Zilker Botanical Garden: An Uplifting Experience in Nature’s Diverse Beauty

Zilker Botanical Garden tantalizes the senses with a wide variety of garden styles that look appealing, smell fragrant and uplift the spirit.

Located in the Zilker Park area just south of Downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake, the garden’s interesting topography is the perfect showcase for a broad array of gardens featuring native, hybrid and exotic plants. A popular attraction, more than 300,000 people visit annually from the U.S. and around the world.

Established in 1955 as a non-profit organization, the 31-acre Zilker Botanical Garden is an important feature of Zilker Park and a wonderfully serene escape despite being so close to downtown Austin. It is divided into distinct themed gardens that range from modern and international gardening styles to a replication of a prehistoric habitat.

More than Garden-Variety Gardens

The Green Garden brings ideas to life from nine different designers on how Austin homeowners can incorporate native and adapted plants into their home landscaping projects. These environmentally sound and attractive designs detail the light and space requirements for each plant and range from colorful, seasonal gardens to traditional evergreen styles, as well as xeriscapes and natural wildlife habitats.

Cacti and Prehistoric Plantscapes

At the Cactus and Succulent Garden, visitors see many different species of succulents appropriate for Central Texas gardens. This garden, which originally focused on species from West Texas, has been revitalized to include a greater variety of species.

The Hartman Prehistoric Garden represents how the area might have looked during the Cretaceous Period 65 to 144 million years ago. Plants in the area (including conifers, liverworts, mosses, horsetails, ferns and cycads, among others) represent the prehistoric plants that were common during the time of the dinosaurs. In 1992, amateur paleontologists discovered fossilized dinosaur footprints in the garden area. Casts of the tracks are displayed in the garden, and a life-size statue of an Ornithomimus (the dinosaur that left the original prints) stands in its prehistoric surroundings.

Herbs and Japanese Horticulture

The Herb Garden, maintained by the Austin Herb Society, sits in a four-leaf clover design, with raised beds containing a variety of culinary, medicinal, and landscape herbs. The section also contains the Vee Fowler Native Texas Herb Garden, an expansion that focuses on native plants. This garden is particularly fragrant. An inviting bench enables visitors to stop and sit, rest and enjoy the aromas and the scenery.

Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden first opened to the public in 1969 and is an example of Eastern-style gardening, including small ponds with koi fish, stone gates and a teahouse. At the age of 70, Mr. Taniguchi spent 18 months transforming the three acres of rugged hillside into the peaceful garden it is today. In keeping with the Japanese garden tradition that ponds are designed to spell out a word, the ponds in the first half of the garden spell “Austin” as a reflection of the fact that the garden was a gift to the city.

Roses and Butterflies

The Mabel Davis Rose Garden is an All American Rose Selection display garden. It was originally dedicated in 1973 and offers a display of labeled shrub and climbing roses. The Carl Von Bleucher Memorial Columns include eight columns of assorted climbing roses. They were given by Mr. Bleucher’s family in honor of the dedicated rose grower and Charter Member of the Rose Society. The stone plaza and redwood bench offer the best vantage point for taking in the entire garden.

The Butterfly Garden and Trail has been filled with native flowers and plants that attract numerous butterflies, including several migratory species. Recently, the gardens introduced several new plant species that produce nectar or forage for butterfly larvae such as sedums, passionflowers, and coneflowers. Local and migrating butterflies are attracted to these plants, and the number of butterflies has steadily increased over the years. Guided tours are available to explore the interaction between the insects and plants.

Organics, Daylilies, and More

The Organic Garden contains an ever-changing display of organically grown plants from around the world. Many of these useful plants were brought and cultivated by early pioneers. The garden also contains a small pioneer village that includes a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse originally built in 1866, log cabin built circa 1840 and a wishing well that was donated in 1965. The log cabin is considered to be one of the best-preserved specimens in the United States.

The Austin Daylily Society maintains the Daylily Garden, which contains various species and hybrids, with bloom sizes ranging from less than 3” to more than 7”. Blooming periods take place between April and July, and hybridizers are working to develop plants that bloom more than once a year with longer-lasting blooms.

The Western Trails Garden Club maintains the Children’s Garden. Its central feature is a large topiary dinosaur filled with Sansevieria, succulents, purple and chartreuse sweet potato vines, rosemary, spider plants and irises. Other areas of the garden are populated with beautiful examples of giant oak and elm trees with birds of paradise, mountain laurel and butterfly bushes.

The Attic of Austin

The Zilker Botanical Garden also contains several interesting and historic landmarks. The Congress Avenue foot bridges that were in use between 1870 and 1905 that cross over the drainage ditches lining the avenue are still in use in the park. The Butler Window, a key-shaped window in a lone brick wall, was once part of a house downtown that was built in 1887 and relocated to the gardens when the house was demolished. The antique light standards, which are found in the parking area, once lined Lavaca Street from 1926 to 1976. These artifacts have earned Zilker Botanical Garden the nickname “the attic of Austin.”

Austin has many parks and lovely greenery, but in few places does the color really come alive as it does in Zilker Botanical Garden. The unique and varied gardens make for a relaxing trip the whole family can enjoy.