Monday at Mercer

This is the Monkey Princess immediately before she came to me with her sweater drenched in fountain water.  I went with an old friend, her kiddos, and the two spawn that are not in school yet to Mercer Arboretum today.

In the late 1940s, Thelma and Charles Mercer purchased a beautiful 14.5 acre tract of natural land along Cypress Creek. Thelma was an avid horticulturist, and she and Charles did much of the initial selective clearing to make space for some of her favorite native trees that included dogwoods, rusty black-haw viburnum, several species of hawthorns, plus many others. Thelma also planted large camellias that are still seen throughout the central gardens. She also introduced many other plant species, such as camphor, Ginkgo, Bauhinia, Philadelphus and tung oil that naturalized and are still growing beautifully.When it came time for the Mercers to retire, they could not bear the thought of a developer bulldozing their “paradise.” So, in 1974, they convinced Harris County to purchase their original 14.5 acre tract with the stipulation that it would grow and be maintained as an educational and horticultural facility for the public’s enjoyment.

If you are in the Houston area or are planning a visit, this is one attraction that is seldom heard about – they have zero marketing budget, but well worth the time it takes to explore.  Oh, and it’s free!  The flora is particularly impressive in the late spring and early summer, though Arboretum staff ensures there is something blooming throughout the year.  Today’s visit was lovely and the weather perfect.

We saw tulip trees, camellias, azaleas, petunias, a stunning Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum) and a number of gorgeous redbud trees coated in lavender blooms.  My friend is a Texan living and raising children in France and truly appreciated the mild weather and spring flowers.  Also sighted in full bloom:

You Texans know what that is, I hope?

In addition to the cardinals, mourning doves, turtles, and Japanese koi, we also happened upon this guy sunning himself over past the turtle pond – a broad banded water snake.  He’s nonvenomous and was really lazy today – though we could see him breathing, he didn’t move an inch with six people staring at him, screeching, and taking pictures.  He has a cloudy eye and his scales were pale and dull which probably means he’s getting ready to shed his skin, having grown since the last wardrobe change.  Fascinating.

If you are looking for something relaxing to do on Spring Break or just want to unplug for an afternoon, this is definitely the place to do it.  I plan to take the entire horde soon and try out the playground.

And last but not least, you will want to bring snacks for the turtles.  The adorable red-eared sliders that live in the turtle swankienda (the pond shown here) are accustomed to regular offerings from the visitors (may I suggest Goldfish Crackers) and will hover around you in anticipation – you won’t want to be empty-handed in the face of such cuteness, trust me.


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