More than two decades ago at age 70, Lady Bird Johnson decided to throw her hat "over the windmill" and found a wildflower research center. Her decision resulted in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, now part of The University of Texas at Austin. That is just one reason why this environmental leader is being commemorated this summer with an exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., just a year after her death on July 11, 2007.
The exhibit created by the Wildflower Center will be on display now through October 13 as part of the Botanic Garden's Summer 2008 exhibit on sustainable living, "One Planet -- Ours!" This summer exhibit, on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, is expected to draw 300,000 visitors.
The site is the First Ladies Water Garden, and the theme is "A Clear Vision" with Mrs. Johnson's own words sculpted on silver spirals that shimmer just below the fountain surface. As friends of the Wildflower Center know, Mrs. Johnson was extraordinarily eloquent. One of the spirals says: "The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become."
A colorful variety of native plants from different regions of the nation are displayed in cobalt blue pots-the Southeast and Midwest are represented with a magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'), trailing juniper, (Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Rug') and purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), among other plants. A Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Bakeri'), American agave (Agave Americana) and silver pony foot (Dichondra argentea) anchor the Rocky Mountain-Southwest grouping.
The Northeast is represented by a white pine (Pinus strobes, blackeyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta) and pink coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea) while the California and Northwest grouping includes a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), blue sage (Salvia pachyphylla) and deer muhly (Muhlenbergia rigens).
In the garden's seating areas are rust-red umbrellas that carry messages about the environmental benefits of native plants. Signage depicts Mrs. Johnson's passion for native landscapes as expressed by her beautification programs in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere and her campaign for the Beautification Act of 1965 that brought wildflowers and fewer billboards to national highways. The signage also highlights the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a partnership with the U.S. Botanic Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects, to create voluntary national standards for sustainable landscapes.
Visitors can take home free wildflower seeds from their part of the nation and plant stakes that refer them to our Native Plant Information Network.
"A Clear Vision" was designed by Leslie Ernst of The University of Texas at Austin Design Center and funded partly by a grant from university President William Powers. The regional native plant displays were developed by Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Wildflower Center's horticulture director, and the horticulture staff.
Others participating in the Botanic Garden's summer exhibit include the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), U.S. Department of Energy, American Horticultural Society, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Longwood Gardens and the National Wildlife Federation.
The Botanic Garden's Conservatory and National Garden are open to the public, free of charge, every day through September 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning in October. The Conservatory is located at 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. Further information is available by calling 202-225-8333 or visiting http://www.usbg.gov.