The first phase of The Gardens at Texas A&M opened Friday with a ceremony for the seven-acre Leach Teaching Gardens.
In 1998, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents designated the area along White Creek on West Campus as green space, and up until about two years ago the land remained a largely untouched natural area. Patrick Stover, vice chancellor and dean for agriculture and life sciences, said Friday that The Gardens will be the "enduring signature" of agriculture at Texas A&M.
Planning for The Gardens began in 2011 under Stover's predecessor, Mark Hussey, with what Stover described as two questions: "How can the best agriculture and life sciences college in the world not have a public or botanic garden, and how do we make that happen, how do we change that?" Stover said.
"Answering those two question has blossomed into a full-scale demonstration of the best of Texas A&M's spirit, its core values and a showcase for the land grant mission."
About $11.6 million dollars have been invested in the first phase of 21 themed gardens, an outdoor classroom, an event lawn demonstration area and pavilion. Construction began in 2015 with the stabilization of White Creek and the installation of two bridges that connect the White Creek Apartments, School of Public Health and College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to the rest of the campus.
Tim and Amy Leach are the lead donors and namesakes of the first seven acres of The Gardens, which includes rose, citrus and herb gardens, a vineyard, a food and fiber fields quadrant, fruit orchard, gardens with Mexican, German and Czech landscaping elements and more.
Tim Leach, an oilman from Midland who is a member of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, announced Friday that he and his wife also have donated the design costs to begin future phases.
"Every university, every real leader in education has some kind of formal garden, and we are the greatest university in this country. It's about time that we had our own garden," Leach said.
The Gardens is planned to be a 40-acre complex.
Future phases will include outdoor venues for performing arts, films and social events. A rose garden, a garden for children and a feed-the-world-themed courtyard also are planned.
Provost and Executive Vice President Carol A. Fierke said not only will The Gardens provide a place for "reflection and rejuvenation," it's a new academic resource for teaching.
"Gardens provide places for people to think and give an opportunity for creativity to grow," Fierke said. "No matter the field of study, creativity remains the seed of innovation and provides cultivation for our ideas."
The Leach Teaching Gardens will provide hands-on learning and demonstrations on subjects including water conservation, food and healthy living. The Gardens also will provide an outdoor laboratory for applied research to be used across colleges, departments and majors.