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.
WHEN LADY BIRD JOHNSON and her friend, actress Helen Hayes, founded what would become the Wildflower Center 34 years ago, their eyes were on the future. Mrs. Johnson called the Center her “forever project,” and her concern for the future was reflected in its activities from the start.
The Center began by studying ways to ensure that wildflowers and other native plants survive. Educating the public about the beauty and value of native landscapes soon became a key mission. And in recent years, applying what we’ve learned about native plants to addressing environmental challenges has grown in importance.
That is why I’m excited to share a major achievement on the sustainable landscaping front. You may have heard about Habiturf®, a mixture of native grasses we researched and developed on-site at the Center. In 2011, we published findings showing that this mixture of prairie grass species outperforms Bermuda grass when it comes to producing a lush, low-weed lawn.
The Wildflower Center has been a research and teaching unit of the University of Texas at Austin since 2006. Working with the university, our scientists were able to license Habiturf to a large-scale sod producer, Bladerunner Farms of Poteet, Texas, in October. Access to sod, in addition to seed, is the critical step toward broad acceptance and use of this resilient grass lawn option by developers and landowners. The company will make the sod available next spring.
In addition to requiring less herbicide and less-frequent mowing than Bermuda grass, the native grass species that comprise Habiturf have evolved to survive drought typical of prairies in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. As a result, a Habiturf lawn can go dormant and brown and then recover after winter weather or reduced watering. This resilient lawn option is also showcased on eight acres at the George W. Bush Presidential Center that opened in Dallas in April.
At the Wildflower Center, we have other reasons to celebrate at this year’s end. Meeting our $5 million fundraising goal for the Luci and Ian Family Garden allowed us to begin construction of this wonderful 4.5-acre educational and play space that we have wanted to develop for many years. The Luci and Ian Family Garden will open in May 2014 and will double our total garden space and allow us to more than double the number of children we can welcome each year. Our experience with our children’s programs tells us that the Family Garden will be a hit with kids. In June and July alone, our popular Nature Nights programs welcomed more than 5,000 children.
When those young visitors attracted by the Family Garden arrive next spring, they will enter through a new admissions kiosk located at the entrance cistern that is a visually striking model of sustainable design in a small space. The kiosk, designed by Chris Sanders, an Austin architect and member of our Advisory Council, features a green roof, a green wall, solar power, and durable, recycled and renewable materials used throughout.
School groups will come by the kiosk on their way to learning stations, and volunteers will stop by for directions to the loblolly pine seedling plots the Center is tending to help repopulate the species in fire-affected areas of Bastrop County.
We also have expanded our educational webinars to include a program that trains teachers in the sustainable gardening lessons of Landscape for Life™, a partnership with the U.S. Botanic Garden. Webinars broaden our reach to the entire world, helping us send Mrs. Johnson’s message out to a much greater audience.
As you can see, this has been a deeply rewarding year for the Wildflower Center. Our success would not be possible without our faithful and generous members and supporters who share Mrs. Johnson’s vision for a healthy and more sustainable world. My thanks and best wishes for a joyous holiday season.
— Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director