Phelan Mansion gardens upgraded


Christus Hospital – St. Elizabeth was honored with an historic visit from Nancy Bechtol of the Smithsonian to the gardens of the Phelan Mansion last week. The gardens had recently been renovated with Christus Health Foundation working in concert with the Magnolia Garden Club (MGC) on a restoration of the beautiful property.

Martha Hicks, Magnolia Garden Club member, said, “The Magnolia Garden Club worked with the Christus Health Foundation to begin the transformation of the garden. Original photos were obtained from the early 1930s to see the true ‘bones’ of the garden. The pool, decking, pool house and chain link fence were all removed. The overgrown plant life, which totally blocked the view, was removed.” The MGC volunteered its time, talents and considerable labor to restore the historic East Garden on the campus of Christus Hospital – St. Elizabeth.

Ivy Pate, regional vice president of Christus Health Foundation, said, “The MGC has held ties to this garden for many years. In 1937, Mrs. John Henry Phelan was one of the 47 charter members of this group. During this time, the MGC, which is a member of the Garden Club of America, presented the Phelan Mansion landscape plan to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. for the historical garden archives. This garden was the first garden from the state of Texas to be presented to the Smithsonian. Twenty-two years later, Mr. and Mrs. Phelan donated their estate, which included their home and 28 acres, to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The sisters began to use the home as a convent and built St. Elizabeth hospital.

Today, the East Garden that was once the recreational area for the sisters has been restored to its original grandeur by the Magnolia Garden Club and the Christus Foundation. Members of the Club worked with the hospital foundation to “transform the area into an organic garden, and the area is thriving,” according to Hicks. This transformation involved hundreds of man-hours converting the grounds to the historically beautiful space it is today.

This effort was guided by MGC consultant Bart Brechter, curator of Bayou Bend Gardens in Houston. Brechter is a widely respected expert and innovator in curating and managing large-scale gardens. Brechter can also list to his credits management of the internationally know Calloway Gardens and converting Bayou Bend into the state’s only formal organic public garden.

Christus Hospital – St. Elizabeth and Magnolia Garden Club were honored to have the visit from Bechtol. She handles all facilities management needs within the 19 museums and research centers and the National Zoo that make up the Smithsonian Institution. She utilizes an in-house workforce of more than 850 and an operating budget of $100 million. She is also responsible for managing the exhibition quality gardens that surround the museums.

The restoration of this garden area is an excellent example of community members contributing to the wellbeing of their neighbors through their volunteer service. Congratulations, Christus! Congratulations, Magnolia Garden Club! You can be very proud of creating this healing environment and wonderful, historical garden space for our area.


Joette is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. Her e-mail is joreger [at] msn [dot] com.