Wild About Texas – May, 2008

The First Ladies Water Garden is one of the gardens in the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C.
Photo by Leslie Ernst, University of Texas at Austin.

First Ladies Water Garden

“Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own regional language in its own regional accent.”
               – Lady Bird Johnson

Against a background of quilt-patterned granite in the First Ladies Water Garden fountain, unique stainless sculptures bear the words of Lady Bird Johnson. Photos courtesy of the author.

Just steps from the nation’s Capitol, Andrea DeLong-Amaya surveys her work on one of the native plant displays.

This grouping features plants that are native to the Rocky Mountains and Southwest.

This summer, if you find yourself in Washington, D.C., pay a visit to the United States Botanic Garden, just a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol. The USBG honored the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with an invitation to be a part of its “One Planet – Ours! Sustainability for the 22nd Century” exhibit, which will be on display from May 24 through Oct. 13, 2008.

One of approximately 40 organizations, public gardens, and municipal, state, and federal agencies collaborating to explore what sustainability means, what organizations are doing, and how individuals can join in the greening of our future, the Wildflower Center created an exhibit in the First Ladies Water Garden featuring the work of Lady Bird Johnson and the Wildflower Center.

The First Ladies Water Garden is a courtyard with a central fountain of multi-hued native granite, patterned after a colonial-era quilt design known as “Martha Washington.” The garden recognizes and reveres the service of the First Ladies of the United States to our nation, and it seemed a perfect fit to remember Mrs. Johnson’s passing nearly a year ago and to illustrate her efforts in preserving our natural world and resources!

In collaboration with Wildflower Center staff, an exhibit designer from the University of Texas devised clever ways of incorporating quotes from Mrs. Johnson on stainless steel spirals submerged in the fountain just at the water’s surface. In addition, visitors discover factoids in surprising places, such as the undersides of table umbrellas, informing them of the benefits native plants have to offer.

The Wildflower Center’s exhibit also celebrates the beautiful native flora of the diverse sections of the United States. Plants from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and the West Coast are clearly labeled and on display in groupings that highlight contrasting textures, forms, and flowers. Regional native seed packets and rack cards that describe the virtues of native plants and provide information on the Sustainable Sites Initiative are available free in the conservatory, giving tourists a starting point for creating their own sustainable wildflower gardens.

Other presenters in the “One Planet – Ours!” exhibit include the American Horticultural Society, Longwood Gardens, The Nature Conservancy, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. An exhibit called “Cool Globes” features unique globe sculptures, each five feet in diameter, presenting issues and solutions to environmental problems.

“And when you return to your home, I hope you will look around with fresh eyes. Do whatever you can to make your own region more a place of joy for you and your descendants.”
              – Lady Bird Johnson

About the author:  Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. 

Editor’s note: The U.S. Botanic Garden’s National Garden, which  contains the First Ladies Water Garden, is open to the public, free of charge, every day through Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Oct. 14.  The USBG Conservatory is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The address is 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., on the west side of the U.S. Capitol.  Information is available by calling 202-225-8333 or visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden online, www.usbg.gov.  Beginning June 2, the First Ladies Water Garden display will be showcased on the Wildflower Center’s website, www.wildflower.org.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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