A Dream Realized:
In the early spring of 1924, Clara Driscoll held the first meeting of the Violet Crown Garden Club, in her home at Laguna Gloria. Violet Crown’s mission was to promote an interest in gardening, education, and civic beautification. The group flourished in Austin. By the mid-1940s, the Violet Crown was seeking a place to meet and hold their flower shows. Later joined by a handful of other garden clubs, members presented their vision for a garden center, to Austin Recreation Department Director, Beverly Sheffield. Impressed with the idea, he suggested that the clubs form a group of the existing area garden clubs. Six garden clubs came together to form the Austin Area Garden Center, Inc., or AAGC, to promote education in the art of gardening. In 1960, reporter Betty McNabb wrote in the Austin American Statesman:
“Among the mountain laurel, mesquite and sumac which cover a pretty knoll on the southern slopes of Barton Springs Road, a building will one day rise to command a sweeping vista of the Colorado and the Capitol across the river. Around it will be gardens – formal gardens with stately walkways, informal gardens with unexpected nooks and crannies. Winding among the oaks, the elms and pecans and cedar trees that grow in profusion, the gardens will be a miniature of the beauty of Texas.”
The City of Austin allocated land in Zilker Park, and in late September on a Sunday afternoon in 1963, the path to fulfill that dream began to come true. Mayor Lester Palmer and Mabel Davis, AAGC’s first president, turned the first shovel of earth at the site of the Austin Area Garden Center and what would become Zilker Botanical Garden. In just one short year, the building was completed and dedicated. The work was a joint effort between the city and many volunteers. In the years following, the gardens began to take shape.
When he was seventy years old, Isamu Taniguchi, a member of the Men’s Garden Club, built what is now the Taniguchi Japanese Garden as a gift to the people of Austin. Mr. Taniguchi spent 18 months transforming 3 acres of rugged, caliche hillside into a peaceful garden with a meandering stream and a series of ponds, which spell out the name “Austin.” It opened to the public in 1969 as the first of Zilker Botanical Garden’s major attractions and remains today as one of the treasures of the Garden.
Roses began to lushly bloom on the Zilker hillside in 1973 when the Mabel Davis Rose Garden was dedicated. Today the roses still bloom for all of Austin to enjoy.
Opening in 2002, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden got its start when amateur paleontologists discovered dozens of tracks of ancient reptiles in the area where this garden is located, confirming that dinosaurs once roamed in Austin. This garden is a unique, two- acre site developed as a Cretaceous habitat, with a world-class collection, representing species of plants that existed at the time of the dinosaurs.
It would be a lengthy document to chronicle the history of each of the gardens and features within Zilker Botanical Garden – every one represents countless hours of work by dedicated volunteers and park staff. Each a labor of love to help realize the dream of a garden jewel in the heart of Austin.