I have travelled to Austin for business the last two years in March and have been struck by the beauty of this area each time. I’ve been especially moved by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and made it a point to visit both times I was there:
I became fascinated by the dedication of Lady Bird Johnson, first lady of the United States, and her passion for conservation, beautification of our highways and cities, and her love of native plants.
Lady Bird Johnson describes this love in her own words:
My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.
My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land-to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas and thus help pass on to generation in waiting the quiet joys and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.
Some may wonder why I chose wildflowers when there are hunger and unemployment and the big bomb in the world. Well, I, for one, think we will survive, and I hope that along the way we can keep alive our experience with the flowering earth. For the bounty of nature is also one of the deep needs of man.
I have always been a natural tourist. Lyndon used to say I kept ‘one foot in the middle of the big road’. Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.
Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me…beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future.
The environment is where we all meet; where 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.
As I look back across a span of more than seven decades, I’m grateful for the joy that nature has given me and for the lifetime of experiences that led me to believe that I might repay a part of the debt I’ve incurred for beauty enjoyed.
Wildflower landscapes can help us save water. Wildflowers also can save time and maintenance money. They may even bring money to cities and states. Wildflower trails and flower festivals improve local pride and bring in tourists. But, as I’ve said, we need to know much more about how and when and where to plant them to get reliable, predictable, consistent results. We need that knowledge if we are to preserve wildflowers and to choose them as complements to traditional manicured landscaping.
As first lady, Lady Bird Johnson advocated strongly for the Head Start program and the Civil Rights Act, but at heart she was an avid environmentalist. She created a First Lady’s Committee for a More Beautiful Capital and then expanded her program to include the entire nation, saying:
Where flowers bloom, so does hope.
In Washington, she enlisted the aid of friends to plant thousands of tulips and daffodils which still delight visitors to our nation’s Capital.
The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was the result of Mrs. Johnson’s national campaign for beautification.
In 1999, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt presented Mrs. Johnson with the Native Plant Conservation Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award.
After leaving the White House, Lady Bird Johnson dedicated herself to beautifying Texas, and with her friend the actress Helen Hayes founded what is now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, whose mission remains to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscapes.
Her legacy to us is wildflowers and wilderness. She lives on in Texas bluebonnets and native plants along the nation’s roadsides, urban parks and trails – and an unprecedented portfolio of legislation devoted to clean air, clean water and the conservation of our magnificent natural heritage. As Lady Bird Johnson noted in 1967, “The environment is where we all meet; where 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.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Lady Bird Johnson’s birth, and this centennial is being celebrated by many events around the country.
We can celebrate her legacy by working for the “beautification” of our own native plant wildlife gardens, our own neighborhoods, and our own regions. By the simple act of adding more native plants to our landscapes, we honor her memory.
What will you do this year to honor the legacy begun by Lady Bird Johnson?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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