Last week, on a warm and mostly sunny President’s Day, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden was packed. Couples picnicked on the greens. Teenage girls in quinceañera dresses and tiaras posed on garden steps. Parents chased after their kids, who, in turn, climbed statues and fed koi fish in the ponds. Japanese cherry blossom trees were beginning to bud, and neatly planted tulips were sprouting everywhere.
Four days later, on a quiet, overcast, and cold Friday morning, the Arboretum staff, board, and members of the public gathered inside A Tasteful Place to celebrate spring and the opening of the annual Dallas Blooms festival. Every year, the Arboretum plants 500,000 tulips, azaleas, and more. Over the past 39 years, the Arboretum has planted more than 9 million blooming bulbs, chairman Will McDaniel says. “This is the most tulips outside of Holland in any public garden.”
And while the weather was chilly for the festival’s opening, by mid-March, there will be around 3,000 azaleas, 125 cherry blossom trees, and “120 varieties of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and many other flowering plants,” says Dave Forehand, vice president of gardens. Dallas Blooms is open through April 16. There are plenty of events planned, and flowers will be blooming all season. “You want to come back more than once,” he says.
The Secret to Dallas Blooms
Outgoing Arboretum president and CEO Mary Brinegar shares her insider tips to navigating the spring festival.
Get a map and pace yourself.
“Some people want to see it all right away,” Brinegar says, “but it’s better if it unfolds for you.” It takes about two-to-2.5 hours to wander through the whole 66-acre property, she says. Brinegar recommends a slow pace to take it all in, as well as stops to relax on benches and admire the views.
Make a loop around the grounds.
“I like to go somewhat in a circle,” Brinegar says. Start at A Tasteful Place, see what’s in bloom and what you could grow in your own backyard. Then head to the Palmer Fern Dell, which Brinegar calls “one of the most beautiful places in the city.” From there, meander through the Jonsson Color and A Woman’s gardens, the Red Maple Rill, and more.
Book your tickets ahead of time.
Capacity at the Arboretum is determined by parking, so it’s a good idea to get your tickets beforehand, especially if you know when you want to come. “I would book early, and then if a time doesn’t work out for you change your time,” Brinegar says.
Don’t worry about food.
You can bring your own food and drink into the arboretum for a picnic on the grounds, but there are also “different places along the way to sip, have something to drink, something to eat,” Brinegar says. A Tasteful Place offers free tastings throughout the day, and you can stop to eat at several spots on the grounds, like the Café on the Green and the DeGolyer Tea Room.
This year also features eight statues of historical figures like Amelia Earhart, Ruby Bridges, and Mother Teresa, from sculpture artist Gary Lee Price’s Great Contributors series. Price first installed pieces from his Great Contributors series in 2016 at the Arboretum. He returned in 2019 with an installation of 30 life-sized statues of kids, called Celebrate the Children. This year is a sequel to his first Great Contributors show, with a larger focus on female heroes throughout history, he says.
On display for the next six months, the statues are scattered throughout the grounds. Price says he wanted to remove the deity-like figures from their pedestals and “bring them down to earth,” by placing them on benches. “You can sit with them, and, with a little imagination, you can have a conversation with them.”
We had our own conversation with Price about Great Contributors and why he keeps coming back to the Dallas Arboretum.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why choose to sculpt historical figures?
The reason why I bring these deified people down to earth is to help us all realize that we have that same potential to literally change the planet. Make it a better place. Learn to help teach humanity how we should behave. And I hope that these pieces inspire them to bring out the greatness in their own life.
How did you pick the historic figures to sculpt for this round of Great Contributors?
The first woman I did was Amelia Earhart. My son is a pilot. I love getting in a jet and getting off the earth and being able to look at perspective. And so Amelia Earhart, to me, represented courage, breaking the glass ceilings, all of that stuff. And her being an aviation person—she was a natural. And she’s so beautiful. And to be able to try to get her essence into that inanimate object, it was a challenge. But I wanted, with all my heart, to do it.
How long does it take to make each statue?
Of course, the snide answer is all my life. Right? But it’s a process of doing the research on the figure, watching all the videos, all the documentaries, reading everything I can on them. Basically, in a nutshell, it’s probably a couple-of-years process. You know, from doing that, to doing a little teeny study, to the studies that you see here to the life-sized ones.
How do you want visitors to interact with your statues?
You know, everything is so subjective and individual. I’m just glad, regardless of how they interact—whether it’s touching, whatever it is—that they interact with it. Somehow something is going to touch them and [their] other senses. And for one thing, they might realize, “Oh my gosh, this was a real person. Not just something I read about or a historical figure, this person actually lived.” And “wow, this person maybe actually wore bifocals and actually wrote a book.” So just that interaction alone, I think may be profound for them or maybe it just plants a seed.
This your third exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum in seven years. What keeps bringing you back?
Oh my gosh, this place. There’s so much energy here. I believe art heals. I believe nature heals. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Eckhart Tolle, he wrote The Power of Now. And in his book, he recommends the idea that [when] we get out in nature more, we get this peace of mind. That we stopped what he calls the “incessant thinking” that we all do. You need to slow down. So, one of his recommendations: get out in nature, go for walks … For me, nature has always been healing. I’ve planted with my five boys thousands of trees and bulbs. I love physical work. I love getting my hands dirty. It’s a grounding process. That’s when the actual creation I think is going on subconsciously. So, those ideas pop in. And then so somehow, I feel that art and nature just are so complementary. And both of them heal us.
Do you have a favorite memory of seeing your statues here seeing people interact with them here?
Yes. One of my favorites [was] when we set up Monet. He’s life-sized on a bench painting. He’s got his paintbrush, got an easel there. He’s painting some water lilies. We just got to set up, when a school class came through. There were probably 50 kids. Probably 15 or 20 of them were climbing all over him, and they were sitting on his hat. And some people are yelling, “don’t sit on it, don’t touch it!” And I’m like, “No, do it, do it!” It was just a fun thing to see them just hoarding around this famous painter.