On being bold: "When I was 9 years old, I accidentally set fire to the hay meadow behind my house and got in big, big trouble with the farmer, the fire department and worse, my dad. When I was 35 years old, I went back to college, studied fire ecology, met Lady Bird Johnson and now set prescribed fires for a living. We create healthy landscapes. Best job ever."
On being an adventurer: “She taught me how to be an adventurer. She was the original adventurer in my mind and she gave all of us this adventurous spirit and taught all of her daughters and grandchildren to go and engage with the world and explore and find the beauty everywhere, especially in nature.”
On being an adventurer: “I travel the world. I spend most of my time and money going to countries. I’ve been to about 51 countries. I’ve gone all around the world and seen a whole bunch of different things and backpacked around Asia and Europe and I’ve been to all 50 states and I guess that makes me an adventurer. I’ve also been exploring Austin. Over the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out what there is to do around here. Everything that classifies as weird or interesting and making a list of it and doing everything I can.”
On being bold: “I live life gleefully, I would say. I’m not one that studies something before I do it. I do it and then I sort of learn through the school of hard knocks and just winging it kind of thing. I think that Lady Bird was a fantastic first lady. She was bold in that she was an activist. She was really the first environmentalist first lady and the first activist first lady and that means taking charge, which is another thing I do. But that takes passion which I have. It takes creativity which I have. And it takes support and I’m so very blessed to have so many friends and a family that appreciates that aspect of me. “
On being an environmentalist: “I try to do little things that positively affect the environment and the natural world. For instance: picking up litter, river cleanups and last February I went to the big shell beach cleanup on Padre Island National Seashore which is an event where hundreds of people come together to volunteer to pick up all the trash on the beach. Trash is a big problem there but if you get a lot of people together and clean it up, it gives you a real positive feeling and you get a lot done with a lot of people. The same thing applies for the rivers here. I do a lot of canoeing and I’m real big on picking up trash. I’ll fill up my whole canoe up with trash and it’s kind of a rewarding thing. A lot of people are like, “Wow, you’re just picking up that trash? This isn’t your property, you don’t own this but you’re just picking it up?” And you can tell it kind of changes their perspective a little bit. I try to teach my kids that, too. It’s about caring about the little things not because you own it or because it’s yours but because it’s worth caring about.”
On being an adventurer: "I am an internationally certified yoga teacher and so I lived in India…in north India in the Himalayas. I lived in New York, the Bahamas. I’ve got to say the Himalayas is my favorite area. It’s basically on the China/India border — it’s extremely remote. So you have to study classical Sanskrit and classical yoga texts and practices, and I basically taught yoga in India. It was fun! I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could… maybe someday in the future, if I can get back because I really enjoyed it."
On being an adventurer: “I did a lot of international traveling solo and I spent 9 months abroad doing volunteer farm work over the course of a 3 year span. I was in some rural villages in central Portugal and in rural southern Spain and it took me as far as Madeira Island. The kinds of things that I encountered in that situation really changed who I am as a person. I was doing a self-directed survey of permaculture techniques by working on those different farms to volunteer, but it was one of the most adventurous things that I have done because I was navigating all the time new places, major language barriers (my Portuguese is definitely not good) and just doing it all by myself.”
On being bold: “My son is 7 months old and when he was born he was in the hospital for two and half months. I learned that you have to stand up for yourself and you have to make it very clear what you’re going to accept and what you’re not going to accept from anyone in your life and what’s valuable to you. That’s what being bold means to me right now.”
On being an adventurer: “I’ve just come back from three weeks up in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana camping. And I tent-camp with my husband. Everyone asks if I do RV but I don’t. So we were outside of Santa Fe and we were outside of Pikes Peak. This year there’s been so much rain everywhere that I’ve never seen Wyoming as green as it is with lots of wildflowers. Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone is covered with wildflowers and up in the mountains, too. We’d both look at all the wildflowers over there, and I always think of Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson always referred to them as the DYC’s (the “damned yellow composites”). Anyways, it’s a big adventure. We like hiking. We love getting up on the trails up in the mountains where it’s cool in the summertime.”
If you’ve heard of green buildings, you’ve likely heard of LEED. Like LEED before it, SITES is set to transform the way landscapes are valued. SITES is a rating system and set of comprehensive guidelines that help landscape developers achieve sustainability – by making choices about ways to use less water, to use native plants, to opt for sustainable materials, to support wildlife and more while developing a site.
Forty-five projects across the country have received certification to date under a pilot program of SITES, which is now available for any landscape project team to use. The pilot landscapes already have collectively saved more than 400 million gallons of drinkable water per year.
SITES was developed by the Wildflower Center in collaboration with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the U.S. Botanic Garden. It was recently purchased by the Green Business Certification Institute, Inc., the very same organization that implements LEED and many other green building rating systems
Keep an eye out for SITES-certified landscape projects near you.
At the Mueller Development in Austin, blackland prairie plants grow again on land that had been airport runways for half a century. In Dallas, stretches of lawn at the George W. Bush Presidential Center feature this tall grass prairie. Down the road in Fort Worth, a meandering stream and blackland prairie plants have replaced what had served as a cattle pasture and pond for decades. And on a green rooftop in Central Texas, nearly 200 types of plants and blackland prairie grasses grow above bedrooms and kitchens, challenging our notion of where prairie restoration can occur.
All of these projects are part of the Wildflower Center's efforts to restore Blackland Prairie - one of the most endangered ecosystems in the U.S. Prairie once dominated Midwestern landscapes from Texas to Canada, but less than 1 percent remains in Texas. Lost along with it are deep-rooted grasses that create a fertile soil and a resilient ecosystem that improves the environment and provides habitat to wide-ranging wildlife.
To date, the Center has restored elements of Blackland Prairie on 400 acres in cities across Texas, providing people with a chance to deepen their connection to nature where they live, work and play.
Development, habitat destruction and climate change place native plants and the food webs that depend on them in danger. Storing seeds is a way to conserve native plants for future generations.
The Wildflower Center served as the Texas representative in the Millennium Seed Bank, a global conservation project overseen by the UK’s Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. All told, two staff conservationists, 100-plus volunteers and botany colleagues collected and stored 6 million seeds of 600 native species that form the backbone of Texas landscapes. Center conservationists continue to work with state agencies, private landowners and others to set aside seeds for what could be hundreds of years as part of the national Seeds of Success project.
With 11 ecoregions and more than 268,000 square miles in the state, seed collecting in Texas is no small feat. An emphasis is placed on high-priority species for restoration projects, with seeds collected and processed for safekeeping at a national facility in Colorado and at the Center’s own seed bank.
Current seed collecting efforts are focusing on Texas ash trees - threatened by the invasive emerald ash borer beetle - and Texas native milkweeds that are critical for monarch butterflies.
On being an adventurer: “Moving to Texas. I spent my first 25 years up in Washington State. I went to university up there. I was actually homeschooled on a farm. Went to college, became a social worker. After 5 years of social work, working with domestic violence survivors in a shelter, I realized that there was more that I could do in the world than just that and that perhaps rather than helping the same people in the same small town over and over again that I could be doing something to be more a part of the community and to tell stories and to share and to raise awareness so I moved to Austin, Texas and started writing songs and that’s part of what brings me to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I come out here and work on songs and get inspired but what she did.”
For more than a decade, the Wildflower Center’s ecological designers have studied how to enhance landscapes with native plants and used those insights to help clients restore and create sustainable landscapes. The Center’s consulting work touches on all stages of a landscape’s development, from guiding the development of a site’s restoration plan, to providing detailed lists of native plants and materials for recreating ecosystems and using prescribed fire and other tools for maintaining a healthy landscape.
The vibrant work is showcased at sites as diverse as the Kennedy Space Center in Houston, a residential cliff dwelling in Austin, the Mission Reach in San Antonio and the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
Texas has 5,000 native plant species, and each has evolved to play a particular role in its ecoregion. Some plants are important food for mammals and insects, while others are critical for hummingbirds and other migrators. These plants also play important roles in ecosystems - their roots hold soil during floods or they bring nitrogen into the soil.
Not only is the Wildflower Center conserving seeds as a way to save plants, it has also helped to save endangered Texas plants, such as Tobusch fishhook cactus, star cactus and Texas poppy-mallow.
In the case of the magenta mallow, conservation staff and colleagues traveled to Ballinger, Texas, in summer 2010 to work in 90-degree plus temperatures to rescue 54 plants before a construction project began. They dug up mallows in two dawn-to-dusk days from the deep sands these plants prefer, and brought them back to the Wildflower Center for safekeeping and study. After two years, Wildflower Center conservation staff reintroduced them to an experimental population in Colorado City.
Lawns drink more water than we do. Up to 60 percent of drinkable city water is used to irrigate some 20 million acres of lawns in the U.S.
To turn this trend around, Wildflower Center ecologists created and trademarked a less resource-intense turf grass that is adapted for the southwestern U.S. Composed of four native grasses, this Habiturf mix requires low to no water, and little chemical input and maintenance once established. As a bonus, this native turf that has the small blades and softness of traditional lawns can go dormant during a watering hiatus. And Habiturf supports butterfly and moth caterpillars adapted to eat its blades.
When landscape irrigation accounts for nearly 9 billion gallons every day, it’s a good time to invest in eco-friendly lawn options.
After a devastating 2011 wildfire in Bastrop, Texas, that burned 33,000-plus acres of loblolly pines, the Wildflower Center grew more than 300,000 of these trees for restoration efforts. As of 2015, those pines loblolly pine saplings have been planted on residential properties and at a Boy Scout camp in Bastrop County as part of major restoration projects continuing in the rare Lost Pines ecosystem..
This project used Lost Pines loblolly seed that had been stored for future purposes – a reminder of the need to plan for the unexpected when it comes to keeping native landscapes alive.
Children have less access to outdoor play and exploration than they once did, especially in a rapidly urbanizing world. To counter that, the Wildflower Center expanded in 2014 with the opening of the Luci and Ian Family Garden.
Kids now nurture their wild side jumping between tree stumps, imagining new worlds from inside giant bird nests and more. This 100 percent native plant garden offers insights into eco-friendly ways to create landscapes, such as using recycled mulches and sunken gardens to capture rainwater.
The kudos have started rolling in for the innovative space: a 2-star rating from the Sustainable Sites Initiative; the Garden Excellence Award from Horticulture Magazine; and a spot on a local “Top 10 Places to Take Your Kids in Austin” list.