Sam Stamport Makes the Garden Bloom

Sam Stanport

Thanks to a generous grant from the estate of Betty Friedman through the Houston Jewish Community Foundation, the Betty and Jacob Friedman Holistic Garden is realization of the vision of Dr. Joseph Novak, a faculty lecturer in the BioSciences department and one of Texas' leading horticulture experts.

The garden provides a vital outdoor classroom for the BioSciences, while building community and providing wellness benefits for students and volunteers.  The garden's success is in large part to the more than 180 student, faculty, staff and local community volunteers who take shifts weeding, fertilizing and watering.  

For Sam Stamport, the campus’ holistic garden, with its fruits, vegetables and flowering plants, has served as refuge — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a place where Sam can connect with nature and bond with fellow plant-loving friends he’s made through the university.

Working in the garden rejuvenates him, said Sam, 70, who first got involved during planning for the green space four years ago. After returning to school at 40 to pivot into a career in horticulture from computer science, Sam took a vegetables class with Dr. Joe Novak. The two got back in touch years later after Sam moved back to Houston. Novak asked Sam to help him get the garden up and running.

“I was in the garden from the very beginning,” said Sam, who’s retired. “We all have our ups and downs, and I found that, when I’m having a bad time, I can go to the garden and volunteer and feel better because I’m connected to beautiful plants. This is the one thing I do to keep myself busy and centered. Being in the garden makes me feel younger, and Rice is the friendliest campus I’ve ever been on.”

Sam has taken a leadership role in developing and maintaining the garden’s ornamental plant areas. Often, after researching a plant online, Sam will get the green light from Joe to try it in the garden. “He lets me experiment a bit,” Sam said. He’s has also coordinated the volunteer program and led the garden’s fall and spring community plant sales, setting up online sales. Now, Sam is working to develop the garden’s new, sunnier space on the north side of the Gibbs Recreation Center in between the basketball courts and O’Connor Field.

In addition to a group of dedicated volunteers, the garden is stewarded by student garden workers, who sell much of the produce to Dining Services for use in residential serveries. It is also the site for summer internship opportunities in sociohorticulture, regular courses in environmental sustainability, and student clubs like Rice Urban Agriculture and the Beekeeping Club.

Sam says there’s always plenty for volunteers — from gardening novices to experts – to do. Novices can learn about plants alongside the professionals, like Sam, who’s used to teaching as a former computer science professor. “My students always told me I was a pretty good teacher,” he said. “I’m always patient.”

All are welcome — no prior gardening experience necessary — to volunteer in the garden on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 4 to 6 p.m. Get the latest on volunteer hours at

Return to 2022 Volunteer Impact Report