Meadows abloom and a swingin’ arboretum at the Wildflower Center

For my third and final post about last Saturday’s visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I’ll lead with the state flower and inducer of innumerable spring photo ops: the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), pictured here with a smattering of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

Flower peeping is what visitors were there for (if they weren’t at the plant sale), and there was plenty of it.

Prairie penstemon (Penstemon cobaea), I think

People atop the cistern tower were enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the wildflower meadow. An aqueduct funnels runoff from a nearby rooftop into the center of the tower, which contains a water storage tank.

The upper part of the spiraling stair is on the outside of the tower, pictured here. The lower stair is inside the tower. A landing halfway up offers a view down into the water cistern. It’s pretty cool!

Administrative buildings and surrounding garden

Atop one of the walls is a planting niche containing a sweet combo of bluebonnets and four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).

Moving on to the relatively new Arboretum, I stopped to admire a silvery-trunked Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) underplanted with wiry Texas nolina (Nolina texana) in bloom.

More bluebonnets!

On the longer loop trail, you eventually come to a grove of live oaks, from whose branches hang a dozen or more swings, all kinds, from classic board seats (I had a swing here)…

…to seats with safety straps for those who need a little extra help…

…to single and love-seat swinging chairs (I swung here too). There are even a few disk-style rope swings. Now tell me, who could resist stopping for a swing under the oaks?

When they aren’t supplying fun, the Arboretum’s trees offer writhing, spiraling drama…

…or simply a shady resting spot.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 3-part spring visit to the Wildflower Center. For a look back at the blossoming Family Garden, click here.

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

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.