Zilker Botanical Garden is commonly referred to as the “jewel in the heart of Austin.” Here, we’ll look at the history, various themed gardens, and various types of entertainment events held at Zilker Botanical Garden in downtown Austin.
At the outset, the Violet Crown Garden Club funded the project using $50 generated by selling firewood. Following its initial donation, the garden club organized a series of fundraising events.
Mrs. W. Bradfield approached city authorities to request that they allocate an area of land to build a new garden center, and Mrs. Alden (Mabel) Davis later continued the quest. The city stalled until 1955, when it finally approved the idea.
In November 1995, the Violet Crown Garden Club coordinated with six other garden clubs to form the Austin Area Garden Council and took control of the project. The other clubs comprised the West Lake Hills Garden Club, the Heart of the Hills Gardeners, the Wilshire Garden Club, the Western Hills Garden Club, the Austin Women’s Federation Garden Group, and the Men’s Garden Club.
Design and construction commenced in the early 1960s.
The Austin City Council set aside an area of land for the garden center project in Zilker Park in 1962. While the city council retained ownership of the site, it agreed to provide utilities, building repairs, and grounds maintenance for the new garden center.
Under the guidance of Austin Parks and Recreation Department director Beverly Sheffield, plans were drawn up for a new building and gardens. The city gave approval and construction commenced on September 8, 1963.
Zilker Garden Center opened to the public on October 25, 1964. In 1996, the garden center underwent an extensive renovation to remove asbestos. Changes were also performed to make the facilities compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, as well as to make general improvements.
Officials named Zilker Park in honor of Andrew Zilker.
Born in New Albany, Indiana, on September 1, 1858, Andrew Zilker traveled to New Orleans by working on riverboats and steered oxen teams for frontier caravans to reach San Antonio. He arrived in Austin at 18-years-old with only 50 cents in his pocket.
Zilker made a living by washing dishes and slept in the restaurant’s storeroom. Around this time, he socialized with a young engineer who worked at a nearby ice plant. This sparked an interest in artificial-ice manufacturing that changed Zilker’s life. He quickly established himself as one of Austin’s most prominent businessmen by taking control of a local ice plant.
In his later years, Zilker became a philanthropist and political figure. In 1918, he donated Barton Springs and its surrounding 350 acres to the City of Austin with the proviso that an endowment be created for the benefit of children in Austin. The collective area was named Zilker Park in his honor in 1934 after he gifted an additional 32 acres.
Zilker Botanical Garden comprises a range of themed areas.
The Cactus and Succulent Garden was dedicated in 1991, and it underwent an extensive renovation in 2010. The completed site features a Mexican grass tree surrounded by golden barrel cacti, as well as agave, euphorbia, and numerous other cacti species.
The Green Garden showcases environmentally sound gardening practices. It
comprises native and adaptive plants, creating a natural wildlife habitat. The Green Garden houses several items of historical interest, including a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, as well as the Peace Aviary.
Zilker Botanical Garden’s Herb Garden is laid out in a four-leaf clover design with a statue of Rosemary, the Goddess of Herbs, at the center. The prize-winning garden comprises numerous medicinal, culinary, and landscape herbs, in addition to fragrant varieties of native ones in its Vee Fowler Native Texas Herb Garden.
Located near the main gate, the Daylily Garden consists of daylily beds that bloom from late April to July, with some hybridized varieties flowering more than once a year. Daylilies are relatively easy to hybridize, and the Daylily Garden’s beds feature ones in a range of bloom sizes and colors.
The Doug Blachly Butterfly Trail and Garden was constructed in 1990 and funded with a grant from Ruth Puett, a board member of the Texas Botanical Garden Society. The Butterfly Trail features an open-air butterfly hatchery financed by Curtis and Patricia Meadows. Additionally, it is home to an array of colorful, fragrant blooms. They include coneflowers and passionflowers, which attract local and migratory butterfly species.
Pioneer Village is an organic garden that gives visitors a taste of early pioneer life and farming methods. It houses the Blacksmith Shop, which displays equipment used by blacksmiths. There is also the Swedish Pioneer Cabin, which was built by Texas’s first Swedish settler, S.M. Swenson, in 1840. Other historical structures includes the Esperanza School House that dates back to 1866. Mrs. F.E. Ingersol rescued the building in 1962, and it was later relocated to the garden. Today, it features schoolbooks, desks, and benches used by 19th Century schoolchildren.
From fundraising lunches to flower shows and herb festivals, the garden center hosts a variety of annual events to keep visitors of all ages entertained.