Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center – - Atlas Obscura
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Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center

Cradled in the midst of a southeast Texas town is a dreamland of nature filled with flowers, cypress trees, magnolias, and denizens of land and water just waiting for their next visitor. 

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“…I determined to gather together all things of beauty and culture that I could and preserve them here against the doom toward which the world is rushing…the world must look for a new life.  And it is our hope that they may find it here.” (James Hilton, Lost Horizon)

Inspired by the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, H.J. Lutcher Stark began construction on the elaborate grounds of Shangri La in his hometown of Orange, Texas, in 1937.  The gardens were opened to the public in 1946 and enjoyed years of popularity until freezing weather devastated many of the beloved plants in the mid-1950’s.  In 1958, Shangri La closed its gates and was minimally maintained for years afterwards. As the property languished, it was bequeathed to the Nelda C. & H. J. Lutcher Stark Foundation after Mr. Stark’s death in 1965.  Over 30 years later, in 2002, the foundation began working to bring Shangri La to its full potential, honoring Mr. Stark’s dedication to the environment along the way.

Despite damage sustained in 2005 by Hurricane Rita, in 2008 from Hurricane Ike, and again in 2017 by Hurricane Harvey, the Stark Foundation has persevered in their commitment to design, develop, and maintain the 252 acre preserve and gardens for the enjoyment and educations of thousands of visitors who flow through their gates yearly.

The gardens feature not only hundreds of species of plants, including 41 varieties of azaleas, but also a delightful population of birds, insects, reptiles, and furry citizens.  In addition to strolling through the spacious, geometrically arranged gardens, visitors can also view the Pond of the Blue Moon, visit the Nature Center, take a ride on the Outpost Tour, glory in the beauty contained in the resident greenhouses, and much more. 

Reflecting their dedication to the community and the environment, Shangri La hosts a yearly Scarecrow Festival, a Christmas Stroll, and a Community Trashoff.  Though the preserve was closed in late 2017 after Hurricane Harvey, the gardens reopened to the public in mid-September 2018 with some features still under repair. Shangri La is expected to be fully operational in December 2018, offering again a rare glimpse of heaven on earth.

 

Know Before You Go

Shangri La is open Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but please visit their website to arrange group or school tours.

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