Day Trips

The Texas Discovery Gardens is a hidden gem among the museums of Dallas

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

Texas Discovery Gardens is hidden in the southern corner of Fair Park under the giant Ferris wheel of the State Fair. This tranquil little island of nature in sight of downtown Dallas attracts a variety of butterflies, birds, and mammals. The grounds are a quiet explosion of fountains, trees, and colorful flowers.

"Last spring we had a nesting pair of hawks in the gardens," says Sarah Gardner, a spokeswoman for the gardens. "It was so neat watching them raise the babies." The staff has also found armadillos, opossums, and raccoons that were undeterred by the fences surrounding the park. "It just goes to show you how important green space is in the city, even if it's just somebody's backyard."

To the two-legged residents of Dallas, the gardens may be one of the best-kept secrets in the city. During most of the year, the colorful plants are overshadowed by the Women's Museum, African American Museum, Museum of the American Railroad, and other indoor galleries that attract throngs of visitors. During the State Fair of Texas in September and October, the gardens are upstaged by the midway and show barns.

It's a shame more visitors don't discover the gardens, a short walk from all the excitement. During the State Fair, the clubs that help maintain the gardens host a seasonal butterfly house that features tropical and native butterflies fluttering loose. The exhibit will become a year-round attraction in September when the Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium opens to the public.

Even with the new indoor butterfly space, the outdoor gardens will still be the best place to see a variety of native butterflies. Covering 7.5 acres, Texas Discovery Gardens is actually 10 gardens in one, and most are filled with plants that butterflies love.

Begun in 1938, the gardens have evolved into an organic showcase of roses, native plants, and tropical greenery. Randy Johnson, chief horticulturist for the gardens, says one of the most inspiring tours he has ever led was a group of blind people. "They wanted to touch and smell everything," he said. "They gave me new appreciation for experiencing the plants with all of my senses."

Texas Discovery Gardens is at the corner of Second Avenue and Pennsylvania Boulevard at the southwest corner of Fair Park in Dallas. The gardens are open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and are closed on Sundays and major holidays. As a learning center, the gardens host programs on gardening for adults and children throughout the year. For more information, call 214/428-7476 or go to

The Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium will hold its grand opening on Sept. 12 with special entertainment, exhibits, and programs. Eventually, it will house colorful tropical butterflies shipped weekly to Dallas as pupae. The chrysalises are purchased from Central and South American and Asian farmers, giving them an added economic incentive to preserve the rain forests.

947th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Texas Discovery Gardens, Women's Museum, African American Museum, Museum of the American Railroad, Fair Park, Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium, State Fair of Texas

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