Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center will re-open March 7, Director Michael Hoke has announced.

H.J. Lutcher Stark’s gardens now operating as a tourist center closed after Hurricane Ike, excepted for a brief time at Thanksgiving when limited sections briefly opened.

In addition, the parking lot across Park Avenue from the main entrance, which can hold about 250 cars, is now open to the public, Hoke said. Construction began in May, 2008, after the Thomen Center was torn down and shortly after Shangri La opened to the public.

“We have thousands of new plantings,” Hoke said. “There a lot of things people have never seen before.”

Named for a term in the book “Lost Horizon” symbolizing a kind of paradise, more than 250 acres make up the grounds which include a heronry / bird blind, flower gardens and education exhibits. Boat rides are offered to tour remote areas. Stark closed the grounds to the public in 1958.

The formal gardens contain more than 300 plant species in five formal “rooms” as well as four sculpture “rooms.” Other features include the Nature Discovery Center, a laboratory, and three outdoor classrooms located deep in the cypress swamp. The Orientation Center includes an exhibit hall, Discovery Theater, children’s garden, exhibition greenhouses, café and gift shop.

Shangri La is the first project in Texas and the 50th in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum certification for LEED-NC, which verifies the design and construction of reached the highest standard of green building and performance measures.