Maria Fleming of Ottawa, Ontario shares highlights from a unique botanical garden in TX.
"I just returned from a visit to San Antonio Botanical Gardens and thought I would share some thoughts for warmer times.
The garden was established in 1980 and covers 38 acres. It offers a variety of more typical gardens – formal, display, Japanese, Sensory, and rose, but it also has a large area focused on Texas; 11 acres to be exact. One wanders through Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods and South Texas dry land trees and shrubs. There's a bird watch area as well as several conservatories."
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Gardens like this are difficult for me to connect with because they are so different from anything I've experienced, yet, they fascinate me and draw me in because I appreciate textures, shapes and foliage. I rather like the dissonance that happens within me as I look at something like this. I do wonder what my emotional and tactile responses would be if I were walking this garden in person. I think it would be fascinating and the experience would likely teach me a lot about myself. So even if I didn't pick up any planting or design tips, it would be more than worth it.
My response probably isn't an expected or typical one! Thanks for sharing!
Jay, I totally understand your feelings about gardens like this. I look at these images and realize they still don't well represent the reality. 2D visuals just don't provide for 3D experiences. I was so surprised as to how I reacted to it - as I expected to feel negative and disturbed - however, it really drew me in. Maybe because it wasn't high summer and sweltering, I could focus on the visuals and interesting stuff rather than the plants reinforcing hot, hot and hot. They did a great job of creating mystery with the pathways and so much layering and variety of height that it didn't feel like the 'dry wasteland' I equate with cactus. Definitely some areas did - like the smaller vignettes in the conservatory, but the big natural areas were quite stunning.
I wanted to be sure people knew it wasn't all local plantings, and I thought it was a great variety of space that had appeal to everyone.
It really is fascinating. I wouldn't want it for myself, but it does cause me to think outside my box.
I have to admit that my brain got a jolt when I saw that giant blue Agave in picture #4...or, at least, I think it's an agave. It looks like it could reach out and grab an innocent person just walking by...good thing agaves are not carnivorous! The conservatory that rises up in the background of picture #6 is an unusual shape..almost like a spaceship...esp. since the plant material in this part of the garden does seem a bit other worldly. It's all very interesting, Maria.
After reading your comment I scrolled back up and my first thought looking at that Agave was 'Little Shop of Horrors'. It seemed like I could almost see the arms of that plant waving, reaching out for innocent people passing by too closely. Quite a visual for this early in the morning. LOL
Deanna, so true. Feed me, Seymour.....here's an even bigger one to watch out for
That is so dramatically gorgeous...I am borderline speechless.
Yes, the agave (??) is large and they used it quite a bit throughout the gardens. The size and the blue really make an impact. They even have metal sculptures of them. I wanted to include those for Jeff, but I could only send so many photos :-) Thankfully the paths are wide as there is a lot of dangerous plant material around. Strangely, they were so interesting that I consciously had to remind myself not to give in to the 'reach out and touch' desire. The conservatories (there are several) do have that Freedom 7 sort of shape.
Absolutely alien. Amazing to behold. Impossible to fathom. And sometimes looks rather dangerous. Certainly not like many gardens I know....well, any to be truthful. It's fascinating to think plants such as these exist and thrive in conditions like this. It makes me appreciate the wetter conditions of my area. I appreciate the chance to see this, so thank you for sharing.
The take-away from this, for most of us, is rather important: get outside of our comfort zones, see things for what they are, and, if we don't like something, stop to figure out what we don't like about it. This is how we grow as gardeners and as designers.
I especially like pic six!!! It took me awhile to realize there was water and reflections there! Most enchanting. Color values are lovely. With the other scenes, I quite expect to see a coiled rattlesnake at any moment! Awesome gardens. I like. Thanks for shaking it and us up a bit.
No rattlesnakes during my visit, but it is more than possible there are some on the property. I was warned not to 'break trail' anywhere in Texas or even San Antonio parks. Having spent a few years in California, I had to re-remember those safety rules.
I'm with Carol! I love the palmettos and the reflection pool. I think these photos remind me of what's coming for the east coast this summer. With no snow this winter, we are behind on precipitation. Except, of course, it's supposed to snow on Tuesday for our trip to the flower show!!! Lol! Thanks Maria, for posting. It gave us a lively discussion this morning!
Thanks, Maria. I love all the shapes and subtle colors of desert gardens (subtle, in my experience, unless something is flowering. Then it can be flamboyant.) I have to agree that the conservatory does make the scene otherworldly. It also looks like you were there on a cloudy and misty(?) day, which adds to the eerie feeling. Carol says she expected a rattlesnake; I'm sure there's a coyote sitting just out of view silently laughing at us.
Yes, subtle, but I was still impressed with the impact. I also was thinking how beautiful it would all be in bloom season. The only coyote was a metal silhouette howling at the moon, but I expect there are real critters somewhere in the area. It was overcast, but not really misty. The area around the conservatories and and particularly the fern grotto had misters going. They had actually had frost some weeks before, so a lot of plantings were severely cut back and I think some of the dry edging on the palmettos is frost damage.
The lack of green except in the occasional leaf can be disconcerting in the typical desert landscape since most of us equate beauty in most gardens to the soft greens that are everywhere. I used to dislike the stark, unfriendly appearance of the desert, but that has changed over the years. Now I feel in awe that these incredible plants have adjusted to their environments so beautifully. I love your photos of this gorgeous BG, Maria! Thanks!
This is a really unusual and unique garden. I want to go there someday. Fab Pictures!
Thanks Maria, for sharing this 'other world' looking garden. After spending the winter
in AZ, I must say that I did get beyond the severity of this type of garden and learned to appreciate the beauty, especially since it's been such a wet winter that the cacti are blooming heavily. I agree with Jay, though, that it's hard to retrain our senses after living where the landscape is more lush and soft.
Thanks for sharing your visit, Maria. I love this type of garden. I have a thing for desert plants. I'm crazy about your shot of the Dasylirion (photo 2). Magnificent specimen. The other real attention-grabber for me is the metal horned lizard in penultimate photo. The large palms and yuccas with the greenhouse in the distance is really wonderful. Thanks!
Up until now, I didn't think desert plants would appeal, but after this visit, they surely do. I wanted to be sure to include at least one of the metal art pieces...there were a few. I have to admit, I didn't really 'see' it until I was reviewing the photos. Too many other things in the vignettes to see. The green houses are quite fascinating with some large trees and specimens.
Altogether, I really enjoyed San Antonio from a visual perspective - the gardens and numerous great museums and art galleries - lots of hidden treasures.
It's been decades since I visited San Antonio. I was young and just remember that it was 110° F......
To me, the main appeal of so many dessert plants is their structure and silhouettes. Although there are garden beds and scenes, specimens tend to steal the show for me.
I don't really like to be behind a camera when enjoying something, but having images to review afterwards is a sure way to discover things that were missed in person.
Thanks again for sharing your visit!
Tim, much more pleasant in February. Here is one more metal piece...I think you'll recognize it, but it lacks in the reproduction
The desert has a beauty of its own. I have visited in desert areas of AZ and TX, but I would not want to live there - too too hot!
I have yet to visit AZ but I know there are great botanical gardens there too. I wouldn't want to live in either place either, but it is a nice break from an Ontario winter.
The Arizona Desert Museum is terrific!
My husband having grown up in East Texas, then going to University in West Texas & Central Texas,and then living in Austin for a number f years, we both enjoyed your posting very much. Truly different from my southeastern upbringing but just as lovely in a very different way.Thanks for sharing.
Wow! I'm a sucker for those wonderful agaves! I only wish I could grown them here in Zone 6 Missouri. I keep saying I'm going to try it...I guess I'd better get busy! Thank you so much for sending in these photos.
Thanks for this fantastic photo garden tour Maria. With spring not even in close sights over here, it is much appreciated.
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