Texas, Andrea, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center discussed on Cultivating Place

Cultivating Place


This is cultivating place conversations on natural history and the human impulse to garden from nor state public radio in northern California. I'm Jennifer Joel. Were now well into women's history month and International Women's Day was this last Sunday march eighth as we continue cultivating places. Women's history month interviews. Were joined this week by Andrea Delong Amaya director of horticulture for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas. At Austin it is also the botanic garden for the State of Texas Andrea has been on staff for over twenty years and has more than thirty years of experience in horticulture. She Guides fifteen staff members in the design and management of nine acres of Native Plant Gardens. Two hundred and seventy five acres of natural areas and in native plant nursery. She teaches classes in native plant horticulture and writes and presents on her passion for the field widely. She spoke with US late. Last autumn to share more about the history and work of the centre including it. Being the legacy of another extraordinary woman ladybird Johnson Andrea shares. Her own enthusiasm for this field of work. Welcome Andrea Hi. How you doing? I'm great how are you wonderful? I'd love for you to start by describing describe the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as visually as you can for listeners. Who may not have been there. And then we'll talk a little bit about your specific work there Andrea Sherr so we are in a South Austin and in the middle of Texas. We're in a part of the state that we refer to as Texas El country or the Edwards Plateau which is a beautiful beautiful part of the state. Of course Texans will say every part of the state is beautiful but I WANNA say text. The central Texas area is particularly beautiful especially in the spring were really renowned for having excellent wildflower displays including the Texas blue on it which occurs all over the state but the central Texas areas particularly flora for us in the spring. And so we are like I said in Austin and the site that were on is a public garden where about two hundred and eighty five acres. I think we actually added a little bit more In the last year or so and it's a public garden where we feature plants that are native to the state of Texas. That's the site now. The organization is bigger than that But the gardens here. We're demonstrating hell different. Native plants can be used in different kinds of landscapes different kinds of styles. We have collections of plants. From different parts of the State we are the Botanic Garden Texas. So we're trying to increase our collections to represent other parts of the state as well as the central Texas area so we have about nine acres of cultivated gardens and then we have a sixteen Acre Texas Arboretum of trees So those are the horticultural areas in then. We have natural areas in The other parts of the the property And that the natural areas also include some research areas. We have some Areas where we're doing Land Management prescribed fire treatments and different kinds of land-management to see how that influences the vegetation. Yeah we can talk more about that. If you're if you like definitely definitely I will i. I would love to get into some of the specifics of each of those areas you just described but before we get there. Describe your your your job there what it entails and may be the trajectory of your twenty years there. Andrea. Yeah well. I started as a gardener appropriately and really enjoy working outside. I mean I've always been interested in being outdoors and that goes way back to my childhood is probably most people who have an affinity for the natural world That usually starts childhood so I grew up doing things outdoors with my parents particularly with my dad. We'd go camping or canoeing. And I remember having a field guide of of wildflowers weeds that surrounded our area where we lived and that was great. Fun everything from astronomy to birds and lizards and insects. Just everything is so interesting And I just find that the more I learn about things the more I'm fascinated and in awe of the natural world so that's just started early but it's just been a long a lifelong interest in learning more and observing more. I mean I laugh. We have a big picture window at our dining room table. And that's our TV. We don't have an actual electronics of the Inter House. It's overlooking a garden and pond and we just sit there and watch the animal antics and what's blooming and it's great fun and it's a nice way to slow down in our fast paced world That's a that's a big part of what I think. Nature does for me and for a lot of people So you started as a gardener. What year was that Andrea and then tell us about the progression of your rules at the Center Which clearly you progressed in because of your deepening curiosity and ever expanding knowledge base. Yes so I started in December of nine hundred ninety eight and Worked as a gardener I've guarded in most of the areas that we have in Under cultivation over the years and at some point we had Position of gardens manager was available so I moved into that and then I don't know maybe fifteen years ago I transitioned into the direct report culture and Unfortunately that means a little bit less guarding than I used to do. But it also gets me in a higher level of designing decision making which is very exciting and allows me to have more influence over some of the bigger picture things that are happening And then overseeing the natural areas arboretum and the nurseries also been pretty pretty fun and adds different interest to what what I'm looking at. Yeah so talk about Before we get into the specifics of some of the programmatic areas and display areas there and then the research give listeners. A history of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center when it started what it's original mission in scope was of course the wonderful woman for whom it is named and by whom it was founded in its original iteration and So that that people have an understanding of just how much bigger is then. A Garden appreciating wildflowers. Because that is a fabulous mission but it's it is much bigger than that so we're very blessed to have had the visionary Labor Johnson as founder. She founded the wildflower center. Initially as the wildflower research center. The National Welfare Research Center and that was an endeavor that she took on with her friend and actress. Helen Hayes which a lot of people don't remember that part of of the history but it's Kinda Funny Mrs Johnson didn't feel like she had enough name. Recognition Systems of Helen Hayes. And so her mission right from the beginning was to really try to understand an unlocked the secrets of wildfires in native plants and understand how they grow and that was the original research. The the wildflower center did at that time and so that was a nineteen eighty two so the organization started back. Then we moved to our current site as a public garden Before it was more just a research site with some portables but it didn't really have botanical garden kind of exhibits. Someone moved to Our current site in one thousand nine hundred ninety five that was really a big focus of making the space Amenable to guests and having exhibits that people can interact with and having educational programming and really elaborating on that when she first started it. Why we'll just remind listeners? She was of course the first lady of the United States and she Had A as firstly. She had some remarkable initiatives to beautify. I think was the word that was used then. roads and highways across the country and she was taken by the wildflower diversity there in her home state for good reason. Because it's a pretty remarkable native flora. Will you talk a little bit about that? And and why people thought this was not just a pretty project but was worthy of deep research. Even at that time so yeah. Mrs Johnson grew up in a rural setting and without siblings so she was a long time so her best friend is. A child was outside Just the outdoors and I think that was what what instilled upon in her the scrape passion for the for the natural world and then as she became first lady She really had a great influence on President Johnson in terms of Passing legislation one of the things he's known for is the beautification. Act The highway beautification. Act and getting billboards off of the roadsides and cleaning up roadsides and planting wildflowers and the way I understand it you know we talk about it is being beautification and she knew at the time. She was very savvy that at the time. She knew that that was a word that would engage people. The public secretly I. I've heard that she felt like that was actually kind of a word and that it is she. I think she understood. It was deeper than just beautification was away to connect people with the idea that she had the native flora of Texas. Talk about the diversity you have there. And how the diversity of Texas which is not which is an enormous place with a lot of micro climates and But talk about that. Diversity is then valuable as a kind of proto type for researching and understanding diversity anywhere Andrea. The State is a big state. And because of that. We're really blessed with many different Eka regions and vegetation zones. We have depending on how you look at it. We might we have about a dozen different vegetation zones and it's kind of a funnel you if you look at how the the geography of North America As things migrate and flow back and forth from north to South America it goes through Central America and through the funnel of Texas so we get plants and animals coming through there that over millennia have really made it for very rich environment which is Super Fun to be exploring and studying and and gardening with those plants and gardening for wildlife the diversity of wildlife that we have what is your current number of sort of native plants in Texas. We have thousands Maybe five thousand native plant species or tax in the state of Texas. But I would have to confirm that number on our site. We have about nine hundred species of native tax on our property here and tax would include species and sometimes subspecies right. I think one of the things. It's really interesting to me. And part of what makes Native Plant Research. So interesting is that You know it's that Great John Muir quote of you can't pull on one thread in the universe without tugging on the whole of the universe but the native plant as you were describing that idea of Texas being this fabulous funnel in migration patterns and and water like large watersheds scope. You get this sense of the complexity and history of that interrelationship between climatic patterns geology. The tectonic plates of our continent and how plants and animals are interrelated with all of that. And it's all co evolved into this fabulous beautiful soup that you know in your region is the big beautiful state of Texas Talk. About how over time the different display areas have evolved there at the center and what they're kind of individual purposes are from the perspective of not only engaging the public but also providing laboratories for research end data and information collection. The gardens themselves have not been The subject of actual research study. I mean informally as gardeners. Were all every time we garden? It's always an experiment you but we do have more of our. Formal research is happening in the natural areas primarily with a land-management research. I would like to progress as we move forward to doing more plant trials and other more formal kinds of horticultural research but just demonstrating these plants. in having them in a garden setting where we can somewhat control conditions. Some plants obviously are pretty malleable and while adjusts to horticultural kind of settings others We found not well suited for gardens. They may be beautiful plants but they may be tricky or they may be really specific in the kinds of areas and conditions that they want to grow and people love. There's a little plant called Mountain. Pink which is super cute. It's Maybe a foot tall and it looks like this. Perfect bouquet of flowers with hot pink balsams on it and they bloom in the summer. They grow in road cuts where it's just basically solid rock almost just COLUCCI and people love them and they want to grow them in their garden..

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