the tree farm was created with a grant from Apache. Here, 500 five-gallon trees are being cultivated to 15-gallon size for use in esplanade beautification projects within the International Management District, Loper said. The Alief garden was one of 17 in the country awarded a fruit orchard by Dreyer’s Fruit Bars’ Communities Take Root project this past spring and will receive those trees for planting in October.
The signature element of the nature center is the pavilion which is still under construction. It was designed and is being built by University of Houston architecture students. The $35,000, 20-by-20-foot structure, funded by the SPARK School Park Program, will feature a roof resembling the wings of a butterfly that funnel rainwater into eight rain barrels, benches, crushed granite flooring, and a solar panel to provide power for lights and fans.
Eric Ober, a metal artist and Alief resident, has been commissioned to create a work of outdoor art resembling a gardener and walking trails are also in the plan for the nature center, Loper said.
In addition to providing shade in the park, the pavilion could also provide shelter for a farmer’s market, and may also serve as an outdoor classroom for students from nearby Youngblood Intermediate School who have a stake in two of the garden beds, Loper said.
“There really wasn’t anything out here where people could work and socialize together–different age groups and people from different backgrounds – just neighbors,” she said. “With the garden and the whole nature center, we really tried to bring people together. Our community is one of the most diverse, so wouldn’t it be nice if our projects reflected that?”