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.

Gorgeous weeds and walls at the Wildflower Center

With a hat tip to Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino, who coined the phrase “weeds and walls” to describe his design style — planting native plants for toughness and building walls for structure — here are some of the beautiful weeds and walls at Austin’s own native-plant showcase, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I visited yesterday to see the early spring show, like gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana).

Native trees are at peak bloom all over town, and the Wildflower Center was colorful with Texas redbuds (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)…

…grape Kool-Aid-scented Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora)…

…and Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana).

The entry gardens are framed with fabulous stone walls that reference the architecture of Texas’s Spanish missions and German settler homesteads. This one contains a zigzagging sluice for recirculating water to spill into a pond.

Two red-eared slider turtles, including a baby turtle resting its head on the back of another’s shell, were basking on a rock, enjoying the warm spring sunshine.

Arched and linteled walls frame a long view to a window.

In the central plaza, a spiraling cistern tower (yes, it collects and stores rainwater) is the signature building of the Center. The cafe’s rooftop seating offers a place to enjoy the view, but you can also climb all the way to the top of the tower for sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

This wall extends from the cafe and used to contain a dripping water feature in the stone window, which supplied a narrow trough of water below. I just noticed yesterday that the water feature is gone, and the trough is now filled with plants. I wonder what instigated the change?

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata) grows at the base of the tower — and was in bloom throughout the gardens.

In the children’s Little House garden, Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) swathed a coyote fence in fragrant yellow blossoms.

Inhale…and ahhhh

Limestone walls mark the entrance to the demonstration gardens, where a flowering Texas redbud arches toward the light.

Blazing orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) add hot color to a gray-green cactus bed.

At another pond near the butterfly garden, I stopped to admire this Roger Foster “ocular” sculpture, carved from native limestone. Foster’s sculptures are currently on display throughout the garden, but you may remember seeing one in Lee/The Grackle‘s garden too (click for my tour of Lee’s East Austin garden).

It’s been almost a year since the new family garden opened to the public, and I enjoyed seeing how the plants have grown. This silver-blue bed contains ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress (Cuppressus arizonica var. glabra) and Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri). Nice, but wouldn’t it be fun to see a smattering of California poppies in here to liven things up in spring? Or ground-covering winecup?

Walls of massive limestone blocks build up raised beds of sky-reaching yuccas and create “pictograph”-adorned tunnels and caves for children to explore.

Spanish bayonet (Yucca faxoniana), I think

Caves beckon youngsters to explore behind a waterfall.

Bronze sculptures of animals are placed throughout the family garden, including this one I hadn’t noticed before.

Water collection is an important feature at the Wildflower Center. I love these galvanized-steel cisterns — so handsome. A rain garden around it collects the overflow.

If you haven’t been to the Wildflower Center lately, or ever, it’s well worth a visit. In another few weeks, wildflowers will be at peak bloom, including bluebonnets, but the WC has a lot more going on than just wildflowers. It’ll teach you to love our native Texas “weeds.” And the walls aren’t bad either.

I’d love to have your vote in the Better Homes and Gardens 2015 Blogger Awards. Skip through to the Gardening category, select Digging, and then skip to the last page for your vote to be counted. You can vote as much as you like. Thanks for your support!

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