Summer is bare, hot and burning. Winters can be harshly frigid. Powerful winds are practically a seasonal constant. In West Texas’ arid climate it is difficult to create and maintain aesthetically pleasing landscaping. There is a profound symbiotic relationship between the land and people missing.
The West Texas landscape holds a plethora of natural beauty that is often overlooked in landscape design. Utilizing native plants in landscaping architecture is a major factor in the care of the landscape. The West Texas Garden project is a collaborative effort aimed at creating a new standard of sustainable landscaping in West Texas.
There are three entities involved in the conception of the West Texas Garden Project: the Museum of Texas Tech University, the National Ranching Heritage Center (NRHC), and the Texas Tech Department of Landscape Architecture. The landscape construction will take place between and around the museum and the NRHC. Students and alumni of the Department of Landscape Architecture drafted ideas for the project and will assist in overseeing the implementation of landscaping.
At the most pragmatic level, the project began as a consideration of how to make the northern part of the museum more approachable and user-friendly. Gary Morgan, executive director of the museum, said he thinks the main approach from the north is currently unremarkable.
“It’s a mix of concrete and that rather awful cobble concrete with all the pebbles coming out of it as it erodes and very large areas of dead grass,” Morgan said.
Physically, it is an unwelcoming approach from the parking lot to the museum. Through this project, the northern entrance of the museum will be transformed into a huge external gallery. The outdoor exhibit will ultimately reflect and link to the stories being told inside of the museum and NRHC.
Jim Bret Campbell, NRHC executive director, says he is most excited about the physical bridge the garden will create between the NRHC and the museum.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations, in my 30 days here, about building greater partnerships and making this a cultural corner,” Campbell said.
Creating lasting partnerships and innovation through collaboration is a resounding theme of the West Texas Garden Project. Campbell said the NRHC is interested in any project that enables it to collaborate with other departments at Texas Tech and especially with its neighbors next door at the museum.
“It just makes sense for all of us to work together,” Campbell said.
Under the direction of Eric Bernard, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, students will have a direct role in the creation of the garden. During the department’s annual WreckShop event on March 7, 2017, students had the opportunity to collaborate with professionals in an informal workshop setting. Through design charrettes, students researched, sketched plans and presented their ideas to leaders of the museum and NRHC.
William Hall is a third year landscape architecture student and said he is enthusiastic about having a direct role in the production of the West Texas Garden.
“People come up with unique ideas,” Hall said. “Each team is solving different issues, and a mass workshop works toward solving the overarching issue.”
Ideas student teams shared at the conclusion of WreckShop included plans to change infrastructure, plans for outside galleries and plans for installation of native flora. Specifically, permeable driveway surfaces, playa lakes, interactive sensory spaces for kids, vegetative drainage, and an observation deck for learning.
The plan will have physical delivery stages. It will be an expensive effort and will not be possible to do all at once. The first stages will consist of testing landscaping and implementing plans. Next, will be a progressive transformation in a series of stages with plantings of native plants that are reflective of a range of habitats of West Texas. These plantings will represent vegetation across the Short Grass Prairies, the Chihuahuan Desert and the Caprock Canyons.
It just makes sense for all of us to work together. Jim Bret Campbell
Significance of Sustainability
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the garden is the example of sustainability it is setting for the West Texas area. The West Texas Garden has an opportunity to display the evolution of ecology of the area. It will also exhibit the benefits of using native plants and grasses whether from a landscape architecture point of view, water saving point of view and a grazing management point of view.
Morgan said because the community looks toward Texas Tech as a leader, it is important to show what is attainable by example.
“For us to demonstrate what is possible through sustainable architecture and sustainable architectural landscape design, that’s a really important role for us,” Morgan said.
The notion of sustainability is factored in from the beginning. As the area is reworked, existing materials are reincorporated into it rather than thrown away. All plantings will be water sustainable, so the garden will not require any additional water. It will also have a low maintenance design.
The NRHC is excited to be associated with an image of sustainability. Campbell said he hopes to include what habitat and grazing management means when telling the story of ranching through the West Texas Garden. This project will show the symbiotic relationship that needs to exist between native habitat and grazing and the best ways for ranchers to do so going forward.
Highlighting ranchers’ role in conservation efforts is key to the mission of the NRHC.
“Ranching has always been about the land,” Campbell said. “I truly believe, not that we’ve always been good at it, but ranchers were the first conservationists.”
LEED the Way
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system used on buildings to measure sustainability. Any expansions on the museum will be LEED certified. Morgan said he believes the sustainable design of the garden will present learning opportunities pertinent to the natural environment for the people West Texas. Looking toward a sustainable future, the garden will catalyze how the community can positively engage with climate change.
Eventually, Morgan has plans to incorporate seating, dining and night lighting creating a day and night destination spot for Lubbock. The space may even be used for events in the future.
According to Morgan the West Texas Garden will be unique to the area. He said it has proved to be highly beneficial to all three parties involved. Students are engaged in a hands-on landscape design experience. The NRHC and museum will gain an external face-lift and expansion. The community will have an outdoor space to learn about sustainability and the history of the land.
Morgan said although this is a project with educational, environmental and practical merit, he thinks there is a humbler reason why the project heeds so much value.
“I think people will come simply because it will be a lovely spot,” Morgan said.