The San Antonio Botanical Garden
555 Funston Place
San Antonio, Texas
Botanical gardens and I go way back. When I first got married, my now-ex-husband and I lived not too far from the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Lake Forest, Illinois, and we went there frequently. When we moved to San Antonio a few years later, we sought out and found the San Antonio Botanical Garden. We were members of the gardens for many years and I only let our membership lapse when I got a job that had me working until 10:00 or 11:00 at night and left me too tired during the rest of the day to go gallivanting around, no matter how much I loved the places I would visit.
As a result of this fondness for botanical gardens in general and the San Antonio Botanical Garden in particular, this will mostly be a list of things I like about the Botanical Garden, and things I love about the Botanical Garden.
In 1877, the city of San Antonio hired a company to build a reservoir. At the time, most of the water that the people of the city used came from the San Antonio River, and San Antonio’s cycle of droughts meant that the river ran very low some years. After a false start on lower ground, the company, which was by then owned by George Brackenridge, chose a hilltop about a mile from the headwaters of the river as the crow flies, out at the very outskirts of town, to dig a reservoir and build a waterworks.
The area around that hill was, at that time, a limestone quarry, to supply limestone both for building and for San Antonio’s flourishing Portland cement business. You can still see remnants of the area’s limestone quarries, as well as the second cement works of the Alamo Portland and Roman Cement Company, in nearby Brackenridge Park.
In the 1890s, the city began drilling into the aquifer that underlies the city to supply the city’s water. As a result, the reservoir was abandoned. Brackenridge gave the site of the waterworks to the city in 1899.
The land sat largely empty for more than 70 years. In 1970, they began the process of turning the land into a botanical garden. Funding began that year with a bond proposal. The groundbreaking for the Botanical Garden was held in 1976, and the Garden opened to the public in 1980.
Through the years, a number of historic buildings have been moved to the Garden, including the carriage house of Daniel J. Sullivan, which was moved to the garden one stone at a time in 1988. The carriage house is now the entrance to the museum and also home to the gift shop and a restaurant.
Over the years, they have added more buildings to the gardens, including the Auld and Schumacher Houses and the five miniature houses with corresponding front yards in Watersaver Lane.
The houses of Watersaver Lane are a lot of fun to visit. All of the people in my family prefer one particular favorite style of yard. My father prefers the “traditional American lawn” yard with its expanse of turfgrass. My son likes the “Spanish courtyard” yard with a gravel walk and a bench that you can sit on to enjoy the yard. I like the “Wildscape” yard with plants that attract wildlife.
I also always enjoy the Texas Pineywoods area of the Texas Native Trail. There is a pond and numerous species of trees, including cypress and, of course, pines, and a log cabin that dates from the 1850s and used to be in Park, Texas, in Fayette County. As someone of Czech ancestry myself (though from Chicago, rather than Texas), I realized that this could mean that the log cabin may have been owned by a Czech family. A number of Czechs settled in Fayette County in the 1850s.
Mostly, though, I enjoy this part of the gardens because of the lake and the trees. Cook County has a forest preserve system and during my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood I spent many happy hours in my local forest preserve. My own local forest preserve had a pond with ducks and turtles just as the East Texas Pineywoods area does. The East Texas Pineywoods area remind me of home.
Another highlight is Kumamoto En. San Antonio’s sister city in Japan is Kumamoto. The “Kuma” of “Kumamoto” means “bear.” This means that our sister city status is something of a pun, since San Antonio sits in Bexar (pronounced “bear” — the “x” is silent) county. The Botanical Garden’s Japanese-style garden of “Kumamoto En,” is patterned after Suizen-ji Joju-en, a garden in Kumamoto. Like Kumamotp En, Suizenji-Jojuen has walking paths, a little shelter for tea ceremonies, a hill to represent Mount Fuji, and a koi pond.
I have a new position at my job which has me out the door at a more reasonable hour nowadays, so I have renewed my membership the Botanical Garden. I look forward to more visits and other activities, including the annual Dog Days and the Halloween-time Bootanica event, in the coming year.