Winter’s quiet beauty at the Wildflower Center

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center‘s name can be misleading. Its native-plant gardens do not exclusively or even predominantly feature wildflowers. Hearing about the place, one might reasonably imagine sunny meadows colored by Texas bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and coreopsis, and the Wildflower Center does grow them. But such wildflowers are the seasonal frills on a garden made beautiful in every season by evergreens and succulents, deciduous shrubs and trees, swaying grasses and climbing vines, water features masterfully constructed to look natural, and the strong structure of rugged stone walls.

Pictured above is the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream, a shady respite in summertime, in winter a contemplative resting place.

The colors of winter in Austin: tawny Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), gray-green spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), and the red sparkle of possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) berries.

Ornamental bunch grasses offer year-round beauty.

The white, fluffy seeds of tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) complement the silvery gray stems of Lindheimer muhly grass in the background.

Seedheads can be a great source of winter interest, like these on a Clematis texensis vine.

A small waterfall that appears to emerge from a spring under limestone boulders serves as the headwater for the Hill Country Stream pictured at the top of this post.

Soft winter light on the water

Signs of spring are evident here and there, like these swelling buds on a rusty blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum).

Another look

Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata), a beautiful holly-like shrub with blue-green leaves

Water droplets clinging to Opuntia pads provide tell-tale evidence of our recent rains.

Starburst-shaped yuccas command attention.

Up close—carefully!—more water droplets can be seen.

Texas dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor, grows well in the shade and is deer resistant.

I’m planning to add more of these dramatic evergreen leaves to the shady areas in my new garden.

Have you noticed that the native foliage of central Texas tends toward blue-green? Happily, this is a color range I love. Check out this monster Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri). A blue-green American agave looms behind it.

Even the garden art is blue-green! I spotted this grasshopper weather vane in the children’s garden.

Winter is one of my favorite times to visit the Wildflower Center. I enjoy the solitude and winter’s quiet beauty.

But when the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and coreopsis color the grounds this spring, you can be sure I’ll return, along with the crowds, for the wildflowers too.

Click to see my recent post about the ongoing sculpture show at the Wildflower Center. Tune in tomorrow for sculptural or berry-bright trees at the Wildflower Center.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

21 Responses

  1. Les says:

    I am not a huge fan of winter, but I do like its quietness. The seedhead on the Clematis is fantastic and I was intrigued by a Mahonia unfamiliar to me.

    Our native mahonia is lovely, Les. I wonder how it would do for you in Virginia. —Pam

  2. Chookie says:

    Pam, the garden looks lovely! And while the forms are different, the colours of our bush are the same: browns and blue-greens.

    The Australian plants I gravitate toward have that blue-green cast, Chookie. Irresistible! —Pam

  3. Debbie says:


    How lucky you are to be able to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center whenever you want. As usual, your photos are breathtaking, I especially loved the clematis seedhead. They look ‘interesting’ from afar but are ‘fascinating’ up close – thanks for the close up view.

    My pleasure, Debbie. Thanks for your comment. —Pam

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    One of the best things about winter is having a garden or park to yourself when you have a walk through. Love those blue green colors. That rusty viburnum is gorgeous.

    A quiet walk through a garden is reason enough to go in winter, isn’t it? It was just me and a couple of other amateur photographers on this day. —Pam

  5. Scott says:

    A place I’ve always wanted to visit, but until now has been too far. Beautiful photos, thanks for the tour!

    Thanks for your comment, Scott. I hope you get to visit the Wildflower Center in person one day. —Pam

  6. Liza says:

    Sigh, such pretty, pretty photos. I can’t get enough ornamental grasses. You’ve got a nice eye for beauty.

    Thanks, Liza. —Pam

  7. Melody says:

    Love the grasshopper -probably the only grasshopper I have seen that I liked – lol. And the giant sotol. I wonder if they will grow here in North Florida?

    Good question, Melody. They prefer arid conditions, so they’d have to have excellent drainage in humid Florida, I expect. —Pam

  8. Gail says:

    Pam, Love this garden and your photos are perfect~~Your first paragraph is my goal for C&L…to have a garden that’s beautiful year round. It’s been a tough road, with the shallow soil and bedrock limestone getting in my way; but I soldier on! Glad your technical adviser got your site up and running! gail

    Visiting gardens in the winter is a great way to see what works for year-round beauty. Thanks for joining me on my virtual tour. —Pam

  9. Eric Hegwer says:

    I’d love to go with you next time you visit the WFC – let me know, if you want some company (and a pro photographer).

    I tend to be spontaneous about visiting the Wildflower Center, popping over when the weather is good and I have a little time, but thanks for the offer, Eric. —Pam

  10. Nicole says:

    Nice little walk. Is the name of the yucca starburst or did you mean to be descriptive? I have a yucca that looks similar to that, which I grew from a cutting. It has stiff, narrow leaves and sharp spines. I have been trying to ID it for a long time.

    “Starburst” was purely descriptive, Nicole. I neglected to get the name of this yucca, unfortunately. Update: The helpful folks at the Wildflower Center tell me this is Spanish dagger yucca (Yucca treculeana). —Pam

  11. Jenny says:

    It looks like they didn’t have a frost over there and that’s how it should be when one plants all the right things. Thanks for letting us join your visit.

    Of course they also have a staff to keep the place looking great, Jenny. ;-) —Pam

  12. Beautiful pictures as always Pam, I especially loved the clematis seed pod.

    Thanks, Loree. —Pam

  13. cheryl says:

    Pam, I can just never get enough of your beautiful photography! Many thanks for the photo of the wheeler’s sotol..yikes! I just bought one. ‘Tis in a pot for now but will require a huge space eventually. Is that a tall stone totum in the background of the first photo? I suppose the rocks have been drilled and have a rod through them but I wonder if one could glue stones together like that.. hmmmm..

    Thanks so much, Cheryl. Yes, that stone totem you spotted in the first picture is another of the sculptures on display at the Wildflower Center right now. I think the stones were drilled but can’t remember for sure. —Pam

  14. I am completely in love with that Clematis texensis seedhead. Gorgeous!

    It is a beauty. Thanks for visiting, Kim. —Pam

  15. Darla says:

    So many shapes and textures featured here. Very nice…I too like the blue-green color.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the tour, Darla. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  16. Jean says:

    I’ve always thought the water features there are some of the most naturalistic I’ve ever seen. Do you know who designed and installed them? They certainly deserve kudos. (Speaking of kudos, great photos!) I planted a dwarf palmetto and boy is it a slow grower. I can’t decide if I’m doing something wrong (like it doesn’t like where I put it) or not. I hope yours grows faster than mine!

    Environmental Survey Consulting installed the stream, Jean, and they did an amazing job. The dwarf Texas palmettos grow faster with extra water, in my experience. —Pam

  17. Kelly says:

    I really enjoyed this set of photos. As a transplanted Austinite, I miss those sandy browns and blue-greens of a central-Texas winter. You’ve captured them so perfectly. And yea for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center! Such a great place!

    Thanks for visiting, Kelly. I’m glad you enjoyed the look back at your former hometown. —Pam

  18. Thanks for the gorgeous visit–The colors of this time of year are so cool and calming. The clematis seed head is terrifically sculptural, but I could see a detail like it might be missed if this were spring and the flowers (and tourists) were going wild.

    That’s so, James. Soon it will be all about the flowers. Last year was a bust for the bluebonnets, but our fall and winter rains are promising to make this spring a banner year. —Pam

  19. […] posting about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center all week. To see my most recent post about winter’s quiet beauty at the Wildflower Center, click […]

  20. BrittanyGirl says:

    Lovely photographs, I’ve really enjoyed looking at your posts. May I ask a simple question? How do you insert your name and copyright symbol on your photographs?

    Hi, BrittanyGirl. Let me direct you to Gardening Gone Wild’s page called Getting Creative With Images. If you scroll down you’ll see the section on adding a watermark to your photos. —Pam

  21. Jayne says:

    Wonderful photos Pam. The Wildflower Center really looks like a place I want to visit. I’m loving that blue-green color too :-)

    I hope you get to visit one day, Jayne. It’s a favorite place for me. —Pam