Monday, January 03, 2011

The gardens at Round Top Festival Institute

Back in August Clark and his family discovered the beautiful gardens surrounding the Round Top Festival Institute while looking to buy land outside of Houston. After months of telling me about it I was finally able to escape other responsiblities and make the 90 minute drive up there. It was well worth the $2.84-a-gallon gas!!

Spread across the Festival grounds are fifteen gardens along five miles of trails, along with ponds and other water features, statues, ruins, a stunning chapel, artist retreats, and of course the main attraction, the concert hall. This institute was created by the master musician James Dick (more about him later) back in 1971 and has turned into a world-renowned venue for the performing arts.

The place was empty today so we were able to park right in front of the Menke House, which serves as the site's main meeting and dining facility. I think it's the most beutiful house I've ever seen that wasn't built out of old tires and hay bales.

Gingerbread House
Love it.

Perfect House
Someday this will be mine!

The Menke house overlooks Susan Clayton McAshan Gardens which were breathtaking...
Mediterranean Garden

Clark contemplating doing something similar in his backyard.

Mediterranian Garden2
Supposedly it's much nicer in the summer...

A home worthy of Mary.

Some ruins. The grounds were covered with amazing rock structures like this.

Originally my key interest in this place was due to their extensive medicinal plant gardens. Famed Texas herb gardener and author Madalene Hill had always wanted to share her knowledge of herbal medicines with the world and the gardens at Round Top were her main hangout. For her 80th birthday this pharmacy garden was created as a gift for her.

I am not worthy.

This garden is filled with row after row of raised beds, each dedicated to the medicinal plants of a different country or continent such as India, Africa, Mexico, North America, Europe, China, etc...

Sadly, most of these beds were bare right now except for plant tags and the occasional hardy perennial or winter annual. In late spring they will be filled to the brim with plants again and you bet I'll be there with reference books and a camera!

As we left the pharmacy garden and headed down a nice woodland trail we ran into a pleasant fellow who hailed us a hearty greetings. The three of us talked for a while, it seemed he worked there at the site and was very proud of it. We talked for almost ten minutes about it's history, some of the notable sites among the gardens, my edible plant classes, and so forth. At the end he and I exchanged business cards and I saw his name, James Dick. At the time it didn't mean anything to me other than he was a very friendly guy. Later on we discovered who he was.

After that encounter we continued on, crossing a recreated Roman bridge and heading into the woods.


The trail wound through woods, past bamboo groves, into gullies, and over more bridges.

We even found Buddha, who apparently likes to party with the locals.

Clark trying to reach Nirvana. He didn't make it.

We eventually came out of the woods and headed to the concert hall.


The performance hall is currently undergoing some remodeling to get it ready for the first concert of the year on Jan. 22nd, a piano recital by James Dick who will be doing works by Liszt and Beethoven. Reading this notice is what made us realize the nice guy we had been talking to was the not just some mid-level garden bureaucrat but rather the head honcho of this entire place! D'oh!

Note to self: next time before going somewhere read up on it so I can make a good first impression if I happen to run into the multimillionaire owner of said place. I have his card, you can bet I'm going to contact him about teach wild edible classes out there!!

Anyway, enough of my business plan, on to more exploration of the grounds. Next up, the Edythe Bates Chapel. Mrs. Edythe Bates Old was a musician and long time patron of the arts at Festival Hill Institute and other places. Her chapel was originally a church built in 1883 for a congregation in La Grange, Texas and was moved to Festival Hill in 1994 to be used as a lecture hall and for organ recitals. The move and construction of the rockwork, fountains, and surrounding gardens were paid for by Edyth Bates.

Edythe Bats Chapel

Wow. This is just one of the fountains.

Matching fountain on the other side of the chapel.

The perfect place to play checkers.

This face was almost as big as me.

Past the chapel are two retreat houses for visiting artists along with a practice hall. Of more interest to Clark and I were the miles of more trails that loop around the back areas of the institute grounds. A few times we wandered into places where we thought maybe we weren't supposed to go, but then we'd find a shaded bench or statue to indicate visitors were welcome there. In fact, if I had to sum up everything in three words I would say "Visitors Very Welcome."

Clark walking the trails.

Um, are we supposed to be here?

Joseph and Jesus
Yes, we are supposed to be here. I love how people left offering of money, beads, and plants...

Joseph and Baby Jesus
Joseph and Baby Jesus. The elm seed on Joseph's cheek made him look like he was crying.

This place was fantastic in the winter, I can only imagine how great it'll be in a few months!

Adventure! Excitement! Inspiration!

1 comment:

J said...

Had no idea you had never been here!

My best girlfriend's parents have an awesome B&B/cabin retreat about ten minutes from the Institute, called Trails West. Betty and Del are wonderful people. If you ever do go visit them, tell them you know me. Miss Betty has written several books about the are and about Texas history. You can find her works on Amazon.

The tiny little cabins are perfect - out in the woods, yet close enough to the big house if you need something. Great big creek and lots of OLD cemeteries to explore, one of which Bonnie and Clyde used as a campsite!

The family and I have gone up to Miss Betty's place on several occasions and we usually visit the gardens while we are there. My friend's son was K's first "boyfriend" and I have always laughed that they would be getting married in that beautiful chapel. What a great place to visit. The homemade pizza at the Wine Shop is to DIE for - live music on weekend nights too!

I would suggest visiting in the spring or fall - in the summer, it is dry as a bone, dusty and FREAKING HOT!!!

Even so, one of my favorite places in the world.