Melissa Martin knows plenty about butterflies, bugs and botany.
Melissa Martin’s desire to be a lifelong learner has earned her a place as one of Dallas’ primary forces of nature. The Executive Director of the Texas Discovery Gardens, Ms. Martin is ever observing and teaching visitors of all ages to respect the urban environment. Busy as she is, you might catch her stopping to watch dragonflies hover over a tranquil pond or pondering why various species of butterflies prefer certain plants.
“It’s important that we keep learning and understanding how important it is to restore, conserve and preserve nature,” she says. “That is our mission here, and in a city environment, people must be encouraged to work with nature…not against it.” Ms. Martin points out an interdependency between humans and the earth. “We see increases in respiratory diseases and polluted water. By using adaptive plants, avoiding pesticides and helping to make air and water cleaner, our children will live in a world that’s much healthier.”
During her tenure as Executive Director, Ms. Martin and her staff have seen the popularity of the Gardens’ butterfly houses and children’s educational programs rise significantly. Texas Discovery Gardens is now “the” local place to view butterflies, both native and non-native. She’s delighted that so many 2007 State Fair of Texas visitors came to view “Skies of Butterflies,” a temporary house that featured many Texas butterflies.
The main building is metamorphosizing into permanent, multi-story Butterfly Conservatory that will be one of the largest displays of live butterflies in the world when it opens next year. The second story will put visitors on the canopy level of a rainforest, for an important reason: Butterflies have become a source for economic development in tropical countries, according to Ms. Martin. “Raising butterflies for butterfly houses is a sustainable farming project for villages that might otherwise participate in “slash and burn” farming methods that deplete tropical soils. Butterfly farming also creates opportunities for tourism and opens up educational opportunities for the local population to learn about the importance of conserving their country’s natural resources.”
Growing up environmentally aware.
Melissa Martin’s respect for the outdoors began early in life, almost as soon as she learned to run in the woods near her San Antonio home. “Wherever we lived in Texas, I was always outside….walking the dog, catching lightning bugs and counting their little legs. It was just fascinating to watch animals and other creatures.”
When her grandparents retired to North Carolina in the 1960s, they became organic farmers. “The organic concept was a pretty unusual thing back then,” she recalls. “They grew organic fruit and vegetables and raised organic livestock using renewable resources such as composting. Everything tasted so fresh.”
While majoring in Ornamental Horticulture at Texas Tech, Melissa continued to realize the benefits of organic farming, such as avoiding pesticides. After graduation, her job as a plant nursery manager included advising customers on what plants to buy. Ironically, pesticides were recommended to enhance the overall look of the yard. “But now I’ve come full circle and avoid any kind of chemicals. I believe in organic gardening because it is best for the plants, soil, ecosystem and ultimately humans. In an organic habitat, the environment will control itself and remain balanced. For example, dragonflies eat mosquito larvae.”
Ms. Martin later worked at the Dallas Museum of Natural History for 9 years as both an educator and Volunteer Coordinator. Then she joined Texas Discovery Gardens as a Children’s Educator, adding Volunteer Coordinator and numerous other titles before assuming her current position..
Extending her reach to future gardeners.
These days, Ms. Martin is intent on making sure that visitors get the most out of the beautiful and serene Gardens, whether through children’s educational programs such as “Math in Nature” and “Terrarium Worlds,” or showing adults how cuttings from gardens like the Heirloom Garden can be passed along to thrive in gardens of succeeding generations. And always, she loves persuading people to think organic; in 2003, the Texas Discovery Gardens was certified as the first 100% organic public garden in the state.
Melissa Martin is inquisitive as ever, even in her spare time. She enjoys collecting fossils and is a Master Naturalist. “The Master Naturalist Program teaches volunteers how to recognize and understand the dynamics of the local native habitat. This is done in order to conserve and restore what is there and then teaching others about it – very similar to Texas Discovery Gardens’ mission!” And yes, she is also a gardener.
Husband Bill is a musician and works for the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department. Older son Benjamin studies Jazz at University of Texas at Arlington and younger son Jonathan is in the Visual Arts program at Booker T. Washington High School.
Melissa Martin truly lives her love of nature. By helping others learn to care for and enjoy their urban environment, she continues to make valuable contributions to society…for today and tomorrow. For information about Texas Discovery Gardens, visit the Texas Discovery Gardens website.