TWU Greenhouse and Gardens
A University and community landmark, the TWU Greenhouse and Gardens have developed in tandem with the University which holds them. Built in 1918, the Greenhouse was the anchor of a vibrant rural arts program which used the current site of the Gardens as a hog farm and peach orchard. In 1930, the Exterior Beautification Committee of Texas Woman’s University set out to convert this patch of land into a series of gardens that would become famous throughout the nation. The Gardens became overgrown and neglected after World War II; fortunately, President Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey undertook an extensive restoration effort. The future site of a butterfly refuge, and a popular spot for weddings and events, the Greenhouse and Gardens continue to be both an educational tool for the University and a popular refuge for students and the community.
Backstory and Context
The Greenhouse and Gardens have a long history that coincides with the history of Texas Woman’s University (TWU) itself. Originally the site of an orchard and vegetable garden, the Gardens have grown with the University to reach national significance. The purpose and goals of the Greenhouse and Gardens are continually changing to meet the needs and challenges of both the University and the wider community.
In its early days, more than half of TWU’s (then known as the College of Industrial Arts) students came from rural areas. Because of this, the University had a robust Rural Arts Program. The area that now contains the Gardens was set aside for the program’s use. In 1918, the Greenhouse was built, and in 1920 the University built a one-story rural arts building connected to the Greenhouse. A working site, the program maintained a poultry flock and a pig farm near the Greenhouse. The area that now contains the gardens originally consisted of a home garden, small fruits, and orchard.
In 1930, a faculty committee composed of Willie Birge, Fred Westcourt, and Mary Marshall began the arduous task of converting the old site of the pig pens and peach orchard to the gardens we see today. The Exterior Beautification Committee started with a pound and a half of flower seeds and plants from around the campus. Bedding plants were grown in the Greenhouse by the students of Westcourt and Birge. The Committee intended the Gardens to be a showcase of the many different types of native Texas plants. By 1935, the garden held more than three hundred native Texas flowers and plants. A rock garden, completed in 1932, added to the Garden’s beauty. From the start, The gardens served both a practical and aesthetic purpose; It served as a lab for biology students and as a refuge for garden lovers.
The Gardens continued to grow in beauty and stature and eventually gained a national reputation. The fame of the gardens allowed the university to host yearly garden conferences. However, the Gardens became neglected and overgrown after World War II. At the start of her presidency in 1976, Dr. Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey sought to reverse this decline. On January 4, 1977, the University announced that a committee would be established to restore the gardens to their former glory. From the outset, this was a community project. The Rainey Greenhouse (a local business in Denton) donated one hundred dollars worth of bedding plants to help get the project underway. Alumnae and others wrote Blagg-Huey letters of support that contained their memories of the gardens and sent donations for the project. In the course of restoring the gardens, cleanup crews rediscovered original structures such as ponds, rock gardens, and watercourses. The restoration of the Gardens proved to be an unmitigated success. Once again, the Gardens achieved state and national prominence. Recognized by Governor William P. Clements, in April 1980 he designated the TWU Gardens as a wildflower preserve.
The Greenhouse and Gardens have continued to grow and change with the university. Dr. Jeffrey Robb, a Professor in the Department of History and Government and an expert in the study of butterflies and their environment, spearheaded an effort to add a butterfly sanctuary to the Gardens. In 2017, the Butterfly Advisory Committee obtained a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Dr. Bette Myers Butterfly Garden will serve as a sanctuary for butterflies and be used as an educational tool for both University students and the community.
We can expect the Greenhouse and Gardens to continue to evolve while remaining true to their original purpose as an educational tool and a quiet place for students and community members to enjoy. They are also a popular spot for community weddings and events.
"A Modern Tula! Definite Cultural Institution of the Southwest." Southern Home and Garden, January, 1942.
Blagg-Huey, Mary Evelyn. The University Gardens. Denton County. . Accessed January 18, 2019.
Blagg-Huey, Mary Evelyn. Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey to Ivy Chollar Miara, September 2, 1977. The Woman's Collection at TWU.
Blagg-Huey, Mary Evelyn. Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey to W.V. Rainey, March 10,1977. The Woman's Collection at TWU.
Greenhouse and Gardens. Little Chapel in the Woods and Gardens Wedding Venue. . Accessed February 25, 2019. https://twuspecialevents.com/greenhouse-and-gardens/.
Headley, Johnna. EPA Grant Aids in Development of Pollinator Gardens. The Lasso. March 01, 2017. Accessed February 25, 2019. https://www.twulasso.com/epa-grant-aids-development-pollinator-gardens/.
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Texas Woman's University (1977). News Release. The Woman's Collection at TWU.