Wildflower Center & Jill Nokes book-signing

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-see destination in all seasons, but an autumn or winter visit is always delightful—and less crowded.

Today was especially fun because Jill Nokes held a book-signing in the gift shop. Here she is holding a copy of her new book, Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home, which she’d just autographed for me. Jill is a well-known landscape designer in Austin and author of the classic reference How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest. I can’t wait to sit down and read her latest.

MSS of Zanthan Gardens met me at the Wildflower Center for the book-signing and for lunch. After a tasty wrap (hers) and a mediocre sandwich (mine), we purchased our inscribed books and then parted ways. The skies were heavy and gray, but I had the gardens nearly to myself, so I couldn’t resist a quick look around.

The welcoming main courtyard hosts summer concerts, weddings, and parties (see the party lights?), but it was empty today. Anchoring the grassy circle in the middle, a deep, crystal-clear pond, styled to resemble a Hill Country spring-fed pool, reflects the sky. The brown bags lining the paths are luminarias, which will be lit for the Luminations winter celebration on December 8 and 9.

Panning to the right, you get a better look at the native limestone that paves the courtyard in a circular pattern like wide ripples.

Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ) in full berry. The Wildflower Center’s gardens contain only plants that are native to central Texas, giving many visitors and even locals their first look at the variety and beauty of the native flora. You won’t see stiff, leggy, tea-rose gardens here. As part of the Center’s mission to “increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes,” its website contains a database of native plants for all regions of the country, a resource for gardeners nationwide.

Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum ). This beautiful buttery yellow monopolized my attention.

How rarely we Austinites see this kind of fall color.

I last saw the bigtooth on my trip to Lost Maples.

It was hard to tear myself away.

Mostly, however, the gardens were a study in green, gray, and tan. That’s when I began to notice the bones of the garden: stone walls, winding paths, and of course the evergreen, structural yuccas and agaves. These stiff, spiny yuccas looked especially striking paired with feathery, waving grasses.

Havard agave amid Mexican feathergrass (Stipa tenuissima )—another pairing of spiky and feathery.

Naturalistic designs seem the obvious choice for native plants. But in the demonstration garden, you see an example of native plants used in a formal, symmetrical design.

Havard agaves

A wonderful pairing of silver and tan—Gregg dalea (Dalea greggii ) and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris )

Sotol (Dasylirion ) leaf detail

Here’s what the whole plant looks like. I love its symmetrical, starburst form.

I saw this flower on the way out, but I didn’t get an ID. Does anyone know it? Update: Joe Marcus at the Wildflower Center has ID’d it as Plumbago scandens. Thanks, Joe!

11 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Thanks so much for the fall tour of the LBJ Wildflower garden Pam. It looks so serene. A good tour and a new book to peruse can make for a wonderful day. I can see why you were mesmerized by the Big Toothed Maple, I love anything buttery.

    Food too? :-) I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. I most frequently visit the Wildflower Center in spring and fall, but I haven’t done a spring post yet. I’ll have to remedy that next year. —Pam

  2. Yes, thank you. I’ve never been there, but now I feel like I have. Handsome Hubby and I want to tour the Texas hill country and stay in a B&B. This would be a great addition. However, it is a trip I want to take without the children.

    I love Mexican feather grass. I use it in many places in my garden. In the spring, it reseeds, and I just pull up what I don’t want and move the other pieces around.

    That would be a fun trip, Dee. In addition to the obvious spots like Fredericksburg and Austin, try to save at least half a day for Gruene, a little town that I always enjoy. —Pam

  3. It was so fun to get together with you and to talk with Jill again. I don’t think I’m going to be able to stick to my resolve of saving her book until Christmas. I’m going to have to read it and get a review up to encourage other people to get it for themselves for Christmas. I wish I had stuck around a bit longer, too; I hurried home only to discover that hubby was still out on his run. Had I known he was running late, I would have lingered.

    I’m glad you won’t wait until Xmas but will read it soon and post a review. —Pam

  4. Phillip says:

    Thanks for sharing – it looks like a great place to visit. The maple is so beautiful.

    You’re welcome, and it is. Thanks for commenting, Phillip. —Pam

  5. Those Agaves look like something that would be used as alien flora on a Star Trek episode. They are so architectural – but I prefer plants you can (and want) to touch.

    I guess they do, until you get used to seeing them around town. As you say, they are beautifully architectural, and their broad “leaves” provide visual contrast to all the fine-textured, water-conserving foliage many of our plants have. It may sound funny, but I always touch agaves—watching out, of course, for the sharp spines. I love the smooth texture of the leaves. I think learning to appreciate the beauty of an agave may be like finding a tiger beautiful. It can be scary and dangerous, but that just adds to its allure. :-) —Pam

  6. What a beautiful garden! That maple is gorgeous, no wonder you had to tear yourself away but not before taking a few pics. ;-) Love that Gulf muhly, it looks so pretty and wavy.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the maple too, YE. Maples are rare in Austin, so it was an extra special treat to see this beautiful bigtooth maple cloaked in yellow. —Pam

  7. Kylee says:

    I’d love to visit this place. When Ladybird passed away earlier this year, I read a bit about the center then. Gorgeous pictures, Pam! I am so enamored with the agaves and would love to have one here. I do believe there’s one that’s hardy to zone 5. I’ll have to look it up.

    I too have heard about agaves that are hardy in northern zones. I hope you find one. They add so much to a garden. —Pam

  8. Saxon Holt says:

    Having just completed a book “Hardy Succulents” Storey Books March 2008 I will say A. parryi is my favorite Zone 5 Agave. Beautiful in any zone for its symmetry and gray foliage . Also A. neomexicana, A.utahensis hardy zone 5 and A.havardiana with a little protection in that zone. (Will copy this to Kylee)

    Having spent several wonderful days at THe Wildflower Center last April working on my meadows book it is great to see fall photos.

    Thanks for the info, Saxon. You’re confirming several of the cold-hardy agaves I listed on Wednesday’s comment field for Lisa. It would be great to read a post about agaves from a gardener in a colder, wetter climate, to see what works well for them. —Pam

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