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While not as famous as other Austin attractions like the Texas State Capitol, Barton Springs Pool and Hippie Hollow, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is an Austin treasure waiting for residents and tourists alike to explore. On Saturday mornings, the parking lot for this southwest Austin landmark is full, and adjacent streets are lined with vehicles. So word about this place is getting around.
This 279-acre preserve is home to some of Texas’s most important ecological work. Through ecological design, study and conservation, staff and volunteers to the Wildflower Center contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding Texas’s native plants and wildlife. And they’re ready and willing to share this knowledge with you in a setting as picturesque as any in Texas — and as authentic as anywhere in Texas.
“Surprisingly, a lot of visitors don’t know that we are a 100 percent native Texas botanic garden,” Wildflower Center director of communications Lee Clippard told Austin.com. “Our guests can find more than 800 species of native Texas plants growing here, representing ecoregions from across the state, from the Chihuahuan Desert out west to the Coastal Plains along the Gulf of Mexico. We are a veritable tour through Texas landscapes.”
Here are just 10 of the many reasons for you to visit the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.
10.) They’re self-sustaining … with your help
No place like this can run without funding, but thanks for generous benefactors and revenue from their reasonable admission fees, the Wildflower Center keeps its gates open to the public and proceeds with its ecological work.
“The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center depends completely on donations, memberships and revenue from admissions to achieve its mission of inspiring the conservation of native plants. We don’t receive any operating funds from The University of Texas at Austin (our parent organization),” Clippard said. “The revenue from garden admissions is used to grow plants and maintain our gardens, to fund our plant conservation programs, to run our facilities, to provide educational programs for children, and to keep our online native plant guide one of the most comprehensive native plants guides in the country.”
So when you spend a dollar at the Wildflower Center, you know exactly what you’re supporting.
9.) Membership comes with tons of benefits
If you try out the Wildflower Center, you stand a good chance of wanting to become a member. If you bring your family just a few times per year, you come out ahead with a membership. Plus, you get these cool benefits:
- Free admission
- Discounts at the Wildflower Center, online and at affiliated nurseries
- Plant sale specials
- Wildflower Center publications
- Reciprocal privileges at than 300 of North America’s top gardens
- Exclusive email updates
With individual memberships starting at $50 and family memberships starting at $85, how can you not at least consider joining?
8.) They give grants to Texas schools for planting wildflowers
Through the Wildflower Center’s Seed Grants, Texas elementary, middle and high schools can apply for funds to plant wildflowers over 500 to 1,000 square feet of land at their campuses. The grant award comes in the form of a $100 gift certificate to purchase native wildflower seed from Native American Seed. Awarded schools agree to submit a project report within one year of the date of the award which includes before and after color pictures of the planting area.
7.) Their spring break and summer camps will give your kids the nature bug
Is your youngster a budding scientist? Well, the Wildflower Center has a spring break camp and several summer camps for your kindergarteners through fifth graders to explore scientific fields in ways that reach them.
What are your favorite camp memories? ?At Camp Wildflower (spring break, March 13-17), our young scientists will go on discovery hikes?, do science labs?, make arts and crafts?, learn about plants and wildlife??, and, of course, play outdoors?! It's everything camp should be! Registration is now open for spring break; space is limited. ?Link in bio, or http://wildflower.org/camp!
Here’s how the Wildflower Center describes the camping experience: “At Camp Wildflower, children become conservationists, botanists, horticulturists, citizen scientists and ecologists as they explore native plants and the environment. Activities include hikes, arts and crafts, nature games, science labs, outdoor explorations, and learning sessions with Wildflower Center experts. We know young minds need a lot of room to grow, and the Wildflower Center is the perfect place for getting in touch with nature and learning through discovery.”
6.) They hold free and inexpensive classes for adults
The learning opportunities don’t stop when you age out of Camp Wildflower. The Wildflower Center’s continuing education workshops are inexpensive and sometimes free for members. With options like Wintering Birds of the Wildflower Center, Native Plant Gardening Series, and Nature Writing, you’re bound to find something to interest you.
5.) They’ll help you clear your head
Sometimes you just need to clear your head. The worries and pressures of life can get you down, and sometimes it’s helpful to just take a walk to help you forget momentarily. You come back refreshed and ready to tackle the issues demanding your attention.
When asked about where his favorite place to take a break from work is, Clippard had a hard time choosing just one spot in the Wildflower Center. “I’ve found that every time I walk around the gardens and landscapes, I discover something new – a new bird I’ve never seen, a new plant to me, or a new perspective as the light filters through the gardens during different seasons,” he said.
“All of that being said, the place that I return to the most for a meditative walk is the Texas Arboretum. The Arboretum is relatively new, as far as arboreta go. It’s only about 4 years old, which means that almost all of the Texas native trees that we have planted there are saplings. In 100 years, it will be quite a sight filled with trees. But even today, the one-mile trail passes through beautiful wildflower meadows and under giant live oak trees. The birding is great out there, and the swings in the so-called ‘Cathedral of Oaks’ are a major treat.”
Shade trees. Birds chirping. Wildflowers blooming. Ahhhhhh….
4.) Your family photos will look awesome
If you’re spending several hundred dollars for a professional photographer to take your family photos, you want a great setting to serve as your backdrop. The Wildflower Center has many architectural features, lawns, gardens and seating areas for your posing.
“There are so many great backdrops for photos here, and they depend on the season. We’re about to get in wildflower days, and the savanna meadow and Texas Arboretum offer great locations for photos with wildflowers, like bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and firewheel,” Clippard said. “We have a lot of brides and grooms that take photos here throughout the year. Our buildings and courtyard are stunning and have a very Central Texas vibe. Some of the live oak trees here make for beautiful backdrops. And the observation tower is a great photo spot with a bird’s eye view.”
The Wildflower Center charges professional photographers a daily fee to shoot there, but with so many options, you’ll gladly pay to get your photographer — and his or her equipment — through the gate.
3.) They care about animals, too
Healthy trees and wildflowers are beautiful and beneficial to humans, but it is easy to overlook their importance to insects, birds and other animals. The Wildflower Center cares about those creatures, too.
In June 2016, Wildflower Center staff guided a mother duck and her nine ducklings from the Observation Tower to the Wetland Pond near the Wildflower Center’s entrance. And there’s video evidence:
2.) Get some inspiration for your home’s landscaping
At the Wildflower Center, you will find endless native Texas trees and plants. These plants are built to withstand the elements here in Texas, particularly the hot, dry summers and mild but still occasionally freezing winters.
If you find a plant that is particularly attractive to you, you might want to incorporate it into your home’s landscape design. Chances are it needs a lot less water that what you have in your flowerbeds now. Folks at the Wildflower Center can point you in the right direction when it comes to purchasing and planting your new favorite plant.
1.) Your family can play together
If you haven’t noticed by now, the only time you need your smartphone at the Wildflower Center is to snap pictures. The Luci and Ian Family Garden has so many fun things for the kids to do they’ll stop begging to play with your phone … at least while you’re at the Wildflower Center.
“The Luci and Ian Family Garden, which opened in 2014, is fast becoming a go-to spot for families in the area,” Clippard said. “For the kids, there are a ton of fun ‘nature play’ features like the stumpery, giant bird nests, grotto and waterfall, and nature build area where kids can build things using natural materials. For the adults, the Family Garden is a great place to interact with their kids or be inspired by the sustainable features in the gardens.”
Oh, and let’s not forget about Fortlandia and Luminations! Fortlandia is an interactive outdoor exhibition brand new forts by local artists, architects, and designers. There will be nine innovative and interactive forts which run along the one-mile trail of the Texas Arboretum here in Austin. Make sure to visit the Fort Build area, where you can build your own fort using natural and up-cycled materials!
But that’s not all! It might be Fortlandia by day but watch it turn into Luminations by night! They’re keeping the tradition going this year but with cautious update. For the first time ever you can stroll thought the stunning Texas Arboretum along the illuminated oaks and the light-splashed forts of Fortlandia!
Featured photo: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s “Luminations” is a holiday celebration for the community in early December. Choirs and other musical groups perform, decorated holiday trees are on display, and hundreds of luminarias light the center’s garden paths, while twinkle lights decorate the trees. Luminations is one of 20-plus special events for the public each year at the Wildflower Center. Photo by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin.