by High Country Gardens
Spring Wildflower Season at LBJ Wildflower Center
Texas bluebonnets, teeth-achingly blue, pool in grassy meadows studded with sword-leaved yuccas and pincushion prickly pears. Tissue-petaled pink evening primrose rambles through spine-tipped leaves of powder-blue agaves. Cerise and pale-pink penstemons stand at attention like signal flags, beckoning hummingbirds and humans alike.
Spring wildflower season at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a native-plant botanical garden in Austin, Texas, attracts visitors eager to see the rugged landscape splashed with color. April and May are indeed grand times to visit. But other seasons delight too, with summer’s flowering salvias and plate-sized, perfumed datura; autumn’s billowing grasses and golden bigtooth maples; and winter’s green-leaved live oaks and red-berried possumhaws coloring the quieter garden.
Fun Places to Explore
Whenever you visit, plan on at least a half-day to explore the gardens, walk the nature trails through woods and meadows, swing under the Cathedral Oaks in the Arboretum, climb the spiraling observation tower that doubles as a gigantic rainwater cistern, let the kids loose in the Family Garden, and watch butterflies emerge from chrysalises in the Pollinator Habitat Garden. What is this place, a playground? In a sense, yes! The gardens are not just for looking at, lovely as they are. They’re for exploring the natural world, seeing the fascinating creatures that depend on native plants for food and shelter, and understanding better how we can bring nature’s diversity and beauty home to our own gardens.
Enter the Botanic Garden Getaway and win a trip for two to the Botanic Garden of your choice!
The 4-1/2-acre Family Garden may end up being your favorite area whether you have kids with you or not. Just set your inner child free and go balance on a giant tree stump, clamber through a petroglyph-tiled tunnel to a grotto hidden behind a waterfall, watch for birds at a small pond behind a bird blind, dip your toes in a limestone-edged stream, and relax on a play lawn of native turfgrass.
Rainwater Collection in Action
If it rains on the day you planned to visit, grab an umbrella and get ready to see the garden’s extensive rainwater collection system in action. A sandstone aqueduct along the entry walk delivers water into a stone cistern shaped like a silo. Gutters on the main building collect and pour water into the observation tower’s cistern. Climb up via a secret-looking stair that spirals through the center of the tower to a mid-point overlook, where you can peer down into the cistern’s well of rainwater. From there, the stair continues upward along the outside of the tower, narrowing tightly until it reaches the topmost overlook, which offers a 360-degree view of the landscape. Feeling daring? Stand on the metal grate in the floor and look down into the cistern below you.
Feeding Your Belly and Your Brain
After all the garden strolling and playing, you’ll be hungry. Pop into the café for a salad or sandwich to eat al fresco on the shaded patio or indoors at tables adorned with bouquets of wildflowers picked fresh from the gardens each morning. Before you leave, you might like to visit the large gift shop for a souvenir – maybe a vase for your own bouquets, a book about native plants, or a wildflower-print scarf.
Although wildflowers receive star billing, even in the name, the Wildflower Center is about much more than wildflowers. Founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, it’s a 100% native-plant garden whose mission is to inspire visitors to appreciate and plant more native plants, wherever they live, and its 279 acres of gardens, woodlands, and savannas show off the remarkable diversity and beauty of Texas natives. As a research center, its ecologists and other staff work with private and public groups around the country on ecological restoration and have developed water-wise turfgrass alternatives, created seed banks of native plants, and much more. With beauty as well as brains, the Wildflower Center has it all!
Pam Penick is author of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! and publisher of the blog Digging. She lives and gardens in Austin, Texas.