Along the rambling highways of the Texas Hill Country, expanses of scrub grass are sprinkled with blooms of indigo, periwinkle, scarlet, coral, and gold. These vibrant flowers, resembling watercolor brushstrokes on a verdant canvas, continue the conservation efforts of Texas native Lady Bird Johnson.
As a child, Lady Bird Johnson (wife of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson) would often spend time canoeing the bayous of East Texas, weaving between knotty cypress roots and swags of curled Spanish moss. “Growing up rather alone,” she once said, “I took my delights in the gifts nature afforded me daily.” This connection to natural beauty remained with her into adulthood, and she adopted a platform for environmental reform as a first lady. While touring the country during her husband’s presidential campaign in 1964, she noticed an increasing emergence of junkyards and billboards along national highways that diminished—or even eliminated—the natural beauty of these stretches of land. When her husband began his second term as president in 1965, Lady Bird set out on a campaign of her own by launching the Highway Beautification Act that same year.
Highways were changed significantly as a result of the reform. Billboards were better regulated and many were removed, and junkyards were cleaned up. But perhaps the most universally appreciated and lasting effect was the planting and proliferation of indigenous wildflowers alongside the highways of the Texas Hill Country, an area of Central Texas known for its rolling, rugged terrain. After her husband left office, Lady Bird continued her environmental efforts, and in 1982, she and actress Helen Hayes founded the Wildflower Research Center in Austin to protect and preserve North America’s plants and landscapes. It was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997. The former First Lady “was passionate about helping others appreciate the value of our nation’s natural heritage,” says Susan Rieff, the center’s executive director. “Her vision for protecting native plants and natural landscapes comes to life through our gardens, research, and education programs.” At the facility, sweeping fields of wildflowers, winding meadow trails, and sixteen gardens filled with regional plants invite guests to explore and learn about the importance of conservation. Surely, Lady Bird would be proud of this beautiful continuation of her legacy.
Text Katie Brandon
Photography Kate Sears
“Lady Bird’s Legacy: The Texas Wildflower” can be found on page 50 of the March/April 2009 issue of Victoria.