The Spirit of Lady Bird
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts Photo Courtesy of: Frank Wolfe/LBJ Library, via Associated Press
Each spring, the highways and country roads of Texas burst into vibrant colors with the blooming of the wildflowers. The person perhaps most responsible for these roadside wildflowers was a painfully shy woman named Lady Bird.
Lady Bird was married to Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was president in the 1960s. LBJ was a political genius, but he was abrasive, to put it mildly. Lady Bird, however, was a model of courtesy and kindness. Lyndon wanted to be king, but Lady Bird was the grace and good manners behind the throne.
LBJ was elected to Congress in 1937 and then to the Senate in 1948. Lady Bird was expected to help him campaign, but she was terrified of speaking in public. Instead of making speeches, Lady Bird initiated a softer campaign – a campaign of flowers.
Lady Bird’s idea was to plant wildflowers along the new roads springing up across Texas. Flowers were not political, but the members of the garden clubs were the leading ladies of their towns, and by connecting with them, Lady Bird gently advanced her husband’s career.
Lady Bird would drive to cities across Texas to meet with garden clubs. The ladies would visit over coffee or tea, then divide up their seeds, get into their cars, and drive in caravans down country roads, throwing wildflower seeds out the windows. Lady Bird would throw her seeds, wave to the ladies, and keep driving to the next town to do it again.
This was the dawn of the roadside wildflower movement: the women of garden clubs going out in their roadsters and convertibles tossing bluebonnet seeds out the windows.
When LBJ became president, he put the federal government behind Lady Bird with the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Today, more than one hundred thousand people per year visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center outside of Austin, Texas.
If you want to add wildflowers to your landscape here in the Coastal Bend, some of the best choices are bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, winecup, black-eyed Susans, evening primrose, firewheel, sunflowers, and many others.
There are wildflowers for every season. First, determine the space you would like to add wildflowers – the side of the road, a meadow, or a garden bed –and the type of soil, rainfall, and shade in that area. Next, go to wildflower.org (the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center) for instructions on what, when, and how to plant plus where to find wildflower seeds.
The spirit of Lady Bird blooms each spring in rivers of yellow, red, and blue down the long gray highways of Texas. Let your spirit bloom for years to come in your landscape with your very own wildflowers!