Part of what makes Discovery Green so, well, green, is its diverse gardens and ability to bring Houstonians closer to nature right in the heart of downtown. More than ever, people are looking for ways to safely enjoy the outdoors while social distancing. Brian Wilmer, Park Manager & Horticulturist at Discovery Green, shared what makes the plant life at Discovery Green thrive and how Houstonians can make their own gardens flourish at home.
Can you tell us a little bit about the gardens at Discovery Green? What are the different gardens and what sets each apart?
We have a lot of themed gardens: both a butterfly and hummingbird garden, which are designed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and a Texas natives garden with plants only from this region. One of the really popular gardens is the tropical garden, which is super colorful and vibrant. The fragrance garden is also popular because it’s filled with good-smelling plants like rosemary. We also have a lily garden, a white garden with all white flowers, and a rose garden.
What are some of the prettiest blooms at Discovery Green right now?
Roses bloom off and on throughout the year, but they have one bigger bloom during the start of the year because they save up all their energy during the winter and then come out in full bloom in the spring, and they’re glorious. In May, the gardenias in the fragrance garden are going to have their big spring bloom, and it’ll knock your socks off.
How were these flowers chosen for the park, and why are they suited for the climate?
We have 1.2 million visitors a year who walk through the park, so our flowers were chosen for two reasons: to be pretty and to be durable, because they see a lot of foot traffic. Most were picked to be reliably beautiful, day after day.
Which flowers at the Discovery Green gardens can people easily grow at home?
All the plants in Discovery Green are good examples of plants that will be long-lasting in your yard. If you’re looking for roses, all of our roses are shrub roses or antique roses because other types of roses suffer from humidity, which is something everyone knows about in Houston. Azaleas do well at home as well. If you have a dryer location at your home that you can’t get to for watering all the time, a good fit would be a plumbago, which is a very showy, flowery plant. Hibiscus flowers are great either in pots or in the ground.
A lot of plants that we have for foliage could be considered as well. Discovery Green is in the middle of downtown, so we have big banks of native grasses, like Gulf Coast Panicum and Purple Muley. They absorb more carbon than other foliage, which is great for the environment and to grow in your own home garden, especially if you live in the city.
How do you suggest incorporating both foliage and flowers in a home garden?
In gardening, we like to go by the “cake and frosting” theory, which is adding some body, or “cake,” along with the “frosting,” which is all the fun, flowery stuff on top. So you want to include a lot of shrubbery and trees, or the cake, that you put sprinkles of bright colors on top of, which are the flowers. An example of a great “cake plant” is ginger, because it makes everything in front of it look fantastic— it’s also basically indestructible.
More people than ever are gardening as a stay-at-home project right now. Do you have any tips or secrets for growing a thriving home garden?
The number one mistake I see people make is many people don’t realize that unless you buy soil that says it comes pre-mixed with fertilizer, you’ll have to buy plant food to mix with it yourself. The second mistake I see the most is when people do try to mix their own fertilizer in, they put too much.
What’s a good planting project for someone who has never had luck growing anything before?
A great place to start is culinary herbs. They’re fun for kids, you can pick their leaves to wash and cook with, and they grow quickly in the sun. I would start with 6 small plastic pots with holes in the bottom, add some potting soil with fertilizer mixed in, and then plant some basic seeds like rosemary and mint. Put them in the sun on a windowsill and watch them grow. Once they start growing and they come alive, you’ll want to keep going!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to try out their green thumb for the first time?
Something to remember is that small potted plants are temporary and aren’t supposed to live forever, so don’t feel guilty if you mess up or if they come to the end of their natural life cycle—just plant another one! And remember, gardening is about having fun and getting in the sun. If something doesn’t work out, try something else and don’t get discouraged. A lot of people give up and say, “I’m just not good at gardening,” but I say if you’re having fun with it, then you’re good at it!