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Spend Mother's Day at new orchid conservatory, Botanical Gardens

Samuel Jones proudly stands in the newly opened orchid conservatory which is named for him at the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. Staff Photo

Mom's are free throughout Mother's Day weekend May 8-10 at the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center. May 8 is also National Public Gardens Day. Instead of bringing flowers to your mom, bring her to the flowers! Here's just a little bit of what she will see!

NEW ORCHID CONSERVATORY OPENS

Two decades in the making, the staff, board of directors and volunteers at the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center recently and proudly announced the opening of the new Samuel Jones Orchid Conservatory.

The orchid exhibit has been a popular feature at the botanical gardens since Sam Jones first began cultivating the collection more than 20 years ago. In 1996 — as a young man in his 70s, he says — Jones built the original wooden structure that first housed the orchids.

Since that time, the collection has grown to include more than 2,000 orchids and 25 different species.

“Through the efforts of Sam and other dedicated volunteers, the orchid collection had simply outgrown its original home,” said Michael Womack, executive director of the botanical gardens.

Now, at the age of 90, Jones continues to volunteer several hours each morning to care for the collection. He and a team of 15 regular volunteers helped oversee the transition of the seemingly delicate blossoms to their new home.

And what a home it is.

The facility consists of two greenhouses, each measuring 1,800 square feet. One greenhouse showcases the collection and is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The adjacent greenhouse serves as a production and overflow facility.

The structures feature an innovative design specifically tailored to create an environment where orchids will thrive. This includes 14-foot sidewalls to provide an open, airy feel and allow heat to rise away from the blooms and leaves. The facilities also are equipped with ventilation fans to draw out the heat.

“We made several modifications to the greenhouses to compensate for the excessive heat during the South Texas summers,” Womack said.

While the new conservatory is open to the public, a grand opening ceremony is set for later this spring.

FLOWER POWER

Part of the mission of the botanical gardens is to educate the public about orchids and how to grow them. Jones holds a class for anyone interested in the subject on the first Thursday of every month.

Womack explained that the biggest misconception about orchids is they are delicate plants that are hard to grow.

“People tend to take too good of care of orchids and simply baby them to death,” he said. “We overwater them and tend to work on them too much.”

He explained that orchids do best when allowed to dry out after a watering and be root-bound as they would be in nature.

The new orchid conservatory is just one component of the additions included in the master plan of the botanical gardens. The foundation for a new rainforest greenhouse has been laid. It will replicate a rainforest environment complete with parrots, reptiles and a fog system to mimic the habitat’s natural humidity. Funding to complete this project is still needed, Womack said.

The center welcomes people interested in volunteering, Womack said, and is in particular need of docents who can enrich the experience for visitors by providing information about the different exhibits.

Located at 8545 S. Staples St., the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission is $7 for ages 13-59 and middle and high school students; $6 for ages 60 and older, active military and college students; and $3 for ages 3-12. Children 2 and younger are admitted free with a paid adult. Membership forms also are available at stxbot.org.

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