DALLAS - We walk up the winding staircase in the old DeGolyer mansion and push open a door at the top of the stairs.
The room behind the door features deep windows which look out on the mansion’s rolling lawn that sweeps down majestically to White Rock Lake.
Books, papers and scale models fill the room.
At first, we don’t see Mary Brinegar sitting behind her desk, but she sees us.
The president of the Dallas Arboretum offers us a hearty “welcome” in a southern accent as sweet as the sugary desert she is finishing during another hurried lunch.
“I’m so glad you dropped by,” says the elegant woman who presides over America’s Garden of Eden – a 66-acre floral paradise that welcomes over 600,000 visitors a year and whose lush grounds are always carpeted in a quilt of colours thanks to the countless flower beds that fill every corner of the magical park.
Brinegar steps from behind the desk to tell us the mansion we are standing in and whose walls are decorated with Andy Warhol originals was built by the late oilman Everette DeGolyer in 1940. The house, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of two grand homes located on the arboretum grounds – Camp House is the other. Both were purchased by the city and included in the grand plan for the botanical gardens, which opened in 1982.
Left: The Arboretum is always flush with flowers. Middle: The Woman’s Garden is especially beautiful. Right: On-site home is a real southern beauty.
“You should have been here last week. Our annual spring Dallas Blooms event was on and the flowers were just beautiful this year,” beams Madame President.
Dallas Blooms, which has been running now for 27 years, is the arboretum’s biggest event, attracting well over 100,000 people annually. The flower lovers come to marvel at the sea of tulips that spring to life here each year – 6,000 Laura Bush Tulips, named after the wife of President George Bush the Younger, highlighted this year’s event.
“You can have a tulip named after yourself, too,” says Brinegar with a twinkle in her eye. “But it will cost you (between $25,000 and $50,000 U.S. I’m told later).”
The Laura Bush variety was just part of the 500,000 tulips featured in this year’s show, which also included 100,000 spring annuals and perennials along with azaleas and other spring flowers native to the southwest.
A member of our small group notices what looks like a scale model of the park sitting off to one side of the office. Brinegar appears pleased with our finding.
“This is actually a scale model of our new Children’s Adventure Garden which will open in 2013,” says a beaming Brinegar who is spearheading the ambitious $50 million project that will introduce kids – from toddlers to teens - to the wonders of nature.
“I’m so excited about this garden because children will finally have a place to come and see the role nature plays in their lives,” says the grandmotherly lady. “This is where they will learn that plants and trees are living, breathing things just like them. This is where they will learn to appreciate nature and see that when they harm nature, they harm themselves.
“And the amazing design allows them to interact with nature and have fun at the same time,” says the president about the multi-leveled garden that will be spread over seven acres and will include waterfalls, ponds, a tree walk and outdoor learning stations.
The arboretum is already used widely by Dallas teachers as an outdoor classroom and each year about 25,000 youngsters pass through the park’s gates. And this arboretum truly caters to kids with its annual Easter and pumpkin events as well as other displays that keep the kids wanting to come back. This summer’s highlight will be Peter Rabbit’s Flower Village which runs from May 1 to July 31 and will see the park’s Pecan Grove transformed into a floral village populated by characters from the Beatrix Potter’s stories.
Left: The grounds of the arboretum even feature waterfalls. Right: The Dallas Blooms event in spring is the arboretum’s biggest.
The DeGolyer mansion is often used as a reception hall for one of the 300 weddings held annually at the Dallas Arboretum and its lovely rooms and stone patio make perfect backdrops for wedding photos.
The park also hosts a number of evening concerts between April-July and September-October which have become a favourite with locals and visitors alike.
Brinegar especially likes the park’s annual pumpkin festival when an entire orange village is created for the delight of families.
But Brinegar doesn’t take credit for creating the magical floral displays that highlight the arboretum’s annual events. That honour goes to Jimmy Turner, a former pastry chef who traded in his apron for overalls a few years ago to become the arboretum’s Senior Director of Gardens. Now Turner lets his creative genius loose on a much bigger scale. And the results of his creativity are truly amazing.
“Whether its cakes or lawns, it’s much the same when it comes to making things look good,” says the likeable Turner when we track him down later while he’s negotiating with a Russian carriage maker about the park’s newest prop.
The carriage the Russian is making for the arboretum will be used in the Cinderella display at this year’s Pumpkin Festival – the cherry on top of the event’s cake, so to speak.
“We wanted a royal carriage for the event and I know Russians have a history of making royal carriages (from the days of the czars) so we contacted one and he’s well on his way to completing the job,” says the jovial Turner, who adds that the fairytale carriage will also be used for wedding events in the future.
But the thing Turner and Brinegar appear most proud of is the fact that the Dallas Arboretum has become a testing ground for flowers – even the Dutch are using the facility to test drive new varieties of tulips.
In all, the arboretum features 14 gardens – the Woman’s Garden at the back of the DeGolyer mansion, with its reflecting pools, statues and uninterrupted views of placid White Rock Lake was my favourite.
And new gardens, like the children’s facility and the Nancy Rutchik Red Maple Rill that will feature 80 varieties of Japanese Maples, are always being added.
Every major world city has grand gardens – Paris has the Luxemburg Gardens, London has Kew Gardens, Holland the Keukenhof Gardens, Singapore has its spectacular Botanic Gardens – but few compare to Dallas’ Arboretum.
There’s always magic in the air here – and it’s thanks to the Dallas Arboretum.
Just the Facts
· Over the 27 years of Dallas Blooms, 4,785,346 spring-blooming bulbs have been planted.
· The arboretum featured seven fairytale castles for its Dallas Blooms event this year.
· The Dallas Arboretum boasts a membership of 22,000.
· The Dallas Arboretum is located a short drive from downtown.
· The arboretum’s website, www.dallasarboretum.org is one of the most delightful on the Internet.
· The arboretum counts on volunteers to help keep costs in check and 500 stood up to be counted for this year’s Dallas Blooms.
· Over 10,000 children attended Dallas Blooms this year.
· Air Canada and United operate a co-share flight daily from Toronto to Dallas.