Established and designed in 1930 by the Exterior Beautification Committee of Texas State College for Women (today known as Texas Woman’s University), these gardens serve as an educational laboratory and recreational center. Located in the northern section of the 270-acre urban campus, the seven-acre gardens were planted for research and instruction by Willie Isabella Birge, Chair of the Botany Department. Ranging from wet to arid climates, linked gardens provided a naturalized setting for specimen plantings. At that time, a greenhouse was constructed for the propagation of plants and a campus plan was initiated to create an arboretum of live oaks and redbuds along the walks, drives, and open spaces. In 1932 a rock garden with sandstone seating elements, faux bois benches, and arid-adapted trees, shrubs, and groundcover was installed adjacent to a pond constructed in the shape of the State of Texas. Nearby, designed by Dallas architect O’Neil Ford and funded with a grant from the National Youth Administration, the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods was completed in 1939 with labor conducted by students. A 56-foot long trellis of roses spanned the length between the chapel and the gardens.
After serving for many years as the focal point of the campus, the gardens slowly deteriorated following World War II. In the 1970s local residents and university officials rejuvenated the gardens and greenhouse. Today, the garden is comprised of a diverse collection of native Texas wildflowers and trees organized in thematic gardens, displayed along paths, and on expanses of campus lawns.