In the late 1940’s, two friends, Mrs. R.R. Witte and Mrs. Joseph Murphey, conceived the idea for a botanical garden. Together with many friends and associates, they were able to start the San Antonio Garden Center on land adjacent to Brackenridge Water Works, an abandoned limestone quarry turned water supply system and reservoir deeded to the city of San Antonio, Texas in 1899.
The first item on the agenda of the Garden Center was to create a master plan for a public botanical garden on the water works land in the late 1960’s. In 1970, voters approved $265,00 in bonds to fund the groundwork of the garden. These bonds, as well as grants and individual contributions, lead to the ground breaking ceremony on July 21, 1971 with the official opening of the garden to the public on May 3, 1980.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden Society, Inc, a not for profit organization, was chartered in 1980 to support the garden with the mission of inspiring people to connect with the world of plants, and understand the importance of plants in our lives.
Over the years, there have been many updates, drawing more visitors to the gardens, including the conservatory, Sullivan Carriage House, Auld House, the Funston Properties, trail revitalization projects, children’s facilities, landscape lighting throughout the garden, and many community events including Shakespearean plays, and plant sales. The garden is currently 38 acres and has much to offer visitors of all ages.
The Lucille Halsell Conservatory is one of the focal points of the botanical garden. Circling the Courtyard are exhibit rooms that feature plants from all over the world. There is also a pond with varieties of tropical water lilies to relax and enjoy.
The main exhibit room houses orchids, bromeliads, and other tropical varieties of flowers and plants in a tropical rainforest environment. The room is for the epiphyte plants that exist by growing on other plants.
The Robert and Helen Kleberg Desert Pavilion features plants from Mexico and Southern Africa. Plants that have the special ability to store water and ration its own usage of water, grow in this room.
The Gretchen Northrup Tropical Conservatory features tropical plants that must fight for light by growing tall with large leaves. The cocoa, coffee, and rubber trees can be found in this room. There are also varieties of climbing plants, vines, and tropical flowering plants.
The Palm and Cycad Pavilion house ancient varieties of plants from the stone age. Palms, Queen Sago, Lata Palm, and Coconut Palm, are all grown in this exhibit room.
The last of the exhibit rooms in the Lucille Halsell Conservatory is the Fern Grotto. This room houses what are considered one of the oldest varieties of plant in the world, ferns.
Texas Native Trail
This eleven- acre trail pays homage to the various regions of Texas. Over 250 plant species grow in the Texas Native Trail with the Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods, and South Texas regions all being represented in this unique setting. Adding to the authenticity is several early Texas houses on the property that add to the regional flair and history. Even the soil for each region is brought in to provide optimal growth and life for the plants and trees. The Hill Country representational region is home to live oaks, juniper, mountain laurel, crabapples, maples, and other limestone tolerant plants. Over on the Pineywoods section you can find pine trees, sassafras, sweet gum and acidic soil loving species grow vibrantly. The South Texas region of the Texas Native Trail grows dryland trees, and thorny bushes, as well as olive trees, and ebony.
This beautiful section of the Botanical Garden may change frequently and be different every time visitors patronize the attraction as the plants are changed seasonally to add variety to the garden. Flowers will fun, vibrant colors are chosen for the four formal display beds.
There are several species specific themed gardens on display as well. Older flowers are found in the Old Fashioned Garden while roses of every species and color imaginable are always in bloom in the Rose garden. There is a Japanese Garden with items donated from the San Antonio sister city Kumamoto Japan, and a sensory garden where you can touch and get up close and personal with many varieties of exotic and native Texas plants and flowers. Visitors can relax in the shade garden where there is plenty of seating to rest your feet, experience a calm tranquility in the Sacred garden, and be lost in the desert in the Cactus Garden. These are just a few of the beautiful gardens on display in the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
The Children’s Vegetable Garden is a fun place for families to go and learn about horticulture, organic growing, and simple gardening techniques that they can use at home! This garden is educational and affords children a hands on learning experience in planting and the proper ways of making something grow.
Water Saver Garden and Water Saver Lane
Adults that want to learn how to garden, but see the task as daunting and water wasting are welcome to experience an educational adventure at Water Saver Garden where staff teaches classes on low cost, water and energy saving irrigation systems. Visitors can learn about different Texas soil types, specific to the region you live in and be taught useful gardening tips to help your plants thrive. This is not for Texas native patrons only however. Many people from all over the world enjoy this area of the garden for its dedication to conservation and education on co-operative gardening and water saving techniques that are put to good use in places that do not suffer from drought as well.
After the class, visitors can head down Water Saver Lane where there are six separate texas log cabins built with different landscape designs that represent different soil regions. This is to give an idea of what you can achieve at home using the tips and tricks taught in class. There is even one cabin that shows you what NOT to plant and demonstrates how these plants, no matter how pretty, do not thrive in the Texas environment.
The Botanical Garden offers more than just plants and flowers for guests to enjoy. The entrance to the gardens is designed around the Daniel J. Sullivan carriage house. This structure was used as a horse stable and carriage house in 1896 and was moved stone by stone onto the gardens to serve as a grand entrance in 1995 after it was donated and disassembled in 1987. Inside the carriage house is the gift shop and a restaurant that preserves the antiquity of the home.
The Auld home, an 1880’s pine wood log cabin is thought to be the largest in Texas and is made out of large trunked logs from archaic pinon trees that had been around since the ice age. The home now sits in the Texas Native Trail, proudly representing Texas heritage and ancestry.
The Schumacher home was a limestone, German homestead built in 1849 in Fredericksburg Texas. The three room home was built with limestone, oak and red clay. The home was brought to the Botanical Garden in pieces and had to be reassembled on site, earning a preservation award in 2006.
The East Texas log cabin and outbuilding are part of the Pineywoods section of the Native Texas Trail. No record of the original builder exists, but the one room home, with remnants of a loft, a barn, smokehouse, and well head, were each well preserved and moved to the garden from Fayette County.
The South Texas Adobe also rests in the Texas Native trail in the south Texas area. Built in 1880, this house was reassembled using wood over 100 years old, leaving sections in the wall opening so that visitors can see and learn about the different building techniques used to design this palisade house with a split shake roof. These types of houses are made out of mostly cedar and sun baked mud, any further north, rainfall would cause the home to melt.
The bird watch structure is an important part of the Botanical Garden because you can witness up to 650 different species of migratory birds, as well as native Texas birds, passing through this area. The Rio Grande is along the flight path for birds from Mexico and you can often see some of them from the Bird Watch Structure. This special place is relatively new to the Botanical Garden, being built in 2010. The space is set up as an observatory with cooling fans and benches for resting visitors, portholes and windows for viewing the hundreds of birds outside. Sunflowers and Salvia decorate the landscape, attracting birds that enjoy sweet nectar such as, humming birds, Painted Bunting, White-throated sparrows, and the Purple Martin.
The San Antonio Botanical Gardens offers many fun, onetime events throughout the year to attract new visitors and cater to frequent Patrons. Family Flashlight night, astronomy clubs, dog training clubs, Viva botanica!, Spring Gala’s, and the new addition of Story Book Playhouses for kids, has drawn large crowds and helped fundraise to continue the Garden’s legacy. Visitors can also participate in different camps for children and adults, yoga, and tai chi classes that all take place on the grounds.
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555 Funston PL San Antonio, TX 78209, Phone: 210-536-1400