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.

17 Responses

  1. Marcia Fife says:

    Thanks for your gorgeous photos and lovely descriptions, Pam. I’m looking forward to future posts.

    I love the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also, and as a volunteer, I’m there once a week to work in the store. The Family Garden is amazing and I enjoy swinging under the giant oaks in the Arboretum. Many times I go for a stroll before leaving and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of a little bit of heaven on earth.

    We love Athena, our resident owl, and as a tribute to her, the store has many owl items to choose from, including a magnet with her photo. :)

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Athena — what a perfect name for such a magnificent bird who’s wise enough to return to the WC each spring to raise her brood. As a Rice Owl I have an affinity for them that goes back a long time. And aren’t those swings in the Arboretum a treat? I took a swing on Saturday and will have pictures of the swings to share. —Pam

  2. TexasDeb says:

    After I read “skyrockets in flight” was I the only one who was looking for the next caption to read “afternoon delight”? OK, so maybe I was, maybe I was….

    Hummingbirds are like anoles – incredibly photogenic. What luck one showed up just in time to appear as guest star in this post. Some days I think we ought to have these critters on retainer and then it occurs to me that when we plant the natives they love to visit that is just what we’re doing!

    Looking forward to seeing more (more more!).

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Ha, Deb, I actually typed “afternoon delight” for the next picture before deciding that just starting the earworm was enough for one day. You’re welcome! —Pam

  3. Alison says:

    Oh, great shots of the hummer! Looking forward to more from your visit.

  4. Wow! Amazing what a bit of rain will do! So rich and lush. I love the owl and humming bird pictures. How amazing you were able to capture them. Happy Spring : )

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Simply gorgeous.

  6. Jenny says:

    The photo with the hummingbird is my favorite. The ones over there must be more tolerant of people. Mine won’t even go to the flowers if they see me. Such a beautiful time of year for visiting the WFC

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I guess if the hummers at the Wildflower Center were overly shy about people they’d starve. The gardens were pretty crowded last weekend. —Pam

  7. Those hummingbird shots are priceless, Pam. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is definitely on my bucket list! It looks like you’re having a gorgeous, lush spring season, and the rain is helping to make it so. May you have some pleasant hours of sunshine in between the raindrops!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s been a very pleasant spring so far, Beth, although I feel the Death Star will be turning on its high beam soon. It was 86F today. —Pam

  8. Indie says:

    Oh how gorgeous! What a great thing to have an all-native garden and provide access to native plants! We have a similar native wildflower garden a few towns over, and once spring really gets here, I know I’ll have fun checking that out. The owls are so adorable! How exciting to see the little babies. The gardens are beautiful. My favorite is the pink evening primrose. We had some in my garden back in North Carolina, and I just loved the pink blooms.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It is quite lovely, isn’t it? I find it hard to pick a favorite wildflower at this time of year, especially as everything is blooming in such profusion. —Pam

  9. Cassandra says:

    What great pictures. I guess are little people in our group moved to fast for us to see the hummingbirds.

    The garden is just beautiful!