Explore a “Secret” Garden at Phil Hardberger Park

Did you know there is a “secret” garden at Phil Hardberger Park that is filled with Texas wildflowers in the spring and is visited by a variety of different butterflies, bees, and birds throughout the year? I say secret, because not too many people know about this garden. Perhaps you are one of the few who does!

The garden, called the Native Plant Wildscape Demonstration Garden, can be found on the trail leading from the Urban Ecology Center on the west side of the park (Military Highway entrance). There is a fence around it to keep deer out, so they don’t munch on all the plants. However, anyone is allowed to enter the gate and enjoy the garden!

Hardberger Park garden
Volunteers weed and maintain the garden once a month.

It is a great post-playground stop to explore and have a snack with the kiddos! See how many different butterflies you can spot. A photo guide posted outside the garden can help you identify the butterflies. Or your kids can have fun using the Seek app on your phone to try to identify them!

Butterfly on blanketflower
Bordered Patch butterfly on Indian Blanket

The garden is filled with Texas native plants that support insects and wildlife. Because these native plants have been growing in nature on their own for thousands of years, they require little care. In fact, they aren’t watered at all beyond rainfall! Considering how little rain we’ve gotten in San Antonio over the last year, it is pretty remarkable that these plants are still thriving.

Native plant garden at Hardberger Park

If you want some drought-tolerant plant ideas for your yard, this garden is a great place to come and learn about them. Each plant has a handy sign next to it with the common name, scientific name, and information about the plant and the wildlife it supports. See a plant you like? Take a photo of the sign and then head to a locally owned nursery like Rainbow Gardens or Shades of Green. They have a great selection of Texas native plants! Here are a few of my favorite Texas native plants to attract butterflies.

Autumn sage
Each plant has a sign with its name and other helpful information if you want to try to grow it at home.

Visit the garden at different times of the year to see different plants shine. While most of the plants in the garden are dormant in the winter, the garden will start to come alive by March. Look for:

  • Texas Bluebonnets and Indian Blanket flowers in bloom around the edges of the garden beds in the spring.
  • Monarch caterpillars on the native Antelope Horns Milkweed and Zizotes Milkweed plants starting around May.
  • Hummingbirds visiting the bright red blooms of the Flame Acanthus and Turk’s Cap plants in the heat of the summer.
  • Queen butterflies flocking to the purple Gregg’s Mistflower blooms throughout the fall.

There is a bench in the garden where you can sit and listen to the sounds of nature. It is a magical, peaceful place that I hope you will visit soon!

Wildscape demonstration garden

Haeley Giambalvo has been a professional blogger and online content creator for the past decade. She started DesignImprovised.com in 2011 to share simple crafts that make a big impact. Her craft projects have been featured by major magazines including Country Living, Martha Stewart Living, and Better Homes and Gardens. In 2020, Haeley launched her second website, NativeBackyards.com, to encourage people to help the Earth from their own yards by growing native plants that support insects and wildlife. Over the last two years, Haeley has transformed her backyard with Texas native plants and turned it into a haven for butterflies, bees, and birds. She wants to help you do the same! She is excited to write for ACM to share ideas for spending more time as a family outdoors, starting a garden, attracting butterflies to your yard, and more! Haeley is a mom to Stella (13) and Hazel (11). You can follow along with her gardening adventures and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook @nativebackyards.