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.
Natural History by Linda Lehmusvirta - Fall 2002
Twenty years ago, a few people gathered in a dusty hayfield and looked into the future. They envisioned a country where people valued and protected the native plants that were disappearing day by day. They wanted to unlock the secrets of wildflowers and illustrate the contribution plants make to a healthy and beautiful place to live. With a handful of test plots for wildflowers, they ventured down a path that led to an international resource for environmental research and education, visited by more than 100,000 people each year -- the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
"The idea for wildflower research had been alluringly going round in my mind for several years, and I finally decided to 'throw my hat over the windmill' when I celebrated my 70th birthday this past December and gave the land and a gift of money to get the Center started." - Lady Bird Johnson, June 1983
It all began when Lady Bird Johnson and close friends discussed a center to study and promote wildflowers. "To start out with, the idea was to make use of the historic property -- known in east Texas as the Brick House -- where Lady Bird Johnson had grown up," said Patsy Steves, a friend to Mrs. Johnson who had traveled with her as a Texas Highway Beautification Awards judge.
Mrs. Johnson's childhood home in Karnack, the Brick House, was where she formed her lifelong friendship with nature. She ran unhampered along its sandy roads, discovering the first violets of spring and exploring the piney woods.
"The song of the wind in the upper branches of the pine trees is the most evocative symphony I've ever heard . . . I believe most of us cherish memories which have their roots in nature - a bond that forever ties us to the land," Mrs. Johnson said in 1988. As first lady in the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson found a good friend in Nash Castro, with whom she worked on national beautification efforts while Castro was the director of the National Capital Parks in Washington, D.C.
In 1980, when Castro and his wife Bette were hiking with Mrs. Johnson at the LBJ Ranch, Castro said to her, "You're not getting any younger, and I'm not getting any younger, and we need to do something about your girlhood home."
Castro believed that the Brick House was a potential National Park Service site and said, "It occurred to me that a wildflower project could be made a part of that historic property." Although it turned out the Brick House was unavailable, Castro didn't want Mrs. Johnson to give up on the project. She agreed, since when she and President Johnson returned to Texas in 1969, many of the open fields and meadows she remembered had disappeared, "And in their place were shopping malls, suburbs chock-a-block with housing developments and industrial plants and spaghetti networks of highways," she later said.
"I realized this pattern was repeated all over the country. Gone were the scenes I loved, along with much of the habitat for wildflowers and native plants. I wanted to do something to keep alive the beauty I had known." She chose her 70th birthday to found a wildflower center as "my way of repaying some of the debt for the delight and sustenance nature had given me all my life."
Mrs. Johnson discussed various properties to house the center with the Castros and Steves, and in spring 1981 they chose 60 acres of hayfield in east Austin, the site of the Johnsons' KLBJ-AM radio towers. They put together a board of directors of more than 100 members that included Johnson-family friends and colleagues from the national beautification project Mrs. Johnson led during her days as first lady who -- because of their love and respect for her -- were eager to help.