The San Antonio Botanical Gardens sparkles in the sunlight like the galaxies in the night sky. Thousands of flowers adorn the walkways of the 33-acre park with a symphony of almost as many different colors.
In this self-contained universe, the paths lead through traditional gardens fed by splashing fountains and a collection of some of the most beautiful plants in the world. On the edge of the traditional flower beds and scenic locations favored by wedding photographers is a lawn that looks more like a playing field. The single sidewalk leads down a set of stairs into glass-enclosed rooms replicating the environments of the world.
The Lucille Halsell Conservatory is half buried with giant roofs of steel and glass, taking advantage of the persistent South Texas sun. The climate-controlled exhibits allow the conservatory to house scores of plants that otherwise could not thrive in San Antonio. The greenhouse gardens shield the plants from the heat and capricious temperature swings of the Texas weather.
Since it opened in 1988, the conservatory has been one of the most unique public gardens in the state. Visitors are treated to visiting a tropical garden with automatic sprinklers that keep the air moist and the plants flowering. In the Desert Room, an array of succulents fill a small hillside with a path inviting guests to take a closer look at the spiny plants. Only the glass-and-steel, pyramidal roofs rise above the well-manicured lawns and garden.
The Palm House is perhaps the most spectacular of the cluster of greenhouses. From a distance, the glass structure looks like it is two buildings that were never completed. From the inside it is a forest of trees and bushes from around the globe. A ramp winds from the bottom of the 100-foot-wide, glass-covered building to the observation deck 50 feet high. The view from here of the Botanical Gardens makes the park look expansive. Below the high point are hundreds of palms and cycad collected from exotic places, arranged in tiers.
Through the exit from the observation deck, the sidewalk goes through a system of outdoor eco-systems representing native Texan habitats. Past the Children's Garden area the pathway leads through the open plains of Southwest Texas into the pine forest of East Texas and a typical pioneer farm. The Schumacher House looks out over a field of Hill Country wildflowers.
One of the high points of the tour is the rock tower at the Scenic Overlook. The view is even higher than the Observation Deck in the Palm House. In the distance to the south, the downtown San Antonio skyline looms on the horizon.
Tucked away in a corner of the gardens is Kumamoto En, a traditional Japanese garden built by Japanese and Texan craftsmen. Patterned after the 300-year-old Snizenji Park in Kumamoto, Japan, the garden is full of symbolism. It is a wonderful place to leave the world outside the bamboo fences and enjoy the creations of nature.
After a tour of the gardens, which can easily take a couple of hours, the pathways lead back to the Sullivan Carriage House at the entrance. The gift shop carries a carefully chosen selection of books and souvenirs with a Central Texas gardening theme. A small restaurant in the house is open for lunch and special events.
A cooperative effort of the San Antonio Botanical Society and the city parks department, the gardens are also an education and research facility. Ying Doon Moy, director of research, has produced several hibiscus hybrids that thrive in the San Antonio and Austin areas. He has also developed a papaya hybrid that produces a delicious fruit. Often called a "Texas fig," the trees have been known to produce up to 200 pounds of fruit. The plants are available at annual sales the first weekend of April.
The first two weekends of June, the gardens will host Shakespeare in the Park. On alternating nights, June 3-6 and 10-13, actors will be staging Midsummer's Night Dream and Comedy of Errors. Gates open at 6:30pm, with the shows starting at 7pm. Vendors will be selling their wares, so no outside food or beverages are permitted on the grounds.
The San Antonio Botanical Gardens are open daily 9am to 6pm (Nov.-Feb. 8am-5pm). During summer hours, June-August, the gardens stay open on Thursdays until 9pm. On the third Thursday of the month, the park hosts Concert Under the Stars, 7-10pm. For more information on the Botanical Gardens, call 210/207-3255 or visit their Web site at http://www.sabot.org.
Coming up this weekend ...
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Show at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos covers a wide range of topics and activities from outdoor photography to fly-tying. There will be demonstrations, classes, and hands-on activities for all ages and interests, sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and others. Admission is free for children seven years and under, $5 a day or $10 for a three-day pass for children, and $10 a day or $25 for a three-day pass for adults. Show hours are
3-8pm May 21, 9am-8pm May 22, and 9am-5pm May 23. 830/895-4348, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us or http://www.pico-outdoor.com.
On Golden Pond theatrical production will be staged at Georgetown's Palace Theater, May 20-23, 27-30. 512/869-7469.
"Taking You Where You Want to Go" at the Dallas Age of Steam Museum explores transportation heritage from the first railroad to the largest steam engine in the world, May 19-22. 214/428-0101.
Coming up ...
Oleander Festival & Patio Sale in Galveston at the Bishop's Palace, 1402 Broadway, offers exotic varieties of oleanders for sale plus free bus rides to sites around the island, May 29-30. 409/762-9334.
An Adventure in Texas Archeology at the Amistad National Recreation Area gives participants from all walks of life an opportunity to be involved in scientific excavations, recording rock art, documenting surface features, and surveying sites. Sponsored by the Texas Archeological Society, June 12-19. A youth program offers youngsters a hands-on experience. Reservations are required. 210/458-4870 or http://www.txarch.org.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.
417th in a Series. Collect them all.