Lady Bird Johnson, Green Movement Pioneer

July 12, 2007 · Print This Article · Email This Post

CosmosAs early morning sunshine filters in through the back door and various songbirds wax melodic, we view our herb garden and the potting shed. Feathery hummingbird vines climb the porch posts of the potting shed, soon to produce the bright red flowers which hummingbirds are so fond of. Soon, the vine will reach its full height of about 20 feet, wrapping the potting shed in a soaring cascade of red. Sunflowers, some nearly eight feet tall, almost dwarf the right side of the potting shed which, otherwise, would be a bare expanse of tan vinyl siding. Cosmos, some on stems up to six feet tall, sparkle on the southern side of the house, in a 20-foot long swath which, until three years ago, was just ordinary grass baking in the sun. Neighbors stop to comment on the flowers, and some people slow down when driving by.
Lady Bird Johnson at the White HouseWhat does this have to do with Lady Bird Johnson, who died yesterday afternoon at age 94? She created beauty. She was a pioneer of the Green Movement. She was “the first environmentalist to live in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt,” according to Harry Middleton, retired director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. Although she’s most often remembered as the wife of the much-maligned President Johnson, whose support for the Vietnam War proved wildly unpopular and helped drive him from office, Lady Bird, born Claudia Taylor in Karnack, Texas, had her own vision. While campaigning for her husband, she became angered by a blighted American landscape. Due to her efforts, the $320 million Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was passed. Billboards across America disappeared. Junkyards were screened from public view. Patches of wildflowers were seeded in interstate medians. Green spaces were created. As she once said: “Ugliness is so grim. . .A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which lessens tensions.”

She was the first Presidential wife to lobby Congress, and, with her own chief of staff and two spokesmen, the first First Lady to create her own bureaucratic power center at the White House.


Helen HayesIn 1982, she and actress Helen Hayes founded the <”>National Wildflower Center on 279 acres in the Hill Country of Central Texas. Renamed as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997, it seeks to preserve and protect the native plants and landscapes of North America. On the wildflower website, she once wrote: “Our center works for more than the lovely blossoms in our open spaces. . .We are concerned for all of North America’s native plants, from the smallest sprout to the tallest tree.”


Pink Coneflower

Noting that more than 4,000 native plant species across America were threatened with extinction, environmentalist Johnson commented: “”Will these plants be lost to all but memory, with succeeding generations losing even that fragile connection?. . .Are there sources of food, fiber, or medicine that might perish with them? How do we save these species in the face of an ever-expanding human population and its impact on the land?”

Queen Anne's Lace

The Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Information Network (NPIN), is the largest native plant database in North America, with horticultural and botanical information on more than 7,000 species in its searchable database. It also has over 19,000 images of native plants. The Center operates a land restoration program, with consultants available to corporations and government entities, geared to renewing degraded, damaged or even destroyed ecosystems.

For her efforts, President Gerald Ford presented Mrs. Johnson with the Medal of Freedom in 1977, which is the country’s highest civilian award. In 1988, she received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Ronald Reagan. With Carlton Lees, she co-authored Wildflowers Across America.


Red Bee Balm, or MonardaLady Bird will be buried on 15 July next to President Johnson in the Johnson Family Cemetery, on the LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, TX. While memorial donations can be made to the The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Endowment Fund, she will live on in glorious bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and all the other plants she championed. And my native plant species (such as this red bee balm (or Monarda), popular with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds) will return every year, providing refuge for both wildlife and the human heart, which is always gladdened by beauty. Thank you, Lady Bird, for your efforts to bring beauty into our lives.


We hope our readers have enjoyed this foray into Pajamadeen’s ecosystem. We grew all of the flowers you’ve been viewing, in Zone 6. Most are perennials, with the cosmos being a freely reseeding annual. All are winter hardy here and are grown without the use of pesticides or insecticides. We encourage you to try your hand at growing native plants. See more of our flowers.

Photo Credit: Women’s International Center

Copyright ©2007


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