Zilker Botanical Garden
Austin Area Garden Center
2220 Barton Springs Rd, Austin TX 78746 - 512-477-8672

ZBG in the Beginning


The story of the Garden Center starts in 1946 when the Violet Crown Garden Club set aside $50 earned from the sale of firewood, to initiate a building project. The club immediately organized and sponsored fund-raising events to add to the initial donation. Mrs. W. Bradfield was first to approach the city with the request for land to be designated as a building site. Mrs. Alden (Mabel) Davis continued the quest and in 1955 the city accepted the idea. In November of 1955 seven garden clubs organized as the Austin Area Garden Council and took on the task of overseeing the project. These original clubs were Violet Crown Garden Club, the Men's Garden Club, Wilshire Garden Club, the Austin Women's Federation Garden Group, Heart of the Hills Gardeners, Western Hills Garden Club and West Lake Hills Garden Club.

On November 15, 1962, the City Council allocated space in Zilker Park. The city retained ownership of the land but agreed to furnish utilities, grounds maintenance and building repairs to the new Garden Center. The council presented plans for the building and adjacent gardens under the direction of Beverly Sheffield, then Director of Parks and Recreation. The plans were approved and construction began following groundbreaking ceremonies on September 8, 1963. The building was completed and dedicated on October 25, 1964. In 1996, the Garden Council along with the City undertook a massive renovation of the Garden Center in order to do necessary asbestos abatement, comply with the standards of the American Disablilities Act, and improve the usefulness of the building.

The present Garden Council is composed of 30 clubs with approximately 1,500 members. The Center is the site of 45-50 meetings per month and approximately 300,000 visitors come to the gardens each year. One thing that is unique about these gardens is that they represent a collaboration between many area garden club members and the city. The contributions of many groups and individuals have resulted in the gardens as they are today.


Colonel Andrew, "Andy" Zilker was born September 1, 1858 in New Albany, Indiana. He worked his way to New Orleans on riverboats and then drove oxen teams for frontier caravans to make it as far as San Antonio. He was 18 years old when he arrived in Austin with fifty cents in his pockets. He survived by washing dishes in a small Congress Avenue restaurant earning and a place to sleep in a storeroom at the rear of the building.

Because of a friendship with a young engineer at the ice plant on the riverbank, Zilker developed an interest in the manufacture of artificial ice which led to him becoming one of the city's most prominent businessmen. It took him only six weeks earning $1.25 per day as a plant fireman at the ice plant to advance to the position of engineer. Three months later, he assumed control of the plant. The ornate fire drill tower of the Fire Department on the north shore of Town Lake marks the original location of the ice plant.

In 1918, Zilker donated Barton Springs and the surrounding area to the City of Austin on the condition that an endowment of $100,000 be established to benefit the children of Austin. The income was to be spent by the public school system for manual training and domestic science (industrial education). This project was augmented in 1931 by an additional endowment, insuring technical education for Austin's children indefinitely.

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