A Special Centennial Takes Bloom
Building on the legacy of America’s environmental first lady
The Texas Legislature has declared 2012 Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Year, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also commemorates its 30th anniversary this year. How best to celebrate these milestones? With flowers, naturally—preferably a native species.
Born Dec. 22, 1912, Johnson, BA ’33, BJ ’34, Distinguished Alumna, was the environmental first lady, passionate about promoting the conservation of America’s natural heritage. Now, carrying on that tradition, her daughter and son-in-law, Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin, have donated $1 million to the Wildflower Center to develop the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden. The garden is designed to foster hands-on, creative play and learning as children explore nature on nearly five acres of native plant gardens.
“Mother’s dream was that the Wildflower Center would inspire future generations to care for and take care of the environment,” says Luci, the younger daughter of Lady Bird, who died in 2007, and President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). “By providing this gift, Ian and I have the chance of a lifetime to help Mother’s dream come true, just as she did so many of ours.”
The mission of the Wildflower Center, co-founded by Lady Bird with a $125,000 donation in 1982 and a self-sustaining organized research unit of the University since 2006, is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants, and landscapes. The center has envisioned a family garden since it unveiled its master plan by landscape architect W. Gary Smith in 2005. Among the garden’s features will be a maze of native hedges that children can wander through while learning about animal life cycles, giant bird nests woven from native vines for climbing inside and experiencing a bird’s eye view, a wading creek, and a walk-in grotto cooled by an overhead waterfall.
In keeping with the center’s mission, the garden will also be a model of green landscaping. A pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative—an effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Wildflower Center, and the U.S. Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction, and maintenance practices—the garden will feature native plants, locally sourced stone, sustainably harvested wood, and other environmentally friendly options.
Johnson and Turpin’s million-dollar gift is the largest among the $2.5 million in gifts the project has received so far, while many other individuals and private foundations have generously donated at the $1,000 level and higher. Construction is expected to cost $3.7 million, with $1.3 million more sought to endow maintenance of the garden. Groundbreaking is set for next year.
Meanwhile, another new Wildflower Center component recently opened after years of planning and countless volunteer hours: the Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum, an interpreted collection where visitors can learn about the diversity of Texas trees in a relatively compact area. A resource for tree identification, field trips, and outdoor classes, the arboretum is also home to descendants of notable Texas trees. The first is an offspring of Austin’s famed Treaty Oak, and future specimens will represent Texas hall-of-famers like the Alamo Live Oak, the Sam Houston Kissing Bur Oak, and the Goose Island Big Tree. The arboretum was made possible by a $1.4 million grant from the San Antonio Area Foundation at the request of Mollie Steves Zachry, BA ’57, and by the donated labor, services, and equipment of numerous others.
For every million-dollar donor to the Wildflower Center, there are many more individuals and organizations who contribute in smaller but no less important ways, including annual memberships and donations of time. The center could not exist without the support of its volunteers, who tend the gardens, assist researchers, and act as docents.
Dell Hood, BA ’62, and his wife, Gerin Hood, for instance, have put in close to 10,000 hours between them. The Wimberley couple also recently donated more than $15,000 to fund future ash tree seed collections so that Texas trees can be reintroduced if they are harmed.
“When we retired to our Central Texas home 18 years ago we wanted to manage our property so as to benefit the native flora and fauna,” says Gerin, who like her husband is a master naturalist. “We believe, as did Mrs. Johnson, that our landscapes should reflect our local environments,” says Dell. “Our time at the Wildflower Center, with its outstanding staff, constantly reinforces our commitment to that goal. We benefit more than we give.”
Learn more about supporting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at wildflower.org.
Photo credits: Top to bottom: John D. Smithers, W. Gary Smith rendering, LBJ Library.
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