ORANGE, Texas – Orange, Texas is as far east as you can roll before heading into the territory known as Louisiana. Named by sailors who noticed orange groves lining the banks of Sabine, this part of Texas shares the muggy climate of our Cajun cousins that’s culminated into the perfect climate to put an amazing garden.
Rick Lewandowski is the director of the 252 acre oasis in Orange known as Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.
“This was the former home of H.J. Lutcher Stark, a member of the Stark family who was involved in lumbering and later in becoming an environmentalist here in Orange, Texas,” Rick informed us.
After World War II, the gardens to Stark’s home were open to the public during the spring and for years it was a popular annual stop in the Lone Star State. But in the late 50s, the gardens were closed. Forty years later the Stark Foundation sprung it back to life and now it’s bigger than ever.
“Places like this often don’t exist in small communities, but due to the generosity and the long term vision of the family they’ve done that,” Rick said.
30 acres of Shangri La are dedicated to the gardens, with regional plants blooming year-round but spring and early summer are especially special.
“This beautiful area is part of the history of Shangri la, represents the azaleas that Mr. Stark would have planted around his garden in the spring time,” Rick said as we walked through the garden. “And in March and April this is a magical place to be, along with the bald cypress which reminds us that we’re in southeast Texas. Enjoying this beauty and serenity here at this beautiful place in Shangri la.”
But it’s not just flowers full of color here; you can sit on the banks of Ruby Lake and view nesting birds from the Heronry Blind or even take a boat ride on Adams Bayou.
“It’s a very popular experience because it gets people to see part of the natural systems here in southeast Texas in ways that they couldn’t other wise enjoy,” Rick said.
Susan Montagne is an environmental educator and she points out the particulars on this serene spin on the stream.
“I mean we get school kids all the time, you know,” Susan shared. “That’s our program, and they love to look and see.”
The main attraction at Shangri la is a Texas record holder, according to Susan.
“The survivor tree is a state champion tree for Texas,” Susan said. “It’s a pond cypress as opposed to your bald cypress that are tall and straight. It was nick named by a junior high student many years ago. It is actually 1,241 years old. Now they don’t normally grow this side of the Mississippi, but we all know that seeds get carried and passed in different ways. You know just think about Native Americans canoed past here, pirates maybe. Maybe there’s treasure.”
It turns out you’ll find all sorts of wildlife at the gardens.
“Frankly I’ve come to love the many, many snakes that we down here in south east Texas, and I look forward to seeing them every day here in the garden,” Rick said. “I am serious. Because that’s part of nature.”
It’s been said that life is a garden, dig it. We’ll we definitely dug the Shangri Law garden and its serene beauty, showing off the unique swampy side of the Lone Star State.
“Many people don’t think of Texas as bayou country, but here it is right here along the Sabine River,” Rick said. “And it’s one of the very, very special places that we think everyone should come and visit because it combines the best of nature and gardens together.”