Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
Rembering Mrs. J.
The road from Austin to Stonewall, Texas, was lined with people on the morning of July 15. They were waiting for the motorcade that would carry Lady Bird Johnson to the Johnson ranch for burial in the family cemetery. On that hot Sunday morning, people stood patiently on the roadsides and bridges to pay tribute to her. They sat in lawn chairs and on the tailgates of pick-up trucks. They waved flags and flowers and signs that said, "Lady Bird, We Love You" and "God Bless You, Lady Bird" and "Thanks for the Wildflowers."
There was nothing exclusive about the first lady of wildflowers. She belonged to everyone. Driving to the ranch I was reminded that Mrs. Johnson's grand spirit had touched people of all generations, in so many parts of the country and from all walks of life. And I know that spirit will remain with all of us.
Earlier that week, a private ceremony was held at the Wildflower Center to honor her life. She made her last visit to the place she loved so much on a glorious day with wildflowers in spectacular bloom. Even a few bluebonnets, which usually surrender to the Texas heat by June, were flowering along the walkway.
Mrs. Johnson once called the Wildflower Center her "forever" project, and the Center is a wonderful part - but only a part - of her legacy. Her work as first lady helped launch the modern environmental movement by drawing attention to the problems of blighted urban areas and irresponsible land use. As one of her biographers, Lewis Gould, explained, she put environmental problems on the national agenda for the first time. While planting flowers and beautifying roadsides and landscapes, she helped educate the nation about the need to protect and conserve our natural heritage and to value its diversity for ecological, economic and aesthetic reasons. Where many people saw weeds that needed mowing, she appreciated their beauty and their role in the larger creation, and she taught us to share in that wonder.
She founded this organization as the National Wildflower Research Center and only later reluctantly agreed to allow it to be renamed in her honor because she was persuaded that doing so would attract more funding for its mission.
She did many, many more things. She campaigned through the South for her husband, President Lyndon Johnson, when the Civil Rights Act he had signed sparked anger and hatred. At her funeral, commentator Bill Moyers spoke of her courage in speaking truth to these hostile crowds. She stood strong for the Great Society and nurtured the Head Start program - and it seemed right that her funeral procession passed the portable buildings in Stonewall that house the local Head Start office. She took a stand for freedom of information and open government by allowing President Johnson's private letters and tapes to be opened earlier than he had directed. And she always was an adored mother, grandmother and steadfast friend.
Decades before "sustainability" became a household word, Mrs. Johnson spoke about the need to integrate our human needs with the needs of nature and to ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy healthy landscapes and clean air and water. The Wildflower Center's original focus on propagating and displaying native wildflowers has expanded now to address the role that native plants can play in creating a more sustainable environment.
To everyone at the Wildflower Center, Mrs. Johnson was a constant presence, a source of inspiration and a frequent visitor. We will miss her every day, but her vision will guide us always. As her friend Tom Johnson said, "There are now Texas bluebonnets planted along the streets of gold."
- Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director