The first phase of The Gardens at Texas A&M University, the teaching gardens serve as an outdoor classroom where Aggie students and community members can learn about sustainable food production, landscape beauty and the natural environment. As an outdoor laboratory, researchers use the space to explore new ways to protect and enhance the environment.
The site of study sessions, poetry readings and even marriage proposals, it’s a little piece of heaven on a bustling 5,200-acre college campus.
An homage to Texas A&M’s land-grant history as an agricultural college, the teaching gardens offer something for everyone, said Director Cady Auckerman.
“From planting special herbs to study as part of an ethnobotany class, to vet students tracking mosquitos, bioenvironmental science students conducting water and soil testing, landscape architecture students creating potential new garden designs, English students’ poetry readings, kinesiology students having a yoga class, or engineers coming out to hold a creativity workshop, the gardens inspire students of all majors,” she said.
“It’s a living laboratory for horticulture students to prune trees and propagate plants for both commercial and residential applications. Our agronomy students help plant and care for our food and fiber field, growing corn, cotton, wheat, sunflowers and more, right in the heart of campus.”
Researchers are testing different types of irrigation methods to save water, planting test plots of new plant breeds that are in development, and demonstrating different methods of growing water-smart plants. Students also capture and release native fish in the creek to run population estimate models. Additionally, faculty are working with students to study Monarch butterflies and their migration and circadian rhythms. Just a small sampling of the education and research activities happening there.
The teaching gardens, which opened in June 2018, are the first phase in the ever-expanding Gardens at Texas A&M. Phase two is in works – an additional 20-plus acres that will include a family garden, the Grove outdoor gathering space, a restored post oak savannah demonstration, more educational and training spaces, meditation gardens and greenway walking trails to the George H.W. Bush Library & Museum on the west side of campus.
Preserving green space on the 5,200-acre campus is a testament to the university’s land-grant mission, Auckerman said, adding that its use as a community outreach tool fulfills Texas A&M’s commitment to service. “We live the land-grant mission through our community festivals, gardening series, preschool classes and tours offering education and outreach from campus to community,” she said.
And local visitors to the gardens learn that Brazos County soils and water are used, so anything that grows at the gardens can grow at their home.
The effects of green space on human health have been shown in numerous studies to increase longevity and emotional well-being. “The Gardens are not only beautiful, but are also part of Texas A&M’s investment in the physical and mental health of our students and campus community,” Auckerman said. “It’s special to have a place on campus where both spirit and inspiration can bloom.”
A popular study spot and gathering space for group meetings, graduation photos and team-building exercises, the teaching gardens are used in many ways by many people. “It’s wonderful to see how students enjoy the gardens,” Auckerman said. “We had an impromptu ukulele concert one afternoon. I love to see Aggies creating moments and memories at the gardens.”
Beauty With A Purpose
Staff at the gardens hope the space – both beautiful and useful – can serve as a model for universities, communities and other organizations in using beauty of nature to instruct, discover and enhance quality of life for all.