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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - January 11, 2006

From: Takoma Park, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Information on Mrs. Johnsons efforts in highway beautification
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Perhaps you can help. I am trying to unearth a little history of Lady Bird and her involvement in the beautification of our highways, especially as it relates to using native plants. This is for a proposal I am writing to support development of native plant materials for use along Maryland roadsides. I am rather surprised that there is nothing specific about this topic on the web. There are several references to the Highway Beautification Act, but only as it pertains to billboards. I recall reading a quote once where she had said something to the effect of she wanted a road in Texas to look like it was in Texas, and a road in some other place to look like it was in some other place - sorry my memory fails me. I would love to have that quote. Ms. Johnson really motivates people, and I think this information could help us here in Maryland. Can you provide us any information? Thanks.

ANSWER:

I found a passage in Mrs. Johnson's book "Wildflowers Across America" that sounds a little like what you are looking for. It is from the Foreword, p. 11:

"...my life has taken me to many areas of the United States. I think of walking down a quiet land in Martha's Vineyard, bordered by tangles of pink wild roses, with a cloud of daisylike white blossoms frosting the meadows, or strolling a forest path beside a crystal stream in the Callaway Gardens of Georgia and being stopped still by a heady blaze of wild orange-red azaleas against the forest's emerald green. In New Mexico in September, I saw golden aspen climbing the hillsides and wild purple asters dotting the roadsides. I have always been a natural tourist; Lyndon used to say I kept "one foot in the middle of the big road." Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent."

One of the chapters in the book, "The Beautification Movement and Highway Legislation", gives a brief history in Mrs. Johnson's own words. The full citation for the book is: Lady Bird Johnson and Carlton B. Lees. 1993. Wildflowers Across America. New York: Artabras. It is probably available at your local library, and it is definitely available for sale in Wild Ideas, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center store.
 

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