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Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.

Letter from the Director - Spring 2011

Susan Rieff
Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director. Photo by Bob Daemmrich Photography.

WHEN LADY BIRD JOHNSON AND HER FRIEND HELEN HAYES founded the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1982 they were very clear about the purpose of the new organization: to educate people about the environmental necessity, economic value and natural beauty of native plants. And this became the Center's first mission statement.

Education was paramount. Mrs. Johnson knew very well that people needed to learn the benefits of native plants if they were to value and conserve them.

Education is still paramount at the Center. As we have become a larger and more diversified organization, we have kept education high on our agenda by expanding our programs and adapting to technological and demographic changes. Years ago, we developed a native plant curriculum for use in primary grades, "Exploring the Native Plant World." That curriculum is aligned with Texas teaching standards and is the basis for workshops we offer to elementary school teachers to enhance their classroom experience as well as maximize the learning value of student field trips to the Wildflower Center.

Through our signature Nature Nights program, families explore nature in a hands-on way during spring, summer and fall evenings at the Wildflower Center. Nature Nights programs feature $1 admission and such varied topics as raptors, reptiles and riparian ecology explained by local experts. The Nature Nights following has been growing ever since we introduced it in 2003. Last year, total attendance for the 8 programs reached 3,423, about 75 percent more than the previous year.

We've responded to the growing demand from adults for quality education about native plants by creating Go Native University. We offer Go Native U classes in native plant gardening to full classrooms in spring and fall. We also have offered a sustainable gardening course sequence based on the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ guidelines for ecologically sustainable landscaping as well as professional workshops on topics like conservation development and lowimpact development.

Our experience has taught us to focus on what we do best, so as we move into a new decade we have evaluated our education program and focused resources in two areas where we have unique advantages.

One advantage is our incomparable site, 279 acres of Hill Country savanna, woodlands and cultivated gardens ideal for teaching about native plants, Hill Country ecology, rainwater harvesting, sustainable landscapes and all sorts of other important topics. In these times, when many children have few opportunities to be outside, we can offer a way for them to connect to nature in a meaningful way. The Wildflower Center is a prime destination for school field trips 7,860 school children visited us last year alone. Each school group is given an orientation by our staff, while their teacher has the benefit of teaching materials we share online. We will focus on attracting more school tours next year.

We encourage and support others who recognize the value of our site in environmental education. The City of Austin's water quality department conducts EarthCamp here, showing children how rainwater that enters our cave can flow through the Edwards Aquifer to Barton Springs. On April 13, the Wildflower Center will serve as a location for PollinatorLIVE, a series of outdoor educational lessons in English and Spanish about pollinators that is broadcast via satellite and on the web by Prince William Network in Virginia.

Another advantage is www.wildflower.org, our website, which over the last 10 years has become the definitive resource for native plant information. With its extensive plant database and online services such as Ask Mr. Smarty Plants, the site attracted 4 million web visitors last year, with an increase of 13 percent already early this year compared to the same time period last year. Our website, as well as the center's weekly emails, have become our primary outreach tool. Looking ahead, we plan to expand our online education offerings to provide engaging information and outdoor activities that teachers, parents and children could benefit from anywhere, and anytime.

We always have been proud of an education program that makes it fun to learn about the natural world and the wildflowers and native plants that Mrs. Johnson loved so much. As we move into an even brighter future, we look forward to opening a new Children's Garden that will serve as an outdoor earth science laboratory for children and their families. And perhaps even sooner, a new web-based education program that will open the world of nature to a whole new audience.

— Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director

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