If you know anything about Lady Bird Johnson, then you've heard that her big cause was the preservation of wildflowers and native plants. She insisted that natural habitats and native species were beautiful in their own right, that they are part of what defines regional identity, and that they could even be economically beneficial. She was right, you know. And her efforts have had an enormous impact on the way gardeners practice their craft in central Texas. She also prevailed upon the state highway agency to seed the roadsides with wildflowers, which have flourished throughout the state but especially in central Texas where fields of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, evening primrose, and other wildflowers paint the landscape in rich colors, attracting visitors from far and wide.

To further the cause, Mrs. Johnson founded the Wildflower Center to research native species and habitat and educate the public on the benefits of gardening with these plants and wildflowers. The center has a large staff and scores of volunteers, 279 acres of land, large greenhouses, and an elaborate rainwater collection system. The facility's research library is the largest in the United States for the study of native plants. For visitors, the main attractions are the 12 acres of beautiful gardens displaying 650 species of native plants (most of which are labeled) in varying habitats, 2 miles of trails, and an observation tower. In 2010, the Wildflower Center received $1.4 million to create an arboretum featuring native trees. There is also a large and colorful gift shop and a cafe serving soups and sandwiches. Free lectures and guided walks are usually offered on the weekends -- it's best to phone or check the website for current programs.

Once you get on Mo-Pac freeway, it's a 20-minute ride from West Austin. If you're really interested in gardening or botany, you can spend the better part of a day here.