From edible flowers to botanical art, Dallas is blooming

The "D" in "Big D" just may stand for delicious!

By Lois Alter Mark,

More people may be moving to Dallas than any other city in the United States but the population isn't the most surprising thing growing in the Big D.

Flowers – real, painted and sculpted – are popping up all over, along with locally-grown plants and vegetables which are being incorporated into innovative dishes by some of the country's premier chefs.  

It's almost like these urban Texans decided it was time to heed Joni Mitchell's call to "get ourselves back to the garden."

A Tasteful Place at Dallas Arboretum — Photo courtesy of Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

In fact, the gorgeous Dallas Arboretum, recognized as one of the top arboretums in the world, recently opened A Tasteful Place – a unique 3.5-acre display garden, pavilion and kitchen – with the mission of teaching people how to grow and prepare fresh, sustainable food.

"It's a real game-changer," according to Mary Brinegar, Dallas Arboretum president and CEO. "Guests can see what's growing, taste what's fresh, learn from nutritional experts, compete in cooking competitions and talk with master gardeners. A Tasteful Place truly celebrates the joy and good taste of a healthy lifestyle."

With four potager gardens, an orchard, an indoor pavilion and a tasting plaza, A Tasteful Place naturally appeals to all the senses although, of course, it's likely to be visited most for samples of easy-to-prepare dishes made from just-pulled ingredients.

Lunch at the launch of A Tasteful Place at Dallas Arboretum — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

Dallas chefs have welcomed A Tasteful Place and believe it will help to elevate the city's food scene.

"It has long become second nature to bring the freshest local products into my restaurants," said Stephan Pyles, the James Beard Award-winning chef who's been championing the farm to table movement since the 1980s. "At Flora Street Cafe, I've made an extra effort to showcase local farmers and make the presentations edible art by incorporating a host of fresh flowers and herbs."

Lobster tamale pie at Stephan Pyles Flora Street Cafe — Photo courtesy of Stephan Pyles Flora Street Cafe

Flora Street Cafe and its "Elevated Texas Cuisine" are, inarguably, works of art in themselves. And, in a nod to the name of the Arts District street on which his restaurant resides, Pyles has created a beautifully simple logo which adds petals to a standing fork and perfectly represents Pyles' philosophy, which Dallas itself is beginning to share.

This celebration of art and nature has become an unexpected signature of the city. These days, it may actually be easier to find plants and flowers in Dallas than cowboys or horses.

Just check out this stunning Texas flora and fauna mural at Bishop and Melba.

Texas flora and fauna mural by Courtney Miles and Haylee Ryan — Photo courtesy of Mariah Pruett

When artists Courtney Miles and Haylee Ryan were commissioned to paint the 120-foot-long wall, they opted for a nature scene. "We wanted to bring a natural escape to the city, a place to rest and bring some perspective to all of our busy lives," explained Miles.

"We tried to overcome everyone's daily worries with oversized flora and fauna indigenous to the area. It transcends language, and is something everyone can relate to, regardless of economic bracket, political leaning, ethnicity or gender."

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Miles and Ryan designed some spots specifically for Instagram poses – you can stand between the butterfly wings or sit on a vine – and the visibility of this has added to the changing perception of the city.

"All great cities throughout history have placed a premium on arts and culture," said Craig Hall, founder and chairman of HALL Group and a true patron of the arts. "As Dallas has evolved, so has our commitment to the arts and making them accessible to everyone."

Tar Roses by Dennis Oppenheim at Texas Sculpture Garden — Photo courtesy of HALL Group

Hall is a huge supporter of public art, mixing art and nature in popular spaces like the HALL Texas Sculpture Walk in the middle of the Dallas Arts District and the Texas Sculpture Garden in HALL Park. 

If you want to see some of the world's most famous nature scenes, though, head to the Dallas Museum of Art (admission is free!), where you can admire Monet's Water Lilies, Renoir's The Seine at Chatou and a variety of other masterpieces, including the seven murals which make up Edward Steichen's In Exaltation of Flowers, on view together for the first time in more than a century.

Yayoi Kusama's All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins installation at Dallas Museum of Art — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark

While you're there, splurge for Yayoi Kasama's breathtaking infinity mirror room installation, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, which is 45 seconds of pure joy, with more pumpkins than the eye can see (and more than the 90,000 real ones on display at the Dallas Arboretum every fall).

Flowers are so important to the museum that it holds an annual Art in Bloom fundraiser. This year's "Power of Flowers" event will feature New York graffiti artist Michael De Feo, a.k.a. "the Flower Guy," as well as a Living Floral Exhibit created by local floral designers and inspired by works of art in the DMA's collection.

Avant Garden Floral + Home — Photo courtesy of John Cain Sargent

One of those renowned designers, Todd Fiscus, is happy to see this growing focus on art and nature. "We love our city, and we love flowers!" he exclaimed. "And we love that both are thriving together."

So, if you're looking for a souvenir, stop by Avant Garden, his inspiring store. Forget the cowboy hat and bring home something that more accurately reflects the new Dallas – like maybe a basket of bluebonnets.