By Jessica Pickett
Lazily strolling along, I was listening to the sound of my own steps crunching on the pebble-strewn path and stopping every so often to rest in a patch of shade that dappled the walkway before me. Watching the comings and goings of the bees flitting from one bloom to the next, inhaling the sweet smell of lilies and honeysuckle heavy in the air, and listening to the sound of trickling water, one could easily forget such things as deadlines and due dates. Luckily, Shangri La isn’t an escape available only to an enlightened few but to everyone.
Embodying both the spirit of discovery and tranquility, Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center nurtures the concept of a harmonious relationship between nature and man. Just minutes from Interstate 10 and the banks of the Sabine River in the historic Southeastern Texas town of Orange, Shangri La showcases the natural beauty of the area. Embark at The Discovery Theater, where you can learn about the history of the gardens and watch a short documentary that poetically spotlights the mission and goals of Shangri La.
Continue on to the Children’s Garden and Nature Discovery Center where the young and young-at-heart are offered an interactive experience that every visitor can enjoy. In the Children’s Garden, visitors can hand pump water into the herb beds from a manual water well; touch, taste, and feel the variety of plants in the Sensory Gardens; and come face-to-face with an active beehive. The Nature Discovery Center, which is located in the heart of a tupelo and cypress swamp, allows visitors to get their hands dirty once again by using all of their senses to discover the swampy habitat that surrounds them. From here, one can also hop on a pontoon boat and cruise down Adam’s Bayou, where a guide will point out unique attributes of the waterways and wetlands.
Once back to the main grounds, stop off at the Star and Crescent Moon Cafe for a delicious lunch and refreshment before heading out to explore the rest of the botanical gardens. You will cross the Wetland Demonstration Gardens that are both beautiful and educational. These gardens show how Shangri La implements natural biofiltration to circulate and clean the water pumped up from Ruby Lake, which has seen a decrease in water quality over the years due to the nesting birds that have turned the manmade lake into a heronry.
Next, you can peruse the orchids and epiphytes at leisure in the Victorian Greenhouses that form the gateway to the Great Lawn. Here, the expertly maintained pebble walkway makes ambling (or rolling, if mobility is limited) among the numerous sculpture gardens and the Pond of the Blue Moon a pleasure. Make sure to take the detour that leads to the Bird Blind that’s concealed along the banks of Ruby Lake. At about 15 acres and in the heart of the botanical garden, Ruby Lake plays host to more than 5,000 migratory birds annually and as many as 17 species seasonally. Along with the egrets and cormorants that permanently reside here, Anhingas, Roseate Spoonbills, and a variety of ducks call Ruby Lake home. Built from cypress logs that lay at the bottom of the river for decades, the Bird Blind provides birdwatchers of all ages and mobility a chance to observe nature unimpeded.
Dedicated to preservation and education, Shangri La offers numerous educational programs, lectures, and workshops open to all ages year-round. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Every season offers something new to discover. For more information on Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center visit starkculturalvenues.org or call (409) 670-9113.
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