Situated on the edges of the state’s capitol city, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a must-see if you’re in the Austin area. Both Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes worked to make the Center become a reality. It opened back in 1982 as the National Wildflower Research Center with its primary goal to preserve North American native plants and natural landscapes. Various regions of this country are known by their particular plant populations and concern was growing that that distinctiveness was being lost at the expense of development.

We visited on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in late June. A field of gaillardias, nodding their heads in the breeze, cheerily greeted us at the entrance. The Center sits in the Texas Hill Country region, distant still from the desert of southwest Texas and the plains area of west Texas. So we also saw some natives we might see back here in the river valley: purple blooms of ironweed, butterfly weed, coreopsis and mallows. Also saw plenty of beautybush, sea oats and buckeye. Bluebells were already past bloom, but blackfoot daisies, Mexican hat and bright red blooms of standing cypress greeted you along the various footpaths. The Center’s fall flower show will boast an assortment of asters, sunflowers, ageratum, goldenrod and ornamental grasses.

With water being even more scarce and such a precious commodity in this area, the Center has developed an extensive system for water capturing and storage. A single inch of rainfall can enrich their storage tanks almost 20,000 gallons.

Projects the Center is involved in include: extensive array of workshops, children’s nature camps and lectures; plant conservation (a lot of propagation going on); one of five U.S. organizations participating in the Millennium Seed Bank Project; native landscape restoration. They also sponsor a Native Plant Information Network, a free online source for the study of North American native plants. Just do a search for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

If you belong to the N.H.S. or another botanical garden (like Garvan in Hot Springs), you’ll have reciprocal privileges to visit the Center and there’ll be no admission charge.