A blooming good time at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


Spring is the Wildflower Center‘s showiest season, and last Saturday I shared the gardens with many other flower-peepers. (Click for part 1 of my Wildflower Center visit.) In this post we’ll revisit the nearly 1-year-old Luci and Ian Family Garden, where Gulf Coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) was in full bloom.


Gulf Coast penstemon is one of my favorite spring-blooming perennials for part shade in my garden, and it’s beautiful in a full-sun rain garden here.


An extended gutter carries rainwater off the roof of a shade pavilion and into a large cistern. Excess water overflows into a surrounding rain garden.


Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus), I think


And more penstemon


I really like this screen of Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’, fronted with masses of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri). Wouldn’t this be pretty to screen neighboring houses in your sunny, dry back yard? That is, if you have no power lines to watch out for; those cypresses get tall.


Rivers of autumn sage and feathergrass


A stream runs through the family garden, and irises were in bloom along the margins. A tile “pictograph” in one of the play caves makes a fun backdrop.


One little girl was fascinated by the waterfall…


…and the stream. I wish this garden had been here when my kids were little. They’d have loved being allowed to muck around and do some hands-on exploration. Luckily for them, their parents knew where to find streams in the greenbelts around Austin, so they had plenty of mucking time anyway.


I never see many kids playing on the walls or walking the Nature’s Spiral, but I guess it’s hard to compete with running water.


Gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) was in full bloom here, as in my garden.


Although the Wildflower Center’s gardens contain only plants native to Texas, the staff horticulturists are not averse to using new cultivars of old favorites, like ‘Brakelights’ red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), a smaller, red-flowering version.


I’m a sucker for red and blue and enjoyed this combo of Arizona cypress, ‘Brakelights’ red yucca, and Wheeler’s sotol. It looks like ground-covering purple verbena is starting to fill in nicely too.


Looking back at the shade pavilion, and the cistern shown at the top of this post


Bluebonnets mingling with the fresh green leaves of an emerging plant — standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) maybe? liatris (thanks, Agnes!).


Throughout the family garden, bronze animal sculptures await discovery. Here we have an inquisitive raccoon…


…a jackrabbit about to bolt…


…a pair of coyotes howling at the moon…


…a roadrunner with a freshly caught anole in its beak…


…and a covey of quail under a mesquite.


A large play lawn is seeded with Habiturf, a low-water, native lawn mix suitable for the hot, sunny Southwest. It looks beautiful, doesn’t it?


Lady Bird’s vision for increasing environmental awareness and appreciation of native plants lives on, especially here in Austin.

Up next: Swinging in the Wildflower Center’s native arboretum. For a look back at the Wildflower Center’s birds and blooms, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Birds and blooms at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


Rain was forecast all weekend, but although clouds hung low and dark, little rain actually fell. We Austinites pouted for our lakes and gardens, but garden visitors with cameras could find no reason to complain.


My garden of choice, when I have several hours of free time, is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was packed on Saturday, not just for the spring wildflower spectacle but for the twice-yearly native plant sale.


With a dozen plants already waiting to be planted at home, I skipped the sale and took a leisurely stroll around the entire garden, something I haven’t done since the Family Garden and the Arboretum opened. I think I walked every single trail.


I had a lovely time. Come along with me for the highlights in this and two upcoming posts.


The entry path follows a stone aqueduct draped with Virginia creeper. As you may know, the Wildflower Center isn’t strictly a wildflower garden but a native plant garden. Every plant is native to Texas, with a preponderance from the central and western parts of our enormous state.


A pond marks the entrance to the main courtyard, and a crowd had gathered here. They weren’t looking for turtles, however…


…but the resident great horned owl, who nests each year in a high planting niche in the aqueduct wall, protected by a spiny Wheeler’s sotol.


She seemed to be dozing with one eye half-open, serene as a cat in a lap.


But eventually I saw what I was hoping for: a glimpse of owlets! I spotted two, but I hear there are three altogether. Mama Owl has been nesting here for several years, and I’ve photographed her and her chicks (2011) a few times (2014).


A sampling of pollinator plants available at the sale was tempting…


…but I headed straight into the gardens, where columbine caught my eye.


Skyrockets in flight


Reds mixed with yellows


Bluebonnets were in bloom, as were Spanish bayonet yuccas.


Everyone loves the bluebonnets, including this girl who carefully placed her doll amid the flowers for a classic bluebonnet picture.


Espaliered redbud on cattle-panel fencing, with a galvanized cistern behind — farm chic.


Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) was in full bloom as well.


A closer view, with bluebonnets behind them


Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) was putting on a good show too.


Scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia) brightened the shady stream garden.


Cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana) was an even more vivid shade of red.


The gardening staff is still having a love affair with stock-tank planters in the demonstration garden, including these filled with autumn sage (Salvia greggii), pink evening primrose, and bluebonnets.


On the other side of the path, more stock-tank planters, with American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) dripping lightly scented flowers from a long pergola.


At the perfect height for sniffing


I heard a chirp-chirp-chirp, and then a hummingbird joined me under the pergola for a sip at the wisteria blossoms.


Making an air angel


It soon darted into the sunshine for a nip at the autumn sage.


Long hummingbird bills and tubular blossoms: a perfect fit.


‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) offers more hummingbird bait.


But of course the best people bait is a swath of bluebonnets. Here they’re mixed with pink evening primrose, Indian paintbrush, and a yellow daisy.


Another pond in the butterfly garden


And to end this post, here are the fiber-optic flowers of pink mimosa (Mimosa borealis).

Up next: a colorful stroll through the Family Garden, where new plantings are growing and blooming, a stream entices childish exploration, and sculptural animals await discovery.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: Formal, whimsical, and wildflower gardens in central Austin


Central Austin’s front-yard gardens, free of any homeowners’ association rules, vary wildly depending on the owners’ tastes, energy level, and budget. Here are three that caught my eye over the past week, starting with Deborah Hornickel’s subversive formal garden in the Bryker Woods neighborhood. Why subversive? It starts out all classical, very orderly with formal lines, matching pots on plinths, and clipped boxwood. (And how about that stunning, tree-pruned loropetalum at left?)


And then it breaks free of tradition on either side of the topiary-edged front walk with overscaled, dramatic plants mixed with sprinklings of seedy wildflowers. It’s a surprising dynamic.


Anyone know this pretty-in-pink flower next to the potted dyckia?

If you’d like to see more, I’ve posted about Deborah’s garden twice before, when it was on the Open Days tour in fall 2010 and Open Days fall 2006. Her back garden is formal-meets-contemporary.


In the tony Tarrytown neighborhood, I spotted this modern home with a surprisingly whimsical garden. Check out that undulating wooden fence. Somehow it reminds me of Hobbiton. There’s also a concrete spiral near the driveway. I’m not sure what the purpose is — maybe just for fun? And wow, look at that acacia in golden bloom.


Near the driveway, in a circular, mortared-stone planter that looks a bit homemade — not at all modern — sits a gorgeous variegated American agave. How I wish I had room for one of these.


My variegated agave lust was also tempted here, at a traditional Enfield home with a surprisingly wild gravel garden of California poppy, agave, bulbine, Mexican feathergrass, and blackfoot daisy.


Ka-pow! No way could I drive by that without stopping. What a beautiful, low-water garden for a hot, sun-blasted corner.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.