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Wildflower Center Turns Over New Leaf

March 6, 2014

Wildflower Center Turns Over New Leaf        (820 words)

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin will open a ground-breaking family garden this May 4 designed to bring more visitors to its doors while providing children of all ages an antidote to the problem known as Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).

Built with more than $5 million in donations, the garden covers nearly five acres of woodlands and meadows all filled with creative play-to-learn attractions. Officially it is called the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden in honor of the couple who donated $1 million to the project. But it is better known as the Luci and Ian garden. And some supporters call it “the garden of yes we can.”

That’s because it represents a sea change in the Center’s programming for children. Heretofore few spaces have been open in the 279-acre Center where children could frolic freely. The new family garden, in sharp contrast, will allow children and their friends, parents and grandparents to let the good times roll.


Officials believe the garden wilfamily_garden_wildflowerl double the number of children who visit the Center and increase general attendance by 30 percent within three years.

It certainly has that potential. More than an enchanted playground, it is also an outdoor science laboratory where children can enhance their knowledge of biology, botany, ecology, geology, history and more through a score of “nature play” attractions.

These include: Giant bird nests kids can crawl into; a spiral wall they can climb on; an elevated boardwalk for viewing trees; a grotto with a cave and waterfall; a pond where children can discreetly observe wildlife through a blind; a “stompery” featuring stacked tree trunks, and a metamorphosis maze youngsters can explore while learning from statues how tadpoles turn into frogs.

Dinosaur prints were placed in the garden by experts from the Texas Memorial Museum to accurately reflect the tracks dinosaurs left in Texas centuries ago.

Amid all this is a one-acre play lawn, where youngsters can make up their own games and a hop scotch area using the Fibonacci sequence. The garden’s home base is a solar-paneled pavilion, seating 100. Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci’s sister, donated   $500,000 to the pavilion which is billed as perfect for concerts and birthday parties or for just reading books in the shade.

“I tell everyone that this is no McDonald’s play scape,” says Executive Director Susan K. Rieff.  “It’s a garden, but it’s full of cool features. Our vision from the beginning was to provide a safe place where kids could know the joy of playing outdoors.”

Luci Johnson emphasizes that adults can utilize the Luci and Ian garden, too. “We will have outdoor, self-propelled athletic equipment here, similar to tread mills or stationary bikes,” she says. “So while the children are out discovering nature the mommas, daddies, grandparents or Aunt Agathas of the world can be watching them, not just from a bench, but while getting their own exercise.”

In view of all it offers, the family garden is considered the perfect cure for Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). While not a medical diagnosis, many experts–including pediatricians–use the term in describing problems faced by children who spend too little time outdoors.

The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his popular 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” Louv found too many children are leading sedentary, indoor lives watching screens or electronics.  This, he warned, leads to NDD and subjects children to obesity, attention disorders and depression.

Directors of the Wildflower Center, well aware of the problem, started talking a decade ago about a family garden which would make the center more child-friendly.  After careful planning and successful fund-raising, architect W. Gary Smith, lead designer of the Wildflower Center, created the master plan for such a garden.

Constructed with all natural materials, the new garden meets the rigid requirements for a sustainable site, meaning it will protect and enhance the environment.

Rieff has expressed high hopes that all this will make Austinites more aware of the Wildflower Center’s national and international fame.

Established 32 years ago, the Wildflower Center has become the world’s primary source of information on the sustainable use and conservation of native plants, wildflowers and landscapes.

The Center’s web site gets some six million hits annually.  Its Native Plant Information Network (NPIN), with a data base of more than 7,700 species, is this nation’s premier native plant website. Its program called “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants” gets one million hits annually.  And now, with an educational playground in its backyard, the Center, offers another service: the RX2 cure NDD.

“I hope the garden will be embraced by children of all ages for decades to come,” says Luci Johnson.  “Nature is really for all of us. God’s not making any more of it. And we can preserve it, love, honor, and sustain it. Or we can lose it.  The choice is up to us.”

Gwen Gibson



From → Events

  1. pj pierce permalink

    Great article about the new NDD garden for children, Gwen! I’ll plan on taking my grandkids.


  2. Jo M permalink

    Sounds like a great addition to the Lady Bird wildflower Center. We “big kids” are going to have to plan a visit.

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