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A Family Affair

First Greenery Installed in Family Garden

ABOVE: Native plants that hummingbirds and other pollinators favor are showcased in the Family Garden’s first plot: the nectar garden. By Patrice Schexnayder.

Though winter is around the corner, Wildflower Center visitors this month can view the first plot in a new garden being established as a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson. Horticulture staff and several dozen volunteers recently installed the nectar garden in advance of what would have been Lady Bird’s 101st birthday (on December 22).

Mrs. Johnson was passionate about giving children the same opportunity to connect with nature that she had as part of awakening their conservation spirit. With that in mind, Luci Baines Johnson (Lady Bird and President Johnson’s younger daughter) and husband Ian Turpin provided the lead gift for the Family Garden whose first installation happened weeks ago.

Hundreds of native Texas plants representing 25 different species were planted over three brisk October days as the first element of the Luci and Ian Family Garden that will open next May. These Maximilian sunflower, blackfoot daisy, fall aster and other natives will draw pollinators to the new garden area near the San Antonio Tower. The nectar garden plot will serve as the entry for the Family Garden, drawing visitors along a paved path toward other features being installed behind a construction fence that surrounds the 4.5 acres.

“We wanted a really compelling space as people come into the new garden,” says Horticulture Director Andrea DeLong Amaya, noting that butterflies and other pollinators the plants will attract will provide an added draw.

aeria overview
ABOVE: A fall aerial photo of the Luci and Ian Family Garden under construction north of the Center’s main footprint. By Aerophoto.com.

The Family Garden was designed to showcase different wildflowers at different times, and will double the maintained garden space at the Wildflower Center. By the May 4 public opening, brown-eyed Susan, winecup, mealy blue sage and cherry sage will likely be among the wildflowers in full bloom.

Unlike many other public gardens, the garden will offer opportunities to rediscover nature on its own terms. Among the features will be a wildlife blind for watching native birds and other wildlife that are drawn to native landscapes, and a spiraling stone wall with mosaics depicting spirals that occur in nature. Living examples of nature’s geometry, such as the spiraling crimson flowers of Turk’s cap, will be planted along the low wall.

TOP: Dozens of long-time volunteers and some new ones helped Wildflower Center horticulture staff install the nectar garden in October. BOTTOM: Among the volunteers installing native plants was Darcy Folsom. Images by Patrice Schexnayder.

Families will be able to gather in a covered pavilion funded by Lynda Johnson Robb and family, and to fly kites or cartwheel on a Giant Play Lawn nearby. Plus they’ll have the thrill of stepping into the Hill Country Grotto to see walls lined with mosaic replicas of ancient pictographs. Cave visitors will also be able to stretch their hands through water flowing from a rooftop waterfall. The recirculated water will come from a creek at the center of the Family Garden that that will house fish and amphibians. And at the head of the creek, kids will pour water from a pump onto porous limestone rocks.

This watering hole activity will be among the ones used in formal lessons developed by the Center’s education staff for teaching environmental concepts at the Family Garden. In the case of the limestone watering holes, the goal will be helping children learn how water feeds into the Edwards Aquifer that provides local drinking water.

The garden’s main focus, however, will remain providing families with a safe place to explore the outdoors. The need for this is critical, with some children who visit the Center having spent so little time outdoors that butterflies scare them.

A metamorphosis maze of tightly sheared shrubs will allow families to mingle with yaupon holly and other native shrubs and their insect visitors. A series of statues will be nestled inside the maze that illustrate a frog developing in stages from a young tadpole.

Children will also be able to climb inside giant birds’ nests to share space with wooden eggs as part of play options that invite them to envision their own worlds. As W. Gary Smith, the garden’s lead designer, has noted, “Creating a setting where kids can use their imagination is the reason we’re doing this.”

By Barbra A. Rodriguez

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