Andrea DeLong-Amaya

A hedge maze, 10-foot wide bird nests and a wildlife blind are some of the features the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will install in its new family garden, which is currently halfway completed.

Center director of horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya said the $5 million Luci and Ian Family Garden, which will open in May of 2014, will be a 4.5-acre area aimed at educating children about wildflowers and nature.

“Visitors would come to the Wildflower Center, and it’s not terribly kid-friendly … There’s a lot of ‘Don’t run,’ ‘Don’t throw rocks,’ ‘Don’t pick the flowers,’” DeLong-Amaya said. “We really want the new children’s garden to be designed more so that there is a space where kids can run around and make lots of noise if they
want to.”

Mark Simmons, director of research and consulting at the Wildlife Center, said although the addition of the garden could skew some research data because it will create more pollination activity, the garden should significantly improve research opportunities, especially possible sociological behavior research.

“Potentially, you can imagine that sort of data, which is badly needed, on how people react to the natural world, how that improves interaction and how people learn,” Simmons said. “There’s been quite a lot done on that already, but certainly this could be an opportunity to do that because [research] is what [the garden] is designed
to do.”

The garden is part of the pilot program of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, also known as SITES, which is an international program aimed at promoting sustainable
land development. 

TBG Partners, an Austin-based landscape architecture firm, helps ensure the project meets as many SITES credits as possible, TBG senior associate Ronnie Stafford said.

DeLong-Amaya said the garden will include a hedge maze that will have sculptures depicting the life cycle of a frog, from egg to tadpole to adult.

“I think of the maze itself as being sort of a metaphor for life,” DeLong-Amaya said. “You progress throughout your life, change into different things and sometimes you make a wrong turn, and that’s okay. You just turn around and go back the other way.”

The garden is the largest project since the Wildflower Center opened in 1982, DeLong-Amaya said.

“There’s a lot of need for families to have places where they can go to let their children be outside in a safe environment, so that’s one of our main goals,” DeLong-Amaya said. “The idea is that kids will discover things in a more natural setting but also in a more controlled setting.”

Stafford said the project will be helpful to the Austin community because it is focused on nature.

“If people come to it, I think they’ll find out that it’s different than going to a regular playground,” Stafford said. “It gives them an opportunity that a lot of kids don’t have anymore just by playing on a structured playground versus being able to be hands-on, put your hands in the water, utilize the canopy walk to get up into the trees, and go out and get dirty.”

Betsy Heard loos at Prickly Pear Cactus while attending the Texas Native Plant Week Thursday at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Center hosted an open tour of its garden to educate visitors on the value of using these drought-resistant plants.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

With local ecosystems facing difficulty surviving the ongoing drought, many are interested in increasing the use of native, drought-resistant Texan plants.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center marked Texas Native Plant Week with an open tour of its garden on Thursday, led by director of horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya. The center, which former first lady Ladybird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes founded in 1986, has been affiliated with UT since 2006. The center hopes the tour will educate visitors on the value of using native Texas plants, said Barbara Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

“People will become more empowered in using gardening plants when they’re familiar with new species,” DeLong-Amaya said. “Many people are turning to native plants because they’re quite happy using less water.”

Guiding a small group through the tour, located just outside of Austin, DeLong-Amaya walked between the flowers, shrubs and trees, giving each one a detailed description and answering questions about identifying and using various plants.

“The talk and garden walk will help people understand why native plants are useful in helping the environment since they are not only beautiful, but functional,” Rodriguez said.

This is the first tour on native Texas plants the Center has offered since Texas Native Plant Week was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in June 2009. Its creation was expedited through lobbying by the Native Plant Society of Texas with the support of Texas Rep. Donna Howard, said DeLong-Amaya.

The growth of Native Plant Week, along with the drought, has brought many botanists to the Center for new information, said Sarah Haggerty, an Austin resident who comes to the Center regularly.

“There’s always something to learn here at the Wildflower Center,” Haggerty said. “Every time I come here I learn something new.”

With this summer’s drought, many Texans have developed an interest in using native plants because they are better adapted to Texas’ climate.

“With the drought you want to do anything you can that will save you water,” Haggerty said.  

Printed on Friday, October 21, 2011 as: Wildflower Center promotes local plants amidst drought