Winter into spring at the Wildflower Center

I took a fire-wise landscaping class at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center last week, and I arrived early enough for a leisurely stroll around the gardens. The sunshine and blooming Mexican plums promised spring, but a chill in the air spoke of winter. By the time I went inside, my hands were numb. Even so, I loved being able to photograph the gardens in the light of early morning. Ordinarily you can’t get in until 9 am, well after the “magic hour” for taking photos.

In the parking lot my eye was caught by a Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) in full bloom. Its spicy-scented white blossoms were backlit so beautifully.

As were these seedheads, the light tracing each stem with glowing incandescence.

Turning toward the wooded path that leads through the parking lot, I admired this vignette of Anacacho orchid tree, yucca, and nolina, all suffused in the golden light of morning.

I always take a photo of this pairing of American agave and Mexican feathergrass. Simple yet stunning.

A weatherbeaten Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) stands sentinel along the main walk.

Inside, the shadows lay long on the entry plaza, but the Wildflower Center’s landmark spiral tower, visible to the right, was spotlit by the rising sun.

A possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) in full winter berry accents the base of the tower.

The architecture of the place always fascinates me. Check out the planter pocket built into the tower wall.

Another view, with wire-suspended beams acting as a pergola.

On the back side of the tower, a terraced, rocky garden of agave, opuntia, sotol, and Mexican feathergrass creates a scene of xeric beauty.

Lindheimer muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), their fall blooms still held aloft, screen the cafe’s patio seating. In front, wildflowers and perennials are starting to green up at their feet.

Looking toward the Hill Country stream garden, bare trees accent a green understory of yucca and nolina.

Glancing back toward the tower again

Heading into the sunny demonstration garden, I strolled under the long grape arbor, as I always do. But on this cold morning there was no need of shade.

Looking left, I admired a magnificent Harvard agave (Agave harvardiana), framed by the limestone-and-cedar shade structure in the background.

Its Mickey Mouse ears warmed by the sun, a spineless prickly pear is all texture and shape.

A patch of Habiturf lawn is on display. Habiturf is the Wildflower Center’s own ecological lawn mix of short, slow-growing native grasses, which can be sown by seed to create a lawn that needs little water and only occasional mowing. (Click the link for more info, including the very specific installation instructions.)

I was invited to take off my shoes and walk on it barefoot, but the morning was too chilly for that.

At this time of year, you really notice the architecture of the gardens, not just the plants—like this rustic cedar gate.

Looking across the still-shadowed demonstration garden

The new Texas Arboretum—“where visitors can learn about the diversity of Texas trees”—has opened since I last visited, but I ventured only as far as the entry since I was running short on time. I’ll have to come back later in the spring. This is another Texas persimmon.

For rugged screening and fencing, you can’t go wrong with a coyote fence. So very central Texas. I like how this one is cut at different levels, becoming more welcoming, at picket-fence height, on the side you approach from.

Each cedar post (juniper, to be precise) is encircled with sturdy wire that’s attached to two cables running horizontally along the fence. Those metal pipes along part of the fence must be for extra stability.

In the kids’ Little House garden, a vine “tepee” is given a twist. Instead of bamboo poles, an upturned cedar trunk and branches provides the structure.

As I was about to enter the auditorium for my class, a staff member asked if I’d seen their visitor, and pointed up at a planter niche built high on the wall near the entry pond. I immediately knew he was referring to a great horned owl because I’d seen one raising chicks in that same spot two years ago. Sure enough, there was Mama owl, snuggled into her usual spot under a Wheeler sotol.

The employee said they thought it was the same owl, and that this is her third year to nest in that spot.

If you didn’t know she was there, you might never notice. See her up there? If you go see her in person, walk softly and carry binoculars for a better view.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

13 Responses

  1. Jason says:

    Cute owl! If I ever get to Austin I will definitely visit the Wildflower Center.

    It’s a must-see, Jason, in any season. —Pam

  2. Jenny says:

    I am planning on taking visitors there this weekend so it is nice to have a peek at what is going on out there. Seems like this is a comfy spot for the owl despite the fact she may get rained on today!! Sorry but I hope so. Before the last 3 years she was up in the tower but I imagine she found this spot too busy. Interesting how they go back to the same spot although I am hoping the screech owl will choose my box this year as a nest and not as a roost.

    I’m still hoping for a screech owl at home too, Jenny. We’ve put up such nice nesting boxes for them. Where are they? —Pam

  3. Scott Weber says:

    I love that time of day, early morning, when it’s so (relatively) quiet…and there is still that little crispness to the air. The owl is too cute…I would totally have missed it.

    I would have too, Scott, except that someone pointed her out to me. I’m glad I had my telephoto lens with me. I’d almost left it at home. —Pam

  4. KimH says:

    Its funny.. I’ve never been to Lady Bird Johnson’s Wildflower Center, and I’ve wanted to for years, but it looks nothing like I ever imagined it to look… Funny how that is..
    Its quite a lovely place in all its early spring glory.. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

    I think the place is a bit misnamed, Kim. There’s so much more than just wildflowers. But of course there are plenty of those in a month or two! —Pam

  5. Beautiful light, in that beautiful place.
    I remember seeing the owl, and her babies, a couple years ago. Nice that she’s back. Must be a cozy place.

    It looks a little spiny, but yes, it must be cozy. —Pam

  6. Chris says:

    “Walk softly and carry binoculars”=Wonderful advice!

    Or a telephoto lens, I should have added. —Pam

  7. misti says:

    We went last spring and it was lovely. Unfortunately I still have photos to process from there!

    If you take a lot of pictures, and most of us bloggers do, it sure can be easy to get backed up on the processing. —Pam

  8. What a peaceful morning it must have been…great shots. Did you enjoy your class?

    I got some really good info that I hope to share in a future post, Heather. And now I’m recertified as a Green Garden landscape professional with the City of Austin! —Pam

  9. You saved the best for last. :) I know where there is another Great Horned Owl nest is located. Here in Indiana that is. :) I would love to stroll the Wildflower Gardens. Someday…

    How wonderful to find those nest sites for such magnificent birds, Lisa. And do come to Austin one day! —Pam

  10. Anna says:

    Lovely photos. I like how you captured the grey green of the agaves, red stones, and yellow grass in several photos.

    Thanks, Anna. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  11. Shirley says:

    Those are lovely scenes, the gardens seem to look beautiful at any time of year. I haven’t been in a while and need to go back now that the new area is open.

    So do I, Shirley. And I look forward to new gardens opening up in the future, like the Family Garden. —Pam

  12. Bobbie says:

    Pam, what a lovely gift – I got to visit my very favorite part of Austin through your eye! Bittersweet. Thank you!

    You are welcome, Bobbie. :-) —Pam

  13. Jean says:

    Thank you for the lovely tour Pam. Made me miss the Mexican plums we used to have. I just loved the owl at the end of the tour – fantastic!

    Thanks for popping by, Jean. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam