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History & Development Narrative

(updated 06/2014)

The Corpus Christi Botanical Society, Inc., formed in 1983, was a grass-roots effort by a small group of horticulturally inclined citizens.  Opening in 1987, the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens, included a preliminary one-acre “cottage” garden, small farmhouse Information Center and a nature trail--through 1995.   

In early 1996, the Botanical Gardens officially opened its 180-acre permanent site at 8545 S. Staples, rich with preserved natural wetlands and pristine natural habitat along Oso Creek.  Significant by-laws changes occurred in 1999.  The Botanical Society changed its corporation name to the Botanical & Nature Institute of South Texas, Inc.   The membership also voted to increase the number of potential board positions from 15 to 50 to enhance the board’s community profile and increase its fundraising capabilities.  A high-profile advisory board also was added.

Upon opening the permanent site in 1996, the Children’s Garden, picnic/play area, Bird & Butterfly Trail, Palapa Grande on Gator Lake, dirt parking area and compact but intimate Visitors Center was all that greeted visitors.  But fall of 1996 brought dedication of the four-winged lathe-constructed Exhibit House, as well as one of CCBG’s cornerstones, the Don Larkin Memorial Orchid Greenhouse.  The Orchid House--built with wet wall, heaters, fans, rainwater collection system assisted by a reverse osmosis system—now houses nearly 2000 orchids, curated and maintained by the South Texas Orchid Society.

In 1997, the construction of Sensory Garden infrastructure began.  An additional $45,000 phased “artscape” project, begun in 1999, now complete.  Also in 1997, the Plumeria Collection was installed surrounding the Exhibit House.  

The large, unique Rose Garden was designed in 1998, built in 1999 and planted January, 2000.  The massive Rose Garden Fountain was added in 2001.  The 30 x 40-foot Rose Garden Pavilion was completed Summer, 2002.  The Rose Garden’s 300 roses are curated and maintained by the Corpus Christi Rose Society.

In 1999, the Hibiscus Garden opened, followed by a Water Garden.  Construction projects in 2000 included widening and resurfacing of the Bird & Butterfly Trail; adding 500 feet to the Wetlands Awareness Boardwalk; and creating an earthen levee in the large wetlands to help maintain water levels.  The wetland exhibit was nationally recognized for outstanding partnerships in conservation and education by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service during National Wetlands Month in May, 2005.  

The Arid Garden was built in 2001; and construction began on the Wildscape & Tree Demonstration Garden.   Also that year, the interior parking area was converted to a grassed festival site.  Paved parking for 33 vehicles was built along the entrance road.  

In 2002, a Hummingbird Garden was funded and built; construction began on phased, decorative wood security fencing; and a grant for the final 17 parking stalls was received. In 2003, the Botanical Gardens became the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, recognizing its vast native habitat and natural wetlands.  

A new master plan developed by Richter Architects was adopted in November, 2004.  In 2006, the Plumeria Collection got a permanent home with the construction and dedication of the Plumeria Garden and Willoughby Viewing Platform.  In October, 2006, the first phase of the Earthkind Demonstration and Trial Garden was opened.  The regional influence and mission of the Gardens & Nature Center was recognized in Fall 2006 by changing the name to South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center.

In 2007, the Exhibit House and Hibiscus Garden were demolished making way for the Butterfly Garden and the Bromeliad Conservatory.  In 2008, a compact Military Rose Garden, funded by the Corpus Christi Rose Society, was built just inside the main entrance.  Also in 2008, a generous Board member purchased a two-plus acre commercial building site adjacent to the STBGNC which provides more expansion area, and the opportunity to relocate the entrance to a safer, more visible location.

A screened live Butterfly House & Butterfly Garden, and the Anderson Bromeliad Conservatory, home for 800 bromeliads, both opened in 2010. Two bronze wildlife sculptures by internationally known sculptor Kent Ullberg were dedicated in 2012 on the Mary Hope Brennecke Nature Trail.
A major year of growth was 2013, when a new custom-built Modular Complex was dedicated on the recently-acquired 2.5 acre site.  The 2000 sq-ft Education Station, and 1000 sq ft Brennecke Administration Building allowed administrative staff to vacate crowded office space in the Visitors Center, which then was used to expand and remodel Joan Batman’s Nature’s Boutique.  At the same time, classes moved to Education Station leaving Visitors Center space for the Resident Reptiles exhibit.  Education Station provides not only lots more classroom space, but also roughly four times the indoor rental space which includes a kitchen facility and conference room, PLUS an adjacent outdoor raised deck connecting the two modular buildings.

The same dedication ceremony also recognized the impressive Durrill Entrance Marker, and new Monkey Mansion Tree House in children’s play area.

In 2013/14, $425,000 was received from a local foundation to begin construction on the new greenhouse complex made up of the Samuel Jones Orchid Conservatory, Adeline’s Support Greenhouse, and a Rainforest exhibit. The first two complex segments, plus foundation for the third, should be completed in 2014.

Gardens weren’t the only things growing during the initial development of the 180-acre site.  Personal memberships rose from approximately 350 in 1996 to over roughly 900 in 2009; and in 2014 number nearly 1500, thanks in part to our membership in the Reciprocal Gardens program, and a variety of membership efforts.  An innovative corporate membership program was introduced in 2000, with seven major corporations in the Coastal Bend leading the way.  Education programming and workshops, taught by local experts volunteering their time, originally numbered two classes per month; but currently have more than doubled in both number and attendance, with broader educational and environmental scope, including birding, natural history, kids nature camps, and of course horticulture.  

STBG/NC also has developed excellent working relationships with the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and local media making tourism dollars a significant part of its revenue, while at the same time giving back to the community in horticultural education, economic growth and quality of life.  Additionally, the Botanical Gardens & Nature Center often works with the Texas State Aquarium, USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History and the Art Museum of South Texas in reciprocal membership and joint marketing efforts.  STBGNC is a member of the American Public Garden Association, American Horticulture Society, Texas Travel Industry Association, Texas Coastal Bend Regional Tourism Council, and Greater Corpus Christi Hospitality Association.

The Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is considered one of the City’s five major visitor attractions; is positioned as a major environmental education and nature tourism destination; and helps makes the Coastal Bend and South Texas a more attractive region for business development, tourism/economic growth and quality of life.

This heightened level of visibility, public awareness and credibility has led to grants and donations allowing rapid exhibit growth, steady increases in visitor counts and revenues, increases in seminar/workshop attendance, plus a stronger, larger board of Directors.  

The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is operated by the Botanical and Nature Institute of South Texas, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.  By mission, the Institute is dedicated to advancing the knowledge and appreciation of plants and the environment, in relation to personal and community education, well-being and scientific understanding.  The Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is the facility which conserves, preserves, displays and interprets native and adapted flora and fauna of South Texas.  Revenue sources are personal and corporate memberships; admissions, grants and donations; gift shop sales; fundraisers; and education program fees.  STBG/NC leases its site from the City, and for seven years has received a $20,000 Hotel Occupancy Tax allocation from the City, approximately 7% of its operating budget.  No other public funds are received.

Our facility strives to:
Offer an ever-growing source of beauty, information, environmental learning and entertainment;
Provide a positive and satisfying visitor experience;
Enhance local quality of life and economic development through nature tourism.

The Botanical Gardens has nine paid staff, four of which are part-time. It relies heavily on its Board of Directors, volunteers, several area plant societies, Nueces Master Gardeners, Texas Master Naturalists, and Community Service program.