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Sonia Warriner: Carleen Bright Arboretum changes leave founding groups behind

Sonia Warriner: Carleen Bright Arboretum changes leave founding groups behind

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Sonia Warriner poses next to her garden at the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway, which is closed due to construction of a new sewer line.

Oh, the buildings are still standing even though the shovels and graders are there tearing everything apart to make way for a new sewer line and who knows what. But the heart and soul of the Carleen Bright Arboretum is gone, probably forever.

It began over 30 years ago when some of the good citizens of Woodway had a vision for an eyesore at the corner of Bosque Boulevard and Estates Drive. Some called it a dump. They saw a place that would become a public park, almost always open. A place where teaching and learning would take place. A place to show off nature, Texas-style. To do this they chipped in money, received the benefit of Carleen Bright and her memorial replica of Whitehall church, and then sent out invitations to local garden organizations to come and pick out their plot.

And they came — the Herb, Rose, Succulent societies. And the Audubons. And with them hundreds of volunteers who dug up their plots, planted their plants and tended their gardens. They hosted plant sale events where vendors came to sell plants and they could earn money for the gardens. A butterfly garden was added, and a memorial to veterans. People flowed in and out of Whitehall for weddings, parties and meetings.

The arboretum became a wonderful place. A red cardinal was its logo. Over the years two directors and an advisory board of Woodway residents guided the progress. There were summer concerts on the green, busloads of touring school kids. Memorial gazebos went up, donations flowed in. Two guys did the gardening along with the continual parade of volunteers. Fountains flowed, sculptures and garden ornaments dotted the grounds. At big spring and fall planting days an army of Baylor students came to help.

In about 2004 the McLennan County Master Gardeners were asked to lend the talents and skills of over 100 members. The SuperStar garden showed the public what plants do best. Then they helped a fellow gardener build a bridge connecting Whitehall to the hill behind. It was a memorial to his wife. Two more gardens, a pergola and a fountain were added and called Trailside. The arboretum and Master Gardeners co-sponsored Lunch with the Masters, a joint learning experience featuring local and statewide experts.

Little events became huge events as Master Gardeners drew as many as 1,500 kids and families to the annual Children’s Garden Fair.

When the city of Woodway decided to broaden its venue scope, it invited all the gardening organizations to sit on the planning committee and share their ideas. So the Pavilion became the result of community ideas — caterers, wedding planners, architects, garden designers. In return and in appreciation for their ongoing volunteer support, the garden groups were given arboretum space for meetings and special events.

Then, along came COVID-19 and a new management team at Woodway City Hall. COVID-19 stopped the meetings and venue events, but the real blow came when arboretum management indicated it was not interested in past arrangements, co-sponsored events or, it turns out, the gardens developed by Master Gardeners and the other garden organizations. Last week the Master Gardeners’ gardens were dug up.

It’s all gone.

Sonia Warriner was a member of the Waco Herb Society and McLennan County Master Gardeners from 1981 to 1989. The former Woodway resident now lives in Waco.

Hundreds of volunteers dug up their plots, planted their plants and tended their gardens. The arboretum became a wonderful place. There were summer concerts on the green, busloads of touring school kids. Memorial gazebos went up, donations flowed in. Fountains flowed, sculptures and garden ornaments dotted the grounds.

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