Spring at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
The last time I visited the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center was at the end of November. It was late fall and the plants had already settled into slumber mode. At that time, I had a hope of returning in the spring, when the color palette would be much more vibrant. Since our return route from Big Bend takes us right through Austin, opportunity and the need for sustenance to carry us through the day are perfectly aligned.
My first thought when we arrive is to head toward a deep garden border that I saw in November. My expectation is that it’ll be filled with flowering plants. Rounding the corner, I get what I hoped for. Blue salvias are surrounded by the frenetic activity of bees and the typical unstable flight patterns of butterflies. A bit of a bottleneck forms as a number of visitors simply stop and enjoy the view. I can’t continue until I get a few good shots of the insects doing their thing. Fifty or so beeps and clicks later, I’m ready to continue.
Bright winecups line the walkway and a beautiful view of flower filled fields lead off to the right. We discover a long, meandering path through the field but even now, in the middle of April, it feels a bit too hot to head into an area where we can expect no cover from the bright sun. Instead, we follow the path as it swings around to a covered outdoor theater and the welcome appearance of trees.
Considering that the large parking lot was nearly full when we arrived, the pathways are nowhere near as crowded as I would have expected. The Wildflower Center property measures an impressive 279 acres, enough to allow everyone space and time to enjoy themselves.
There are many beautiful areas to see, but my favorite is the formal garden area, enclosed as it is by limestone walls and inviting arbor covered walkways. I love the design of the hardscape. The enclosure feels intimate, yet there’s plenty of space to feature a large selection of plants. There’s water and color and texture. I could easily spend an hour in this area alone.
Along one side of the garden lies a row of greenhouses, all filled with small plants. In addition to growing plants for its own needs, the center also sells to the public during annual plant sales. Considering their extensive collection of native plants, I should probably make a point of returning during one of the plant sale weekends. Having had plenty of experience with the difficulties and frustrations of trying to nurture a garden in Houston’s humidity, switching to native plants, with their well-honed survival skills, makes all the sense in the world.
Back at the main buildings, we head up the stairs of the look-out tower. When you’re standing on the ground, the tower doesn’t look particularly tall, but at the top you get a 360 degree view of the surroundings. Downtown Austin is even visible in the distance. The little cactuses planted along the wall at the top distract me every time I go up there. My childhood fascination with miniature worlds seems to linger…
After returning to ground level, I have a quick look at the visitor center. All the buildings here have been built with native materials. The design includes all the natural light you could dream of, while simultaneously blocking the sun from a direct line of entry.
Before leaving, we grab our cooler and head over to a large picnic area, nicely positioned under some tall trees. I don’t think any aspect of the design of this facility was left to chance! We enjoy our lunch, but by this point, we’re definitely looking forward to getting home and enjoying the evening on the back patio. One trip is over, but I’m already making plans for the next. There is so much to see here in Texas, and the only way to see it all is to plan more of these extended trips. The next trip will take Tim and I north, into an area of Texas I’ve never seen. We’re just waiting for the fall to arrive.