Located at the heart of Zilker Metropolitan Park, this ensemble of diversely designed gardens integrates trails, water features, and thematic displays of native plants on 26 acres of undulating topography. In 1946 the Violet Crown Garden Club began fundraising for its creation, realized twenty years later with the implementation of a design developed by the Austin Area Garden Council. By 1966 the Willie Birge Memorial Pond was established near the garden center’s meeting room. Two years later the Mamie Wilson Rowe Summer House was relocated to the property from its historic location on 10th Street, thus beginning a tradition of ornamenting the garden with architectural artifacts from around Austin that now includes foot bridges from Congress Avenue and the massive brick Butler Window salvaged from a home built in 1887. In 1969 a three-acre Japanese garden was completed: Designed and built by 70-year old Japanese immigrant Isamu Taniguchi who worked without pay, the garden comprises waterfalls, streams, ponds, and bridges surrounded by Japanese maple, wisteria, bamboo, lotus, and water lily. (Stone gates and a tea house were added later.)
Commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial in 1975, historic light standards that lit Lavaca Street since 1926 were installed in the parking area; the J. Curtis Harper Fountain and the Posey Perennial Garden were also installed at this time. In 1989 construction commenced on a butterfly garden and another that displays cacti and succulents. In 1992 paleontologists discovered prehistoric bones and footprints near an adjacent quarry, precipitating the development of a garden by landscape architect Brian Larson featuring plants from the Cretaceous and Jurassic Periods.