Who Are We/History

Who We Are

Zilker Botanical Garden is located on 28 acres nestled within Zilker Metropolitan Park in the heart of downtown Austin.  This “jewel in the heart of Austin” features heritage live oaks set into a hillside, and offers a lush, shady respite from everyday urban life with panoramic views to downtown and beyond.  Theme gardens include the Taniguchi Japanese Garden, The Riparian Streambed, The Hartman Prehistoric Garden, and The Mabel Davis Rose Garden.  These and other gardens are woven together with pathways, streams, and Koi-filled ponds, creating an urban oasis full of shaded hideaways, sunny lawn areas, and thousands of native and cultivated plants.

Zilker Botanical Garden is managed as a public-private partnership between the City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department (PARD) and the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy (ZGBC). Through an agreement between the Conservancy and the Austin Area Garden Council, AAGC brings the resources of its 30 garden clubs to this partnership.

The garden is open to the public most days year-round and is enjoyed by over 300,000 visitors each year, including locals, tourists, and thousands of school children from Austin and the surrounding communities.

Our History

The common thread that unites PARD, ZBGC, and AAGC is the shared commitment to the vision for a garden that is the heart and soul of our community. Though the faces and names may have changed over the years, what remains is a legacy of leadership, stewardship and volunteerism.

1946
The Violet Crown Garden Club set aside $50 to initiate a building project. The club immediately organized fund-raising events to add to the initial donation. Mrs. W. Bradfield is credited as the first person to approach the city for public land to be designated as a building site.  

1954
Six Austin Garden Clubs requested permission from the City to erect a Garden Center on city property. Mrs. Alden Mabel Davis lead the effort with founding clubs including the Violet Crown Garden Club, the Men’s Garden Club (now the Garden Club of Austin), Wilshire Area Garden Club, the Austin Women’s Federation Garden Group (now The Garden G.A.N.G.), Heart of the Hills Garden Club, and Western Hills Garden Club (now West Lake Hills Garden Club).

1955
The City of Austin accepted the idea and in April of 1956, the group filed articles of incorporation with the Texas Secretary of State. The Austin Area Garden Center was born and worked to bring a building to Zilker Park to serve as the garden center for club activities, community education, and volunteer efforts.

1962
The Austin City Council allocated space in Zilker Park. The City retained ownership of the land, and agreed to furnish utilities, grounds maintenance and building repairs for the new Garden Center. AAGC presented plans for the building under the direction of Mr. Beverly Sheffield (PARD Director), which the Austin City Council approved.

1964 
The attractive stone Austin Area Garden Center was completed and dedicated, becoming the focal point for all Zilker Botanical Garden visitors.   

1996
The City and AAGC  undertook a massive renovation of the Garden Center including asbestos abatement, American Disabilities Act compliance, and overall improvements.

2014
AAGC marked the 50th anniversary of the Garden Center which has served as the hub for AAGC’s educational programs.  The Center still hosts 45 to 50 meetings each month, making the facility one of the most popular buildings in the city.

2015
AAGC envisioned the concept and worked with PARD to create the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy (ZBGC).  AAGC members donated time and money to the Conservancy, contributing more than $97,500 to fund startup costs. 

2019
AAGC transitioned its financial and operational role in the Garden to the ZBGC, turning over operation of the Gift Shop and Admissions Gate as ZBGC and PARD signed their first public- private partnership agreement.

Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden

Opened to the public in 1969, the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden was built by Isamu Taniguchi when he was seventy years old. Working without a salary or a contract, Taniguchi spent 18 months transforming 3 acres of rugged caliche hillside into a peaceful garden. As is often done in Japan, the ponds were designed in the shape of a word or ideogram. In this case, the ponds in the first half of the garden spell out “AUSTIN”, reflecting the fact that these gardens were constructed as a gift to the city. The remains of the Mother Tree, which inspired Taniguchi to complete his building of the garden, overlook the pond.

In 2014, the Texas Historical Commission and Evan Taniguchi, Isamu Taniguchi’s Grandson, created “The Spirit of the Garden”, a short video detailing Isamu Taniguchi’s Journey to Austin and how he came to create the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden that can be seen at Zilker Botanical Garden today. Watch the Texas HIstorical Commission’s video here.