Wildflower Center blooming after the rain

On Sunday afternoon, with temps in the low 80s and rain-heavy clouds in the sky, the kids and I dropped by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for an hour-long stroll. During our hot summers I tend to avoid outings that don’t involve a steady supply of A/C, so I only see our public gardens in less-stressed seasons. The Wildflower Center collects rainwater in three enormous cisterns, and they do irrigate, so perhaps the gardens weren’t ravaged by our recent summer. At any rate, with several inches of rain still soaking into the ground (and some of the trails looking a bit washed out), the native-plant gardens were in bloom and full of interest. Follow along, if you’d like a late-summer/early-fall tour.

Liatris, coneflowers, and grasses contribute early-fall color to a sunny meadow. The cylindrical tower is one of the center’s water-collection cisterns “a seed silo, and this area is called the seed silo garden. They had plans which I don’t believe materialized as yet.” (Thanks for the correction, Jenny.) Behind it are administrative offices, sheathed in a combination of galvanized siding and stone for a unique Texas Hill Country look.

At the entrance to the garden, this 6-foot Agave americana and green sotol (Dasylirion texanum) greet you.

Several sculptures were on display in the gardens, including this antelope bust.

The main courtyard often hosts weddings and parties.

Liatris mucronata, commonly known as gayfeather, with yuccas


A vine-covered arbor with a mesquite huisache tree. (Thanks for the ID, Jenny.)

My fall favorite, American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), arching over the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Sabal minor, our native Texas palmetto. It’s not all xeric, rock- and sun-loving natives here.

A glimpse of garden visitors through a window in a stone wall

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), and cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) in the Demonstration Garden.

Another view

This metal sculpture of a woman holding a bird was “running” through a bed of Salvia greggii.

Another perspective

Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra), a south Texas shrub also known as wild crepe myrtle, was in glorious full bloom, and tiny red cherries were also visible amid the flowers.

Dasylirion texanum, or green sotol. That’s a native poinsettia weaving through the sotol’s leaves.

In the Demonstration Garden there’s a Wilderness Walkers garden to honor those intrepid early botanists for whom so many of our native plants are named.

Thomas Drummond. Think Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), Clematis drummondii, Texas aster (Symphyotrichum drummondii var. texanum), and Drummond’s phlox (Phlox drummondii).

Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer. Think Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), Lindheimer senna (Senna lindheimeriana), butterfly gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), and Lindheimer’s morning glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri).

Josiah Gregg. Think Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Gregg’s dalea (Dalea greggii), and west Texas mistflower (Conoclinium greggii).

George Engelmann. Think cutleaf daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), Engelmann’s sage (Salvia engelmannii), and Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii).

OK, enough Texas botanical history. Two long arbors, shaded by muscular vines, run the length of the demonstration garden on either side.

My son spotted this spider having lunch in her web.

One of three example gardens meant to show how to use natives to landscape your own yard.

Sand palafox (Palafoxia hookeriana) in the Members Garden. (Thanks again for the ID, Jenny.)

A closeup of the palafox

More liatris

Fascinating seedballs on a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Here’s a wider shot of the branch they hung on.

And the tree itself

Two Havard agaves (A. havardiana), one healthy, the other dead after blooming. Agaves bloom once and then die in a blaze of glory.

Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) carpets the ground along a path.

Lace cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii)

The signature spiral tower at the Wildflower Center contains a rainwater cistern at its heart. You can climb an inside staircase halfway up, look down into the cistern, then continue via an exterior spiraling, narrow stair to the top for an overlook.

Looking down on one side you see the seed silo and the administrative buildings.

On another side you can glimpse the main courtyard on the left, behind the trees, the paths to the demonstration and other gardens on the right, and the undulating green countryside.

For a look at the Wildflower Center in other seasons or years, visit my posts:
Wildflower Center & Jill Nokes book-signing
Winter Wonderland at the Wildflower Center
Goblins in the Garden at the Wildflower Center

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses

  1. Tatyana says:

    Green sotol and that spider are great, as well as all the sculptures, agavas, etc. Delightful post, Pam!

    Thanks, Tatyana. —Pam

  2. Judy says:

    Nice tour. Thanks. Will have to get over there soon myself!

    Now is a nice time of year for a visit, Judy. —Pam

  3. Fantastic post Pam. I felt I was tagging along on your visit. Such wonderful photos. Love the art. Thank you for the virtual tour.

    My pleasure, Jackie. —Pam

  4. ctabb says:

    Thanks Pam. I’ve been following your work for quite awhile now, and want to send a note of appreciation for your thoughtful photos. They really are beautiful and informative in how you present them. (Love the spiders, too!) I live in the wet portion of the Pacific Northwest (some parts are quite arid) and it is interesting to follow the struggles and triumphs in your part of the world. Gardening is a virus I caught from my parents and the older I become, the more I love it (and good food) so a big hooray in your direction!


    Thanks so much for your kind comment, Carol. I’m glad to know you find things of interest in my blog, even though our gardening regions are so very different. But a love for plants has a way of bringing people together, doesn’t it? —Pam

  5. Jenny says:

    What a timely post. We have Canadian visitors arriving this week and plan to take them out to the center. I have been receiving photographs each week, taken by Bruce Leander. He is out there all the time shooting for the center and has been sending some very nice shots of things in bloom; I was surprised how much but your photos confirm that there is much to see. I also am giving a tour in a couple of weeks and need to get up to speed on what is going on there! Thanks for the tour.

    There IS a lot to see right now, especially so in my case because I hadn’t been since the spring. I hope you enjoy your visit there with your Canadian friends. —Pam

  6. Gail says:

    It is lovely Pam. Funny, I have a shot of the red yucca and spineless prickly pear from Spring Fling! I use the Wildflower Center to research native plants and decided to go ahead and join. The magazine is a good read. Loved the tour very much and your photos! gail

    Their magazine, Wildflower, IS a good read, and relevant to other regions besides central Texas. I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Gail. —Pam

  7. Frances says:

    Oh Pam, the wildflower center tour was a wonderful memory jogger. Seeing the view from the top of the cistern steps really brings home the beauty of Austin to me. All of the plants look healthy and well cared for. What a fabulous resource to teach your kids about natives. Love those cypress cones, they look like sculptures. :-)

    It was so wonderful to be able to share the Wildflower Center with our Garden Bloggers Spring Fling guests two years ago, Frances. Visiting brings back fond memories for me too. —Pam

  8. Ok I have to admit I hear “wildflowers” and my first instinct it to run the other direction. But they have just enough spiky goodness mixed in there to keep my interest. What a great garden and what a cool mom you are to take your kids to a place like that!

    How funny, Loree. Actually, I think “Wildflower Center” is a misnomer for the place because its focus is on all native plants, not just wildflowers. Its mission is to further an appreciation for native plants all over the U.S., not just here in Texas, though of course the plants in the garden are all native to our state.

    When I started gardening—and, later, blogging—my main focus was on native plants, and I was hugely inspired by the Wildflower Center. Over the years, while I still have a strong interest in natives, I’ve branched out into exotic plants from other Mediterranean regions, and I’ve become drawn to less-naturalistic garden designs than what is showcased at the Wildflower Center. I would really love to see them create some contemporary, structured display gardens to show people that native plants don’t have to be grown in a strictly naturalistic, meadowy way. Design-wise, they could do so much more to inspire gardeners.

    But no matter what, this place holds a special place in my heart for helping me fall in love with Austin’s native flora and the land itself when I moved here from the East Coast, and strolling its grounds has provided many hours of pleasure for me and my family. —Pam

  9. Janet says:

    I use their website all the time, have never visited there. What a great tour! Thanks for including the early botanists and some of the plant material that honors their names. Really interesting.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Janet. There is so much more that I didn’t have a chance to show you. I hope you’ll be able to visit in person one day. —Pam

  10. Mary Delle says:

    Loved the tour with all the information about the plants and the early botanists. I love wildflowers. Your photos are really good.

    Thanks for your kind words, Mary Delle. I’m glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  11. Les says:

    Thanks for the great tour, it makes me want to go, and soon. Like Janet I use their web site to help get info on natives. I love the fuschia pineapples!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the tour, Les. They do have a useful website. —Pam

  12. Pam,
    What lovely pictures of the Wildflower Center and its “inhabitants.” My husband was the first director, and in fact the seed silo was named for him. I believe a bench in one of the pictures was given in memory of my mother. It is wonderful to see the center from another’s eyes as it matures.

    Your family certainly has a long-standing connection with the Wildflower Center, Pat. It must be a very special place for you. (BTW, I fixed your URL link so visitors can find your blog. You needed a dot rather than an @.) :-) —Pam

  13. An aunt stopped by the wildflower center and had really good things to say about it. Now I can see why. I still have a souvenir packet of Texas wildflowers that I still haven’t planted. I’m almost afraid they’ll be so reminded of home that they’ll take over the yard and spread all over…

    Sometimes the Texas wildflowers can be mighty picky about soil, sun, and heat. I hope yours will grow for you and not take over. —Pam

  14. That shady arbor makes me just want to set right down a spell.

    Me too, Susan. It’s a great spot to cool off when it’s hot. —Pam

  15. I love the seed balls, the agaves and the artwork… but especially the arbor with whatever the tree is beside it. The texture in the plantings around it are outstanding–I love the little bursts of silvery grass around it most of all.

    I think that entire vignette is nice too, Kim. There used to be a large spineless prickly pear nearby that had been shaped beautifully. I wonder if it’s still there. —Pam

  16. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the tour! You know, I tried to grow some Eryngium from seed this year, but it never came up. I think it was way too dry. I am going to try again this fall though. I just love those purple plants!

    I’m going to try growing it from seed this year too, Michelle. My problem is lack of sun though. —Pam

  17. Bob Pool says:

    I liked the botanist/plant relationship. Very nice. I’ve read about them and am in wonder that they could do what they did in those times. It was certainly wilder and more dangerous then.

    I fully understand what you say about the displays there. They certainly should show more realistic ways of using natives for modern landscaping design. I’ve been several times and always leave feeling the same, that they could do more to help people get ideas of how to use natives in their own landscaping and garden design with out making a meadow. I really believe they could learn a thing or two from Jenny.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Bob. Native-plant gardens don’t have to be naturalistic, and homeowners with a different aesthetic or strict neighborhood covenants would benefit from fresh inspiration for using native plants. —Pam

  18. chuck b. says:

    What a thrill! Does Taxodium distichum grow well in Texas? I thought it wanted more water. Well, we grow it in Calif. too, and there’s not much water here either. Could that Eryngium be Eryngium leavenworthii? Eventually the whole plant turns that purple! I have some I grew from seed, but I don’t think I have the heat necessary to make it really grow and turn purple.

    Hi, Chuck. Yes, Taxodium distichum, or bald cypress, grows very well here. In wild areas you generally see it along creek banks, where it can get huge. But it’s used in drier gardens and even business landscaping to great effect too. Not sure about the type of eryngium, though an entirely purple one sounds awesome. —Pam

  19. RobinL says:

    Wow, what a fabulous place! I’d love to visit it someday. I especially like the bald cypress seed pods and the lace cactus. I’m glad you finally got some rain! Now send some up to Central Ohio please!

    I’m sending rainy thoughts your way, Robin. I hope you get some precipitation soon! —Pam

  20. Thanks for the tour! And I love the history part and the new signs.

    I thought those signs were neat too. They could really do an entire garden with this theme and showcase a lot of native plants named for the early botanists. —Pam

  21. Amy Swinnea says:

    I am trying to find out about the red flowers that pop up after a rain shower, I live in an 100 year old house. All along the sidewalk and the outline of the yard these beautiful lily like flowers pop up. They only last a few days. I am wondering if they can be transplanted (My newly wedded daughter lives in Walburg and wants some in her yard.) I need the name to do research. please help

    Have you seen my post about oxblood lilies today, Amy? Perhaps they’re what you have. Yes, you can divide them after the flowers fade and the foliage appears. —Pam

  22. Germi says:

    Oh, Pam!
    THIS is why you are so important in the garden blogging community! This post was a TOUR DE FORCE! I held my breath until I realized i was almost passing out from the beauty I was witnessing! You photograph gardens with such sensitivity and your eye for detail is pointed, yet gentle. This post was like a song – and i hope I’m not being too over-the-top, but this is genius. From flower to succulent to hardscape to seed to SIGNS – it all built into a wonderful enfolding of a place that is so moving in person. I wouldn’t imagine that it could be captured as well as you did! THANK YOU for this! I need to go take a few deep breaths now…

    Hi, Germi. I don’t know about tour de force or genius, but thanks so much for the generous praise. You know how to warm a blogger’s heart. ;-) I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, and the signs. I worried I’d bore readers with those, but I’m pleased that several commenters have mentioned them. —Pam

  23. Chookie says:

    What a lovely place! I’ll try to get to one of our native gardens soon to show you some of our species. It was good to learn a little about some of your botanists, too! And the bird on the sculpture isn’t a road-runner, by any chance? (groan!)

    I don’t think he’s a roadrunner, Chookie, but I did see one in this garden once! I even got a picture of him (look for the roadrunner in this post). He doesn’t look much like the “beep-beep” roadrunner of the old cartoons though. —Pam