Bronze dinosaur in Hartman Prehistoric Garden
During my visit to Zilker Botanical Garden this week, I made sure to stroll through Hartman Prehistoric Garden, a favorite of mine. My family visited on opening day in 2002, and since then I’ve witnessed the phenomenal growth of this garden’s ancient plants.
As the garden’s website points out, Hartman is “Austin’s only garden devoted to ancient plants. Located on 1.5 acres within Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Hartman Prehistoric Garden showcases plants with lineages ancient enough to have been contemporary with dinosaurs, such as palms, cycads, and ferns.” Other “old” plants growing here include pine, cypress, magnolia, ginko, juniper, yew, orchid tree, ginger, myrtle, and Dutchman’s pipe.
Aside from dense stands of prehistoric plants, the garden brims with huge boulders and water features like streams and a grand waterfall. A central island is populated by one sinister-looking, bronze dinosaur. When you walk the crushed-granite trails through the lush, evergreen plantings, you feel as if that dinosaur could pop out at any time. It’s magical.
Let’s take the lefthand path, as I always do. It provides a longer, more private approach to the center of the garden and the view of the dinosaur.
Hmm, what do we see here? Dino tracks!
Masking the highway noise of nearby Loop 1 (MoPac), this natural-looking waterfall cascades down a cliff into a stream that threads through the garden.
Suddenly, through the foliage, the dinosaur appears. She’s an herbivore (they say), but she looks a bit scary, doesn’t she?
A sign gives us a little background. The full story is this, from the garden’s website:
The Hartman Prehistoric Garden is located on the site of the discovery, in 1992, of dinosaur tracks in an old limestone quarry along Stratford Drive in Zilker Botanical Gardens. After being uncovered and displayed to the public for a few years, and due to the nature of the soft limestone substrate, the tracks were rapidly beginning to erode away. The Austin Area Garden Council decided (after consultation with fossil experts from the Texas Memorial Museum, and after extensive molds and diagrams of the tracks had been made) to protect them by burying them beneath a garden honoring their presence.
The garden has been designed to function not only as one of the most beautiful gardens in Texas, but also as a premier education facility to teach the ancient prehistory of Austin. Over 100 species of plants are located in the garden, most originating over 100 million years ago. Some are ancient yet familiar natives. Many are new to the Austin area from exotic places around the world. The garden provides a great opportunity for the scientific and horticultural study of some of these plants. Primitive types of animals have been encouraged to live there. An extensive list of plant and animal species found in the garden is located on our flora and fauna web page. The total effect is designed to give the visitor a suggestion of what Austin looked like at the time the Ornithomimid dinosaur left her ancient signs in the earth.
A close-up of the animal that inspired this garden
A thicket of silvery green palms shimmers in the morning light.
Cast reproduction fossils act as stepping stones in a dinosaur-viewing clearing.
Another gorgeous palm, with the waterfall visible in the background
Yellowing leaves offer one of the few testaments to the season in this mostly evergreen garden.
This big cycad leans out of the shadow of an overlook shelter.
The view from the overlook
I don’t like the way these signs make me feel (“Don’t do this! Don’t do that!”), but I completely understand the need for them. Last year, citing an Austin American-Statesman article (no longer available online), I posted about Zilker Garden’s paltry budget and the abuse it endures from visitors:
The Statesman reports that ZBG [Zilker Botanical Garden] receives only $463,303 and serves 390,000 visitors yearly. Contrast that with San Antonio Botanical Garden, which the Statesman says receives $1.5 million and serves 75,000 visitors yearly.
On top of money woes, the garden, which is free to the public, is frequently victimized by visitors. Numerous people have carved their names deeply into tree trunks and bamboo stalks, which not only looks ugly but can hasten the plants’ deaths, and some visitors, according to longtime garden volunteer Craig Nazor, brazenly steal plants right out of the ground. The Prehistoric Garden’s rare plants have been particularly vulnerable to theft. Volunteers can only do so much and become demoralized with inadequate support.
On this visit, the garden looked to be in good shape. The waterfall was running, the stream was filled with water, plantings were lush and full. Maybe things are turning around. Austin loves this garden too much for it to be allowed to suffer neglect. Let’s hope that Hartman Prehistoric Garden’s money and maintenance woes have been rendered extinct.