6 Texas Botanical Gardens to Visit All Year Long
The Lone star state boasts some of the most stunning public gardens to soak up the flower fun
By Joleen Jernigan
Photographs by Warren Chang
Perhaps Audrey Hepburn said it best when she said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Luckily, Texas botanical gardens are some of the most cultivated masterful gardens across the country available for our viewing and strolling pleasure.
These stunning spaces throughout Texas are worth adding to your leisure time lists. Each of these gardens pulls out all the stops to impress and delight their visitors. Cultivated throughout the year to inform and delight anyone remotely interested in plants, flowers, and trees, any time is a good time to visit for a dose of appreciation for nature’s beauty.
To take your flower fun a step further, many of these gardens offer programming and events amidst the flora. Take a gardening class, send your children to summer day camp, learn about native plants and trees and how to care for them, do yoga in the park, take a guided tour or attend a live music performance with your family.
Here are some of the Texas’ most stunning botanical gardens worth visiting:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Of course, no discussion of gardens in Texas is complete without noting the contributions of the late environmentalist and first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson influenced many of the more than 200 laws intended to conserve the environment passed during the Johnson Administration, and she is well-loved for encouraging the planting of native wildflowers along Texas highways and roadsides, an initiative that not only beautifies the roadside but also helps to prevent erosion and reduce the need for maintenance.
One of her enduring legacies is the University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, co-founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes in 1982. The Wildflower Center has a simple, yet vital mission: inspiring the conservation of native plants. While peak wildflower season is during the spring, there are multitudes of native flowers, plants, and trees to see there in every season.
The Wildflower Center hosts featured events such as free, family-friendly Nature Nights, an annual fort wonderland called Fortlandia from the end of September through January, Tuesday Twilight happy hours in spring and fall, and the popular Luminations luminaria display in the holiday season.
Zilker Botanical Garden
Hidden in plain sight in the heart of Austin, Zilker Botanical Garden offers city dwellers a chance to escape into a magical world, shaded by live oak trees, complete with water features and beautiful pathways. Envisioned first in 1946 by the Violet Crown Garden Club, the Zilker Botanic Garden is now a public-private partnership between the City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department and the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy, with support from the 30 garden clubs in the Austin Area Garden Council. Their mission is to guide, enhance and grow a world-class botanical garden in the heart of Austin whose beauty and diversity will serve to inspire and educate all those who enter its gates and walk its verdant paths.
Zilker Botanical Garden boasts unique, not-to miss areas. People love proposing and taking special occasion photos at the picture-perfect Butler Window. The Hartman Prehistoric Garden mimics the landscape of the Cretaceous period along with molds of the real dinosaur tracks and turtle fossil from that era found here in 1992. These discoveries were cast for the molds then reburied to preserve them from the elements and human destruction. There is a statue of the dinosaur believed to make the tracks, the ornithomimus, in this section of the park.
The Butler Window
The Taniguchi Japanese Garden, built by then 70-year-old retired Japanese farmer, Isamu Taniguchi, in the late 1960s, is a monument to peace with elements of a traditional Japanese garden intended to instill a peaceful feeling in those who visit. Taniguchi, who had been a prisoner in a Crystal City internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, during World War II, retired in 1967 and moved to Austin to be near his family.
Zilker Botanical Garden also hosts can’t-miss annual special events. The much-anticipated Woodland Faerie Trail is open all summer to display faerie homes, built of natural materials by Austin volunteers, including school and garden groups and individuals. Music in the Garden happens on select Thursdays throughout summer. In April, the iconic Ion Art brings nighttime in the garden to life with their Surreal Garden series of neon art parties.
San Antonio Botanical Gardens
If you’re interested in mythical creatures and topiary characters, you can’t miss Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time, the current featured exhibit at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens by Mosaïcultures® Internationales de Montréal. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens has recently been investing in revamping the whole place, so if you haven’t been in a while, now’s the time to go.
Inspired by fairy tales, the Imaginary Worlds exhibit brings massive storybooks, a mermaid, a dragon, Pegasus, Rip Van Winkle, and a peacock made out of plants to whimsical life. The special exhibit will be up through October 29. Related programming include a planting mosaic class, Gardens and Dragons RPG nights, and a theatrical walking tour. Be sure to visit the iconic 90,000 square foot complex, the Lucile Halsell Conservatory. The conservatory houses plants and ecosystems from around the world in five striking glass buildings.
Japanese Tea Garden
This is a true oasis in the city that offers visitors a lush landscape with a pavilion, a tea shop, stone bridges, a koi pond and 60-foot waterfall. Located in what was the pit of a limestone quarry, the Japanese Tea Garden is perfect for meditation, contemplation, or inspiration.
The Japanese Tea Garden was partially built using prison labor and opened in 1919. Then, the city invited Eizo “Kimi” and Myoshi Jingu to move in and maintain and improve the grounds. They and their seven children lived there and ran a tea room until the family was removed due to anti-Japanese sentiment after Pearl Harbor. Now the San Antonio Parks Foundation honors the Jingu family’s intertwined legacy with the Japanese Tea Garden through the Jingu Family Fund for the Arts. The City of San Antonio began a restoration project in 2005 and reopened to the public in 2008. Admission is free.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Spread over 66 acres tended by more than 50 horticulturists, landscape architects, and gardeners, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden pops with color and hosts stunning exhibits all year. This one is a multi-award-winning botanical garden, whose awards and press accolades are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say the Dallas Arboretum does not disappoint in any season.
Dave Forehand, VP of Gardens, shares about one of the Dallas Arboretum’s much-anticipated annual Autumn at the Arboretum Pumpkin Village, which runs from mid-September through early November. “All of our more than 100,000 pumpkins, squash, and gourds come from Floydada in west Texas,” he notes. “Our 2023 pumpkin houses and special theme will be Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts,’ so expect to see Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and friends throughout the exhibit this year.”
Cockrell Butterfly Center
Walk among 1500-2000 exotic butterflies in a simulated tropical rainforest at the Cockrell Butterfly Center, part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS). This colorful, glass-encased rainforest conservatory is home to more than 60 species of butterflies from around the world.
Recently reopened to the public after extensive renovations, the Butterfly Center provides a place where butterfly lovers of all ages can gather and delight in observing many butterflies flitting around, enjoying their home among the thousands of living tropical plants. Notable plant species include cocoa trees (Theobroma cacao), coffee plants (Coffea arabica), the Pride of Trinidad (Warszewiczia coccinea), and calabash trees (Crescentia cujete). Their goal is to entertain and educate families who visit, through interactive exhibits plus self-guided games and quizzes.
The striking 3-story glass building is made more beautiful with a 50-foot waterfall and cenote. Entrance to the Brown Hall of Entomology is included with the price of admission ($12/adults, $10/children). The Brown Hall is perfect for those with an interest in insects and arthropods who want to learn more.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
“If you want to be happy for a lifetime, be a gardener,” is a famous proverb attributed to many different cultures and people, yet perhaps it’s so widely reiterated because of the truth it represents. If you want to be happy for a few hours, visit one of these outstanding Texas botanical gardens.