Blogger field trip: San Antonio Botanical Garden

A monarch and honeybee share space on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora)

Twelve Austin garden bloggers caravaned to San Antonio on Saturday to visit San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Antique Rose Emporium, with a stop along the way at Madrone Nursery in San Marcos, a native-plant nursery open by appointment only. I had a great time getting to know new bloggers and seeing the sights with those who have become old friends.

San Antonio is an hour and a half south of Austin and shares a similar climate and geography. However, its gardens always seem much more tropical than ours.

I wonder if it’s really that much warmer there in the winter and whether they get more rainfall in the summer. Or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic of what they choose to plant, as Austinites can grow many tropicals as well.

Speaking of big and bold tropical plants, like these orange canna lilies, check out this terrifyingly large praying mantis. It’s part of the Big Bugs exhibit on display through January 3rd. A few years ago, Big Bugs came to the Wildflower Center in Austin; click for my pics.

The garden is located in what I think of as Old San Antonio, the lush, green oasis near the center of town, where the Alamo, the Riverwalk, the zoo, and other gardens can be found. This detail of a formal fountain (turned off, sadly, like all the others due to watering restrictions during the ongoing drought) reminds me of the city’s Spanish missions.

Red hibiscus

Succulents in a simple clay pot

A series of wisteria-draped arbors creates a shady tunnel near the entrance to the garden. I’d love to see this in bloom one day.

Firecracker fern or a penstemon? I’m not sure. Update: Consensus is a penstemon of some sort, perhaps firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii).

Here it is again (on the left), with cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), Gulf muhly grass, and a columnar cactus. What a unique grouping!

We all rushed over to snap pics of a flock of sparrows noshing on grass seeds.

I noticed a lot of chartreuse paired with dark purple or “black” foliage. I think this is duranta in front and purple heart spilling over a wall in back.

Wow, check out this black beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata). I love the dark wine-colored berries of this variety.

Appropriately named butterfly Clerodendrum (Rotheca myricoides ‘Ugandense’).

What passes for fall color in central Texas appeared to advantage along a small lake. The bald cypresses were turning rusty orange.

Another look

The Japanese garden is smaller than Austin’s Taniguchi Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, and the pond is dry due to the watering restrictions (were there no fish?). But this expressive vignette of a yellowing Japanese maple and stone lantern caught my eye.

The woven fence that surrounds the garden is beautiful.

Elsewhere in the garden, another Japanese maple in a pot gives a little fall color.

Of course, cacti are perhaps better suited to San Antonio’s climate than Japanese maples, and the garden showcases plenty of them, including this non-native columnar giant.

Looking at this image on my computer, I noticed the bee impaled on one of the spines. I wonder how that happened.

How I love ‘Ruby Crystals’ grass (Melinis nerviglumis).

It grows only about 2 feet tall and is reputed to be drought-tolerant and a heavy reseeder. But I had three little ones in my old garden in full sun that struggled and never did much. Maybe I’ll try it again one day.

Texas sotols shimmer and capture the light.

I’m not sure what kind of cactus this is, but the yellow fruit caught my eye.

They look like miniature pineapples, don’t they?

Yucca leaves

Tender succulents and cacti as well as tropical plants are displayed in several conservatories.


The botanical garden showcases a number of beautiful palms.

Garden sculpture

In one conservatory I noticed this lovely red euphorbia flower.

Persian shield’s gorgeous purple-and-silver foliage adds rich color to a shady garden. This is an annual in Austin.

Like ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, white spiderwort provides an airy, bright border for a shade garden.

Aloes were in bloom in the Old-Fashioned Garden. Aloes are old-fashioned? Funny, they have such a contemporary vibe in Austin.

Tithonia is a favorite of the migrating monarchs.

After seeing the botanical garden we headed over to the Antique Rose Emporium (click for my post about it), where this picture was taken. From left to right, front to back: Jenny of Rock Rose, Laura of Some Like It Hot, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden, Meredith of Great Stems, Eleanor of Garden of E, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, MSS of Zanthan Gardens, Rachel of In Bloom, Amy of Go Away, I’m Gardening!, and myself right here at Digging. Not pictured: Jenny of Morning Glories in Round Rock, who had to leave early. Thanks, everyone, for coming along and making it such a fun outing!

If you’re curious about 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 2007.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

24 Responses

  1. I love the pictures of all the cacti and succulents–they’re my favorite plants! My balcony is filled with them. And, that woven fence is awesome! I’m going to have to figure out how to reproduce that someday. Thanks for sharing; looks like a great field trip!

    The fence really was beautiful. I’d love to see your version one day, Jenny. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  2. chuck b. says:

    What a beautiful garden. Have you taken us here before? My grandmother loved San Antonio, and went on and on about the beautiful Riverwalk.

    The chartreuse in these pictures is very cooling, and so are the tropicals. I believe the Victorians were big on Aloes. Maybe that’s what the sign meant by old fashioned?

    Yes, I visited in late August of 2007. You’ll find the link at the end of the post, Chuck. —Pam

  3. Diana says:

    Love your shot of the wall around the Japanese garden, Pam. I completely missed it when we were there. That’s why reading all the post-trip blogs is so interesting. Lots of the same things caught my eye. And it’s nice to see the things that struck you show up in your blog, like the Duranta and the Black Beautyberry. Thanks again for being organizer extraordinaire! It was a blast.

    Thanks for the much-needed help with navigation, Diana—not my strong suit. :-) It was a fun trip, and I enjoyed your perspective on the garden as well. You are a fast poster, my friend. —Pam

  4. Amy Emerick says:

    That was a fun day and you have quite an eye for some great shots! I am glad that we all blog, so we can collectively remember the plants and names we saw yesterday! Thanks for organizing a great trip and I’m glad I got to meet you!

    It was great to meet you too, Amy, and to carpool with you as well. Thanks for coming along. I look forward to seeing your perspective on the gardens. —Pam

  5. Iris says:

    Thanks for the fantastic tour, Pam. (We’ve got out-of-state family in town this weekend, so I’m happy to at least get such great virtual tours!) That woven fence is amazing, and the orange trees make me feel like it’s really, truly Fall now. I’m obsessed lately by the chartreuse/dark purple pairings.

    I like that combo too, Iris. It makes for a striking pairing. —Pam

  6. Jenny says:

    Both you and Diana saw the shot of the butterflies on the Tithonia. I never even saw the Tithonia! I do love that plant and it grows so easily from seed. It really is interesting to see how other eyes see a garden. There was so much to see and this time I will not leave ten years between visits. Thanks for your great organization. Even if we did all lose each other on the way there we managed to get to the Rose Emporium together!

    The tithonia was in the Old-Fashioned Garden near the rose garden, Jenny. Thanks for arranging the visit to Madrone Nursery. It was an interesting place, and I was pleased to find the bauhinia there. —Pam

  7. Robin says:

    Sounds like a fun day! It’s interesting to read the different posts and pictures from the day. It cheers me up and brings a smile to my face to see the monarchs on the Mexican sunflower!

    Yes, they were a cheerful sight. Thanks, Robin. —Pam

  8. Mary Ann Newcomer says:

    Pam, I believe that is a penstemon, from looking at the leaf. And wow! Love that dark callicarpa! That makes 4 colors I know of now. That dark acuminata, a pink, a white, and the purple. Amazing. Glad you took us along on your field trip.

    I think you’re right, Mary Ann. The foliage doesn’t look like firecracker fern, plus the stems on that plant tend to hang down, not stand up like penstemon. Isn’t that black beautyberry striking? I really liked it too. —Pam

  9. Meredith says:

    A wonderful look at our fun day, Pam. Thanks so much for planning and organizing the trip! I remember that red flower being labeled as Firecracker, but a closer look makes me wonder if it’s actually Firecracker Penstemon (making you right on both counts!). Say, Pam — did I leave a piece of paper with handwritten plant IDs in your car?

    Thanks for joining us, Meredith. I looked for your paper but didn’t find it. I’ll let you know if it turns up. —Pam

  10. Jenny B says:

    It was a day of feasting on color and texture, and you captured that so beautifully in your photography. Thanks for all your hard work in putting this trip together, and herding us all.

    It was my pleasure, Jenny. I’m glad you and your daughter could join us for part of the day. —Pam

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    That wisteria tunnel is so inviting. I can just imagine it draws people there during the heat of the day. I can just imagine it abloom. The close ups of the cactus are marvelous as are all of your photos. It is fun seeing the “group”. I see a few familiar faces here. What a fun outing.

    Yes, it was nice to take another field trip with the bloggers. I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Lisa. —Pam

  12. Les says:

    Fantastic fall color, agaves, Japanese maples, cacti and giant mantids – what a great garden. It is like a trip around the world, and your photos were fantastic. Thank You!

    It was my pleasure, Les. I’m glad you enjoyed the pics. —Pam

  13. Looking over the images you selected out of the 300 you shot, I’d venture that you have an affinity towards the sharp and spiky.

    Wow! I missed those sparrows. What a great shot. I was always lagging behind. Too much talking with garden bloggers. Not enough looking. Luckily I can see it all anew through everyone else’s eyes.

    I find sharp, spiky plants to be quite photogenic, MSS. Perhaps it’s just easier for me to get crisp, interesting photos of them compared to softer, more amorphous plants. We saw the sparrows right at the start, just past the praying mantis. Several of flocked to see the flock. —Pam

  14. Looks like a fun field trip. And, you had a beautiful day for it. Thanks for sharing.

    The weather couldn’t have been better, Linda. Thanks for your comment. —Pam

  15. Barbara H. says:

    What a wonderful tour of a beautiful garden. Thanks so much, Pam.

    Thank you for visiting, Barbara. —Pam

  16. Sweet Bay says:

    Sounds like it was a great day out! I first saw Black Beautyberry at the NC State Fair and have been wanting it ever since.

    This was the first time I’d encountered it, Sweet Bay. It’s very tempting. —Pam

  17. Bob Pool says:

    I have wanted to go to the Botanical gardens for forever. My work always spikes in the fall and the spring unfortunately. I kept thinking I could get away right up until the last minute. Not going, with a group of such wonderful plant people, will haunt me I feel. However, with all the wonderful pictures you and the other bloggers have taken, and your comments on the plants, my pain will be slacked some what. Thanks Pam for helping me see it even though I didn’t go.

    Oh, the bee on the cactus thorn was put there by a Butcher Bird or Loggerhead Shrike. They like to stick grasshoppers on thorns and barbed wire as well. I’ve even seen mice stuck on thorns and they are not even as big as Mocking Birds but do look like them a little.

    I missed having the chance to meet you, Bob, but trust we’ll run into each other sooner or later. Thanks for the info on the butcher bird or shrike. I have heard of shrikes and wondered if that might be the explanation. I’m off to Google images of these impaling birds. —Pam

  18. Susie says:

    Pretty shots , looks like a great visit! I also think it is a Firecracker penstemon, Wow, would I love to find one. Love the giant Praying Mantis!

    Thanks for the confirmation, Susie. What a beauty it was. —Pam

  19. Well, that does it. You’ve inspired me to start carrying something besides just my iPhone for photos–those pictures are fabulous. It looks like a wonderful day was had by all–wish I could have joined the party. I did go by Bayou Bend, though, per your suggestion. Also, I went to the Wildflower Center in Austin on Sunday–your neck of the woods. Reports to follow, along with less-than-stellar iPhone photos. ;-)

    You were in Austin, Susan? Well, we were like passing ships in the night. I hope you enjoyed the Wildflower Center. It’s one of my favorite places to take visitors. I’ve been to Bayou Bend once but missed camellia season. Were they in bloom while you were there? —Pam

  20. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Pam, I was at SABOT in September and it’s a treat to revisit it through your eyes. Was that Penstemon planted along a wall beside steps? If so, that was one of the plants that wowed me big time. It sounds like a wonderful time was had by all!

    Yes, the penstemon was on a wall, near the overlook. I bet it’s the same plant you saw. It was stunning. —Pam

  21. Jean says:

    I agree with Bob about the bee on the cactus – a Loggerhead Shrike saving his meal for later. I love all your photos. I’ve always liked the SA Botanical Garden and I think it gets better all the time. I really think the tropical look in S.A. is part of the aesthetic there since I know it gets pretty cold in winter and pretty dry in summer (I lived there for a couple of years after college). Probably it’s the influence of Mexico. So many of the older homes have courtyards that work well for tropicals. Thanks for the tour. Makes me want to go back soon!

    Interesting, Jean. Thanks for the info about growing conditions and the gardening aesthetic in San Antonio, from one who’s lived there. —Pam

  22. Fun! How wonderful that you all got together for such a trip. I’ve been to San Antonio once and it was such a beautiful city!

    There’s always a lot to see and do in S.A. It makes for a nice day trip from Austin. —Pam

  23. Caroline says:

    Lovely shots of textures and light, particularly your macros. It was lovely to meet you!

    Thanks, Caroline. It was great to meet you too, and I’m enjoying your lovely pics as well. —Pam

  24. […] Austin garden bloggers visited ARE in San Antonio last Saturday, following a visit to the San Antonio Botanical Garden. I’ve been to both locations numerous times (and have ordered roses from their website as […]