If Zilker Park is the heart of Austin, then surely the Zilker Botanical Garden is the heart of the city’s favorite park. This 28-acre expanse of lush greenery, flowers, and streams welcomes 300,000 visitors every year to wander the grounds and enjoy a peaceful respite from the city.
Over the 6+ decades since its founding, the garden has been continually evolving. It now includes a variety of smaller independent gardens, including the Mabel Davis Rose Garden, the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, and the Hartman Prehistoric Garden.
Mabel Davis Rose Garden
Without Mabel Davis, there would be no Zilker Botanical Garden. Mrs. Davis was key in getting local garden clubs together to develop the Austin Area Garden Center, the stone building that serves as the home for club activities and community events in the park.
The Rose Garden named in her honor is a neatly manicured stretch of lawn with stone-walled beds overflowing with roses. Take a seat on a shady bench and take in the fragrance, or walk along the gravel paths to get inspiration for your own backyard.
Taniguchi Japanese Garden
The Japanese garden is one of the most beloved areas at the Botanical Garden. Visitors enter the garden through a stone gate, a gift from Austin’s sister city, Oita, Japan. Shady paths wind through Japanese maples and greenery. Several koi ponds in the garden spell out "Austin" as a tribute to the city that houses them.
A bamboo grove and peaceful tea house make the garden feel a thousand miles away from the busy city. But if you turn around, you can see a beautiful view of the Austin skyline from within the tea house.
It’s a place that pays tribute to both Austin and Japan, which is fitting considering its founder and designer. Isamu Taniguchi was a Japanese farmer who moved to California in 1915. After 3.5 years imprisoned in an internment camp during WWII, he moved to Texas to resume farming.
By the late 1960s, Taniguchi had retired and moved to Austin to be near his family. His son, Alan, was a well-known local architect and Dean of the UT School of Architecture. Alan also designed the Town Lake Master Plan, including the Hike & Bike Trail we still use today.
During his retirement, Isamu Taniguchi spent 18 months designing and building this garden by hand, without pay. It was his gift to the city that had become home to himself and his sons.
Hartman Prehistoric Garden
A more recent addition to the Botanical Garden, the Prehistoric Garden came about by a happy accident!
In 1992, plans were underway to install a butterfly garden at the park. During the clearing, the team discovered well-preserved dinosaur tracks in the bedrock. In consultation with a local paleontologist, they mapped the locations of the prints and made casts to preserve the shapes. Then they re-buried the original fossils to prevent deterioration.
The site around the tracks was developed into a Cretaceous habitat, seeded with ferns, gingkos, and palms that would have existed during prehistoric times. The centerpiece of the garden is a life-sized Ornithomimus statue, the species believed to have left the tracks.
This area of garden is both beautiful and fun, and an exciting attraction for the kids.
Hours, Admission & Accessibility
There’s so much more to see at the Zilker Botanical Garden — faerie houses and butterflies, a fresh herb garden, succulents and cacti. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week. Admission is free for children under age 2, $4 for non-resident youth, $8 for non-Austin resident adults and $7 for non-resident seniors (62+). Tickets must be reserved online in advance, so plan your visit today!
Through Museums for All, those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits) can gain free access to Zilker Botanical Garden. Reserve your tickets online.
The space is also available to rent for private events, like weddings and meetings. Call (512) 477-8672 x 11 for more information.
ADA access is available at the entrance on Barton Springs Drive. Trails are wheelchair-accessible with the exception of the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden. Note that some trails are gravel, and may be uneven and sloped into the hillside.
Whether you’re visiting on your own or with kids in tow, there are few better ways to spend a sunny day than wandering these magnificent gardens!