Visit to San Antonio Botanical Garden

At summer’s end, Pride of Barbados ( Caesalpinia pulcherrima) steals the show at the entrance to the Botanical Garden, paired with butterfly weed and a tall ornamental grass.

On a business trip in San Antonio last week, I lucked into an hour to spare before I needed to make the hour-and-a-half drive back to Austin. I decided to make a quick first visit to the San Antonio Botanical Garden. There I was, strolling around a south Texas botanical garden at noon on the last day of August, thinking, “This is amazing! I’m willingly outdoors in August . . . and it’s not that hot!”

OK, enough about our amazingly temperate summer this year. Back to the garden. If it had been a more-typical 99 degrees that day, these gigantic agaves (Agave americana ) would have been just as beautiful, like silver tongues of fire.

A closeup

My first stop was the Old-Fashioned Garden, where a stand of pearl millet caught my eye.

Check out this intimidatingly spiky leaf. I neglected to get the plant name. But what kind of old-fashioned garden is this? My grandma didn’t plant monsters like this. Nevertheless, it certainly was interesting. Update: This plant is called, appropriately, Bed of Nails (Solanum quitoense ). Thanks to my mother for the ID.

Nearby, a large Ponderosa lemon tree sported clusters of large, ornamental lemons.

A wisteria arbor, swagged with green, invited me into the next part of the garden.

Where I found charming vignettes composed of beautiful weeping trees . . .

. . . variegated shrubs . . .

. . . and ornamental grasses.

Here’s another look at what appears to be a miscanthus grass backed by tawny-orange cannas. I don’t go for the tropical look in my own garden (except for yellow bells), but I actually like this juxtaposition of tropical and prairie.

Silver-leaved cenizo (Texas sage) and ruellia combine in a pink and purple fiesta. Cenizo is sometimes called barometer bush because it blooms only when a front moves in, bringing rain. You can water it all you want (though it prefers arid conditions), but you can’t trick it into flowering. Once it blooms, however, you cannot take your eyes off it: those airy, silvery branches spangled with purple flowers. Unfortunately, the sun was high when I snapped this photo, and it doesn’t do the colors justice.

Persian shield provides more purple in the shade.

A Spanish-style fountain attracted the attention of several children, including this girl.

An iron sign announced “The Garden for the Blind,” although on the website this area is referred to as the sensory garden.

Planted in raised beds for easy touch and smell, the Garden for the Blind is meant to be explored with the senses other than sight. Brushing against or crushing a few leaves of the Mexican mint marigold in this corner engages the sense of smell.

Over here, a rose offers floral fragrance, while foxtail fern begs to be touched. This would be a great garden for children to explore too.

I can never resist touching chenille plant’s fuzzy spires.

You know you’re in Texas when you see armadillo statuary. Backed by a palm and elephant ears, this scene looks more tropical than the arid vistas many people associate with Texas. But San Antonio is far enough south to grow a lot of semi-tropicals. Water availability is another matter, of course.

The path leads next to the Kumamoto Japanese Garden, established in 1989 as a gesture of friendship between San Antonio and her sister city, Kumamoto, Japan.

The beautiful entry to the Japanese Garden.

Old style meets modern: the glass pyramid of the Halsell Conservatory rises above the wall of the Japanese Garden.

A gently arching bridge crosses a tumbling stream.

On the other side you get a view of the pond and a pine on a little island. Do you see the “turtle”? I overlooked it on my visit and didn’t see it until I reviewed my photos.

Another look at the pond. No water lilies here. Just stone and water.

On to something completely different. Strolling to the north side of the gardens, I came upon the Auld House and a small Hill Country garden.

Here’s Mrs. Auld, the original owner, who raised seven children in this home in the 1880s, according to an interpretive sign.

The front porch and a garden of Texas natives, including lantana and Lindheimer muhly grass.

A sinuous live oak provides a shady respite.

An enormous Canary Island date palm’s long, drooping branches frame the view of a columnar fountain surrounded by papyrus that anchors this Mediterranean-style garden.

By this time, my hour was up, and I needed to head home.* I missed seeing the view from the overlook, the conservatory, the cactus and succulent garden, more of the Hill Country garden, and the East Texas and South Texas trails. It’s hard to leave a garden unexplored, but that will be reason enough for a return trip with the family sometime this fall.

*Before leaving I explored Watersaver Lane, a demonstration garden illustrating different styles of xeric (water-conserving) landscapes. Read about it here.

18 Responses

  1. […] During a quick visit to the San Antonio Botanical Garden (more on that later), I spent a good five minutes just admiring this Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima ) in a parking-lot island. Also known as dwarf poinciana and red bird of paradise, this showy tropical is a summer favorite in Austin too, where it dies to the ground in winter but usually returns in spring. […]

  2. Nicole says:

    Thanks for the very enjoyable tour. I have several Agave americana pups which I hope to grow into huge lovely architectural plants like these. I know that spiny leaf plant-seen it a few times in childhood in the secondary forests, but the name escapes me…

    I’m envious that you have room in your garden for several Agave americana! Thanks for stopping by, Nicole. —Pam

  3. What a stunning and beautifully kept garden. I now know that if I ever visit San Antonio I’d have a vastly better alternative than checking out the Alamo. And your pics are great. Can you help me out with the botanical name for the Persian Shield. It looks really familiar but not something I run across here in Santa Barbara.

    Also, I’ve added your link to my site ( thanks!

    Oh, now, you can’t slam the Alamo to a Texan. ;-) But it isn’t exactly known for its gardens either. Persian shield’s botanical name is Strobilanthes dyerianus. Thanks for the link! —Pam

  4. Phillip says:

    What a stunning garden – thanks for sharing. I really love the stone and water. I saw that thorny leaved plant in Washingon D.C. and I failed to get the name of it too.

    Thanks, Phillip. My mother identified the thorny-leaved plant as Bed of Nails. I put the botanical name in the text of the post. —Pam

  5. nikkipolani says:

    What a fabulous wonderful tour! Thanks for sharing your perspectives through your lens with us.

    Glad you liked it! —Pam

  6. Layanee says:

    Beautiful photos. I can’t pick a favorite but the textures in the photo of the entrance to the Japanese garden are really lovely. I think your new camera is happy.

    And I am happy with it. I’m still figuring out the settings, but even that experimentation is kind of fun. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  7. Kim' says:

    Wow… beautiful photos, and beautiful garden. You and that new camera make a great team. And there really is something about the thick-leaf, showy cannas next to the fine-textured grasses, isn’t there? I’ve noticed that I really like that in my garden, even though I never expected to like the cannas as much as I do.

    I’ll look for that combo in your photos, Kim. I wouldn’t have guessed that you could grow cannas in your northern climate. Are they annuals there? —Pam

  8. Carol says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tour of another garden. I love to come to your blog and read about more plants I can’t have, or that are so much larger than I could grow them in a container in one season (like the Persian Shield).

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    Carol, I get that feeling in miniature when I visit San Antonio. An hour and a half south of Austin, its gardens often have a more tropical flavor than Austin’s. Traveling to East Texas does the same thing, because there they can grow the acid-loving plants of the South, like camellias and azaleas, that we in Austin can usually only dream of. —Pam

  9. Lovely tour, as usual, Pam. I love these armchair travels you provide. This looks like another good place to take AJM’s mother when she visits us next month.

    I didn’t know Kumamoto was San Antonio’s sister city. Kumamoto wasn’t too far from where I lived and has one of the most beautiful traditional gardens in Japan. I was very lucky to visit it. I couldn’t find an official website, but you might be interested in these photos I found on Flickr.

    Wow, beautiful photos of Kumamoto. Thanks for sharing that link. Were you a gardener when you lived in Japan? You know what I mean—even if you didn’t have any dirt to dig in, did you go visit gardens while you were there? —Pam

  10. I can’t believe how clean and clear the water is in the pond, it’s beautiful. Thanks for the lovely tour.

    You’re welcome! You know, that water was so clean and clear that I wondered if they didn’t chemicalize it into that state. Hmmm. —Pam

  11. Janet says:

    In years past my husband and I have visited the San Antonio gardens during the Viva Botanica! event, which I believe is no longer held. It is great to see the gardens again through your lens.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Janet. Thank you for stopping by. —Pam

  12. Actually, Pam, I’ve seen some pretty spectacular stuff in the gardens surrounding the Alamo, too, including Brugmansias that awed me, but the SA bot garden is wonderful. We’ve visited a few times but in spring rather than late summer, and missed the Japanese garden. There’s only one way to remedy that! Road trip!!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I agree—I’ll defend the Alamo as a place worth visiting any time, as are the Mission churches. And isn’t it the truth that no matter when you visit a garden, you haven’t ever definitively seen it because it’s ever-changing with the seasons. —Pam

  13. chuck b. says:

    Nice! It’s a dream of mine to visit every Botanical Garden in America. If more garden bloggers would give us tours of their local Botanical Gardens, I could live my dream and save a lot of money on gas. :)

    You could, but it wouldn’t be the same. That would be money well spent, I say. By the way, how many botanical gardens are there in the U.S.? —Pam

  14. chuck b. says:

    Wow, that’s a heck of lot of touring you’ll be doing. Just in Texas alone, it would take a while to see them all. —Pam

  15. […] Watersaver Lane at San Antonio Botanical Garden, which I recently visited, seeks to dispel this misconception. Xeriscape gardens in five styles offer inspiration and an alternative to the ubiquitous and thirsty St. Augustine lawn with mustache hedge and water-guzzling annuals. Built around six miniature cottages, the gardens (Cottage, Wildscape, Texas Hill Country, Spanish Courtyard, and Manicured Xeriscape) contrast with the “control garden,” the Traditional Landscape, and illustrate that conserving water in the garden can look beautiful. […]

  16. […] When a travel opportunity knocks, I’m usually grabbing my suitcase on the way to the door. This year I resolved to mesh my love of travel and of gardens by visiting local gardens on my trips. Since August I’ve explored and blogged about Chicago’s and San Antonio’s botanical gardens. But until today I hadn’t taken the time to post about the one right here in Austin—the beloved but woefully underfunded (and occasionally defaced) Zilker Botanical Garden. On this mild, sunny fall day, I strolled its paths, so familiar to me from family walks, and tried to see it anew. […]

  17. […] last year’s blogger field trip to Peckerwood Garden, click here. And if you’d like more of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, click for my post about a late-summer visit in […]

  18. Don Pylant says:

    Nice photos! I may have missed it but the botanical name for Persian Shield is Strobilanthes.

    If you want more details on the Kumamoto En Sister City garden at the SA Botanical Garden, check out

    Thanks for the info, Don. —Pam