The Austin Area Garden Center has been sharing the joy of gardening since 1955. How did it all get started? Well ... ninety nine million years ago, ornithomimid dinosaurs made tracks in what is now the Hartman Prehistoric Garden. Is that history a bit too ancient for you? Fast forward to 10,000 years ago, when the Zilker Park area was inhabited by humans.
[More information on the archeological study is available at http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bbvah ]
Fast forward to the time of the early European explorers, who encountered Tonkawa Indians here in the Austin area, notable because the Tonkawa were cannibals! Other Native American residents of Central Texas were Lipan Apache and Comanche.
In 1730, Franciscan monks built a mission on the bank of Barton Creek - what a great location until frequent Indian raids drove them away.
In 1837, William Barton moved to the area and was the namesake for Barton Creek. Businesses in the area included 2 water-powered gristmills, a bath house and an ice factory.
Andrew J. Zilker bought land in the area in the early 1900s. His nickname was Col. Zilker, but he wasn't really a colonel. In 1917, he donated Barton Springs and surrounding acreage to the Austin school district to sell to the city, which in turn paid for a $100,000 school endowment with the proceeds. This trust continues to provide funding for the school-to-work program. The land became Zilker Park. Features of Zilker Park included a small zoo, riding stables and a reptile farm that sold rattlesnake sandwiches.
You're probably wondering what all this has to do with the Austin Area Garden Center. I'm getting there -
In 1924, Clara Driscoll started the Violet Crown Garden Club. You'll remember her as the lady who saved the Alamo and built Laguna Gloria. There were many garden clubs in Austin, meeting in member's homes and holding flower shows where they could, such as bank lobbies and the City Coliseum.
In 1946, Violet Crown members started saving money from fundraisers to build a garden center. In 1955, seven garden clubs organized the Austin Area Garden Council to build it.
They sent out invitations, wrote a mission statement and bylaws and put together a governing board. Their goals emphasized conservation and inclusion. This was not to be a country club! Their request for a small plot of land was met with enthusiastic approval from the Parks and Recreation Department as well as the City Council. In
1962, the City of Austin allocated land in Zilker Park, and the building was completed in 1964. The Austin Area Garden Council paid off the mortgage in 1965.
The legacy of those 7 clubs continues. Violet Crown Garden Club, the Men's Garden Club (now the Garden Club of Austin), Heart of the Hills and Westlake Hills are still AAGC members. Now we have 30 member garden clubs whose members are still sharing the joy of gardening! More information about the history of the Austin Area Garden Center can be found on the bulletin board in the Greene Room.
The Garden Council and individual members have continued their support of the Austin Area Garden Center and Zilker Botanical Garden with financial donations as well as countless volunteer hours. A more recent donation (1997) of $125,000 enlarged the gift shop and added an office wing to the building.
The Austin Area Garden Center is the place to be when you want to learn something new about nature, conservation, pruning, irrigation, compost, house plants, vegetables, flower arranging - well, if I were to list every topic covered in our programs this year, that would take several pages! I'm honored to serve as your president, and hope to visit every club this year. Looking forward to seeing all of you,