Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zilker Botanical Gardens

There is no lack of things to do in Austin, Texas to be sure. But, whether you are an Austin native or a visitor to the city, one place that has to be visited is Zilker Botanical Gardens.

The recent history begins in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when several local garden clubs began raising money and supporting the idea to create the gardens. Finally, in 1964, the gardens were first opened, in cooperation with the City of Austin, which dedicated the land for the site.

This is a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours. The parking lot is relatively small, so it is best to go during the week rather than on a weekend. If you have no choice but to visit on a weekend, you’ll spend a couple of times circling the scenic tropical and sub-tropical flora which line the parking lot, waiting for someone to leave before finding a place to park. If that is stressful in any way, you need not worry. Once you start walking through the gardens that tension will melt away.

The 31 acres of gardens are segmented, by theme, and are connected by walkways. There are gardens dedicated to native plants, cacti, herbs, and roses. In addition, there is the gorgeous Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, replete with bamboo and koi ponds.

And, if you like a little more adventure, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden will provide that. Recently discovered dinosaur tracks have shown that these creatures once walked the land where the gardens now reside. The Hartman Garden replicates the Cretaceous period, with plants originating in the Jurassic period mixed in. The dinosaur which left its tracks in Zilker Park over 65 million years ago was the Ornithomimus. In its honor, a sculpture of the dinosaur is found within this "prehistoric" garden.

And what, you may ask, does the “Zilker” of Zilker Botanical Gardens have to do with any of this? Well, a lot it seems, but not going back millions of years. Andrew Zilker came to the area as a teenager in the mid-1800’s from the Midwest. Working as a dishwasher initially, he eventually became the owner of a business which manufactured ice. This proved to be quite a lucrative specialty in Austin’s hot climate. As a result, Zilker became quite a wealthy and influential person in the area, and bought up land along the Colorado River, some of which he eventually donated to the City of Austin and which includes what is now the botanical park.

It is remarkable how ancient dinosaurs, a teenager seeking to make his way in life, and several garden clubs can make the world more enjoyable for all of us. But they all did. Just visit Zilker Botanical Gardens, and you’ll understand what I mean.

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