by Keith Nevison
Deep in the heart of Texas I ventured for the American Public Gardens Association’s inaugural native plant symposium, which was held at the stunning Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) in Austin, Texas. The Center was founded by former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson and her long-time friend Helen Hayes, the “First Lady of the American Theatre.” The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-see public garden featuring amazing stone buildings and walkways, spectacular native Texan floral displays, and innovative design features such an observation tower with a green roof and artwork featured throughout the garden.
On the first day of the conference, registrants were treated to a magnificent tour of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve which features waterfalls, blooming Texas redbud and other drought-resistant trees, abundant songbirds, and fabulous fossil hunting across the underlying strata.
Participants also explored a private residential landscape exclusively featuring central Texas native species from the Edwards Plateau and Texas Hill Country. These areas are biodiversity hotspots with numerous endemic plant and animal species. The garden was exquisite with impressive design features such as a grotto, a creek wetland, and restored native wildflower meadows.
The theme of the 2015 symposium was Cultivating the Future of Native Plants: Conservation and Design. This was an apt theme as the conference roster was comprised of equal parts horticulturists and ecological restoration practitioners. Very interesting conversations were had on subjects such as native plants in design, the role of botanic gardens in plant conservation, creating the native plant market, and landscape design as ecological art. LBJWC has been a leader for years in these areas with their Native Plant Information Network and Sustainable SITES® Initiative partnership with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden. In addition, they maintain partnerships with the Center for Plant Conservation and the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success Program which aims to collect wildland seeds for research, development, germplasm conservation, and ecosystem restoration. Clearly an active place with lots going on!
Spring was in effect down in Austin and many species were blooming, including the iconic state flower, the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis).
The garden features many oak meadows with both live oaks and deciduous oaks as well as a rich understory of shrubs, forbs, and grasses.
Well-known landscape designer Darrel Morrison concluded the Symposium by speaking about his designs and inspiration, from the layout for LBJWC to his most recent design for Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Native Flora Garden. Perhaps the most enlightening thing I learned from him is that one should always camp out on the land prior to working on a project in order to get a feel for the land and to observe its features over the course of the day. Through this experience, one can determine the ideal placement for soft and hard garden elements.