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Sidebar one – Lady Bird Legacy

March 5, 2013

Sidebar one – Lady Bird Legacy

A Wildly Imaginative Center

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a study in contrasts. The gardens, trails and woods on this 279-acre site form a quiet retreat where visitors can commune with nature.  Even the buildings “sit lightly on the land,” as Lady Bird once observed. But inside these buildings skilled botanists and other professionals run the largest network of information on native plants and landscapes in North America.

Known as the Native Plants Information Network (NPIN), this offers background on some 7,371 native plants by scientific or common name. Available on the Center’s web site, to everyone from scientists to the private gardener, this gets millions of hits annually, as do two other NPIN services.

One, called “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants,” invites visitors to submit questions on line about how to start and maintain native plants, wildflowers, gardens and landscapes. Experts usually provide answers on line within three weeks.

The other, called the Image Gallery, provides the public access to images of over 17,000 native plants.

The grounds are also full of information.  Every shrub, plant, tree or butterfly bush has a legend posted nearby. If you have a smartphone more information is just a click away.

The Center, located 10 miles southwest of downtown Austin, is growing in popularity, said Saralee Tiede, the director of communications, ”because of its various activities for families.”

A prime example is the new arboretum where Texas’ magnificent native trees are exhibited and studied. Red oaks and cedar elms, some more than 100 years old, and even a clone of Austin’s famed Treaty Oak stand their ground on the trails and meadows of this 16-acre site. Damon Waitt, the Center’s senior officer and chief botanist, calls the Arboretum “our cure for nature deficit disorder.”

Another new attraction, to open in 2014, will be known as the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden in honor of Luci and her husband who donated $1 million to the project’s estimated $5 million cost. The five-acre Family Garden will be a giant playground with dozens of attractions that promote hands-on play and education.

“Mrs. Johnson would be pleased and excited about everything that’s happening here,” said Susan Rieff, the Center’s executive director. “This was her own backyard and she wanted everyone to come here and enjoy it.”

The Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, visit: http://www.wildflower.org.

Gwen Gibson

Note: The Wildflower Center is especially busy in the spring and summer with programs recognizing Lady Bird’s legacy. The particularly popular Spring Plant Sale and Gardening Festival will be held this year on Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14.  Participants can choose from some 300 species of plants bred to survive the Central Texas climate. They can also buy native trees, including hard-to-find varieties, in 4” pots.

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