I remember walking through the Gardens of Versailles thinking, “this is so gorgeous — I wish Houston had something like this.” And turns out, we do… sorta.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is right off Memorial Drive at Westcott. It’s part of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s collection now but once was the grandiose home of Ima Hogg — philanthropist, forever an independent woman, and best name ever award recipient. In the last bit of her life (she died in 1975), she donated her home and her collection of decorative arts to the museum and helped curate the museum it is today.
Now, I knew none of this a week ago. All I knew is that one time — months ago — my BBBS little and I found an event at Bayou Bend that we wanted to go to! It was one of MFAH’s Free Family days. Kids made art and ate snacks — but the event was only in the front building, The Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center. This building is right off Memorial Drive and is the only part of the property you can see from the street.
I was excited to bring my little to another Bayou Bend family day this past weekend, but was a little concerned when I pulled up to a mostly empty Lora Jean Kilroy building… The super sweet museum docent informed me that we were in the tip of the iceberg of the property, gave us a map and recommended we drive down to where the real fun was. Holy crap, guys. Who knew this whole thing existed!
I drive down a road I didn’t notice was there before, park in a sizely parking lot and walk toward the most surreal bridge. It looked like it should be crossing a river in the Amazon, not so much the trickling Buffalo Bayou. It was so gorgeous! We walked through (my little was a little scared — the bridged wasn’t solid, but rather suspended, so it bounced) and were met on the other side with a program of all the goings on. Family Day is basically a bunch of activities for kiddos. We watched a children’s theater group, ate snacks, did a dance lesson, learned to sew on a button and won a raffle — the prize my little picked was a giant American flag. It was so cute, I could not even. Guys, being a big has reminded me how freaking fun it was to be a kid where you get so pumped about free stuff!! Like, it is just the best!!!!
Apart from the activities from the actual event, here’s what you can expect from a normal visit to what I’m now calling Houston’s secret garden!
Ima Hogg House Tour
We had a free abbreviated tour through the house-turned-museum, but if you actually book a tour (and pay money, ha!) you get the real deal! My abridged version was pretty cool, though!
When you first walk up to the house, it’s a little overwhelming. First of all, it’s huge. But when you walk in, I tried to picture people actually living there, and it’s kind of easy! I could see a little old lady welcoming you in through the front door and everything, but then when you walk into one of the themed rooms with all the artifacts, you’re like, wait, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Ima Hogg collected American decorative arts since the 1920s. There are now over 2,500 pieces on display in 28 room settings and galleries. The dating of the pieces range from 1620 and 1876 and includes furniture, paintings, sculpture, prints, ceramics, glass, metals, and textiles — all used in the United States. You walk through and you see a tea table, library, and dining room setting — complete with chamber pots so the gentlemen discussing important business and politics after dinner need not miss anything by going out to the outhouse.
If you’re a US history nerd, you’ll love this. If you just like looking at really old stuff and being like, “OMG, I can’t believe men wore wigs and women wore dresses that heavy,” you’ll be equally entertained.
Obviously, this was the most exciting thing for me… it’s not every day you find 14 acres of beautiful greenery nestled just off a busy road.
The property became home for the Hoggs in 1925, and at the time was 14 acres of natural woodlands. Actually, ole Ima started developing the gardens before construction began on the home. She loved flowers and all things classical, so you really get a feel for who she was by walking through her beloved gardens.
The gardens are meant to reflect the Country Place era (1880–1920) in American landscape design. She selected a goddess (Diana) and two muses (Clio and Euterpe) from Greek mythology to anchor her north gardens.
Highlights for me were the fountain and the winding paths around the statue. Honestly, both took me straight back to Versailles!
If you can make another Free Family Day — they are monthly! — definitely do it. There are also cultural discussions and educational events. You can also bring a blanket and listen to live music or attend a sip and stroll — wine and winding through the gardens!
For all upcoming events at Bayou Bend, click here!