Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America written by Kathi Appelt and Illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein is a biography of former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Opening with the story of Lady Bird’s childhood and how important flowers were to getting her through life’s ups and downs, the book relates the source of Lady Bird’s inspirations and her mission to beautify and transform the country, particularly the national roadsides.
Flowers and nature were always a part of Lady Bird’s life. After her mother died, the sight of bluebonnets reminded her of her mother and “filled her with a sense of being loved.” When she was a student at the University of Texas, the fields of bluebonnets reminded her of her home in East Texas. She believed that “it is important for a child to plant a seed…to water it, nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens.” In Washington, D.C., she made sure her garden was full of flowers, but thought that everyone, not just her family deserved to look at nature. She saw her conservation and beautification work as part of her husband’s Great Society agenda and was active in re-beautifying Washington, D.C., founding the Society for a more beautiful Nation’s Capital, and actively lobbying for the Beautification Act of 1965 which controls outdoor advertising along the U.S. interstate highway system. When Lyndon Johnson’s term of office ended, she planted fields of Texas wildflowers on their ranch and paid a farmer to stop mowing down his pink evening primroses and to harvest the wildflower seeds. She also helped establish the National Wildflower Research Center where scientists study the uses and effects of wildflowers saying that it was her way of “paying rent for the space I have taken up in this highly interesting world.”
I must admit to having a soft spot for fields of bluebonnets as well. One of the first trips I took to Texas with my husband was to the Texas Hill Country and it was spectacular. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin offers short hikes, meadows, and caves, with an easy introduction to native species and conservation. There’s also a great music scene in Austin and plenty to do with kids, from watching nearly 1 million bats take flight, the miniature train ride at Zilker Metropolitan Park, swimming in Barton Springs, and the nearby Austin Nature and Science Center.
This enjoyable biography includes an index of wildflowers to find in the pictures and is a good introduction to the concept of conservation and preservation as well as to the beauty of the Texas wildflowers.