My primary exposure to Oklahoma was in the movie theatre “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain” So driving through the state and seeing the Myriad Botanical Gardens drastically expanded my view. Located in downtown Oklahoma City the 17 acre gardens “there is grand” just as the song from the famous musical says.
In the early 1960’s oilman Dean McGee began talking with city leaders about revitalizing the downtown area. McGee wanted a garden and city leaders hired I.M. Pei, then a rising star of modern architecture, to create a redevelopment plan for the city. From childhood I. M. Pei was very attuned to the role of gardens and nature in life. In his creative work he sought to join the natural elements to architecture. Together these two men with other city leaders created the features of the garden we see today.
The defining feature of Myriad Gardens is the cylindrical shaped Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory centered to span the two acre lake. Renovated in 2011 the conservatory is an enchanting windowed building offering ecology education of rainforest plant life. On a hot summer day it is an escape from the heat, in the winter it is an escape to the tropics.
The Myriad gardens provides shade, water and open space for this busy city. Outdoor festival space, a water stage for summer Shakespeare festival, a children’s garden, and tiered gardens surround the lake.
When the Crystal Bridge Conservatory first opened in 1988, Dean McGee was 84. Surely he enjoyed seeing his dream realized. Visitors arrived by the thousands in the opening days. Excitement and pride of achievement rippled through the community. Today downtowns all over the country are struggling to stay vital and relevant to their communities. Such a great garden, open space and architecture surely seems an important element in achieving that goal. Yet we are a funny species, fewer of us go outside, we rarely “watch a hawk makin’ lazy circles in the sky.” Yet we gardeners have “Plen’y of air and plen’y of room, Plen’y of heart and plen’y of hope.” A visit to this garden makes for “a beautiful morning, oh, what a beautiful day.” (lyrics of Oklahoma, musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein)