Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Luci Baines Johnson Turpin, Lyndon Boozer and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb at a Washington reception for the Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award.
THE LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER (and a graduation)
by Carol Joynt

We start with what has been hinted at here before and said often to friends: if there were a gentleman rancher, on bended knee with an 8 carat diamond in one hand and a bouquet of bluebonnets in the other, I would pack up the essential possessions, plus the dog and the parrot, put us all in a Conestoga wagon and move to Austin, Texas. Failing that, a job would suffice, too.

Apart from being 21st Century New York, booming with employment and development, Austin is a pleasant and livable place, where people are friendly, ask “how can I help you,” and go about living their lives at a pace that feels human and uncrowded (with the exception of rush hour), and notably not neurotic.

There’s vibrancy in the communities of food, music, the arts, technology, education, outdoor life, intellect, media, and fun.  And, much like New York (but not Washington), there’s no apparent ageism; in sophisticated cultures age takes a back seat to smarts, talent and style. Austin may be weird and casual, but it’s also sophisticated.
The nearly desert like weather is excellent, less turbulent than Dallas, and not the Houston steam bath. Is it hot?  In the summer, yes, but much of the time it’s a bearable dry heat. The winters are mild.
What getting it done looks like on graduation day.
I’m often asked about the politics, because its Texas, after all, and Rick Perry is governor (and George W. Bush was governor) and Austin is the capital. It’s this simple: Austin is to Texas what New York is to the United States. Also, the overall state voting population is growing brighter shades of purple by the day, with blue forecast to be just around the corner.

I returned to Austin last week for a special occasion, my son Spencer’s graduation from the University of Texas, where he got a Bachelor’s Degree in creative advertising from the Moody College of Communication, where alums include Walter Cronkite, Liz Smith, Bill Moyers, Matthew McConaughey, Berke Breathed, Robert Rodriquez and Adm. William H. McRaven, who was this year’s university commencement speaker.
The graduation feast, hosted by Jean Perin, at Fonda San Miguel (left to right): Spencer Joynt, Kate Davis, Harry Shearer, Martha Kumar, CJ, Cameron Kumar, and Perin. When Harry Shearer (my son's godparent) and I met for breakfast, who should be seated behind us but Adm. McRaven and retired admiral, and national intelligence expert, Bobby Ray Inman. I wish I could say we picked up intel, but the only phrases that wafted over were "battle hardened" and "national security."
McRaven, head of the U.S. Special Forces Command, as well as the Navy SEALs raid that got Osama bin Laden, gives excellent speeches, and in this one he imparted ten tips for making a difference, beginning with a personal favorite: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
What this trip also had that was special was the opportunity to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Lady Bird’s legacy as a horticulturist is epic – she “beautified” America, and Washington in particular. The environment that nurtured her knowledge and vision comes to fine focus in the 279 acres that are the grounds of the Center, which is only a 20 minute drive from downtown Austin.
At the Wildflower Center Visitor's Center, an image of Lady Bird in her natural habitat.
At the visitors center, a living guide to some of the flowers that will be spotted while wandering the gardens of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
For a while now my friend Lyndon Boozer had been urging me to visit this beautiful place, which is important to him, as are all things related to President Lyndon Baines Johnson, his namesake. He grew up in Austin and Washington, where his mother was personal assistant to LBJ. He’s also close with Johnson daughters Linda Byrd Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson. Luci and her husband, Ian Turpin, were instrumental in creating the new Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Center. Lyndon was there for the opening a few weeks ago and talked about it nonstop. He set up my visit.
Damon Waitt, Jean Perin, Jesse Greendyk, and Lee Clippard.
Early on sunny, dry and fresh Friday morning, I arrived at the Wildflower Center with Jean Perin, a noted Upperville, VA, horticulturist and also one of my son’s godparents who had come to Austin for graduation. For almost two hours we toured the grounds with senior director Damon Waitt, Jesse Greendyk of the development office, and communications director Lee Clippard. They were wonderful guides, especially for Jeannie, who talks the talk. While the four of them deeply discussed plants, I wandered with my camera.
The splendid courtyard, a natural gathering place and also a popular spot for weddings.
In the spaces around the courtyard are the visitors center, the library, a cafe, an auditorium and a cafe. Offices are also nearby.
This mesmerizing and crystal clear spring is near the visitors center.
The main entrance to the Luci and Ian Family Garden, which opened at the beginning of May.
There are five trails at the Wildflower Center, each with their own themes and seasonal plants and flowers.
The arbor in the theme gardens, which include an Inspiration Garden, Wetland Pond, Woodland Garden and Family Garden.
Jean Perin and Lee Clippard stroll through the theme gardens, discussing the details.
A wetland pond.
A garden wall that would be typical to the landscaping of an Austin ranch.
The view through the wall.
Lee Clippard and Jean Perin cross a dry creek. A week before it was roaring with water, Clippard said.
Everything I saw spoke to why I adore Austin and its terrain – the play of limestone against wildflowers, Adobe-colored pathways, roughhewn wood, natural springs, water lilies and cactus, and of course the oak trees. As we rode a golf cart through the back 200 acres – at times so similar to the African Savannah I half expected to see zebras and lions – Jesse pointed out the many oak trees. “We’re very rich in oak diversity. We want to have every species in Texas,” he said. “If you’re an oak nut, you can come here and look at them.”

Well, I’m an Austin nut and can’t wait to get back.
My view from the back of a golf cart as we toured the other 200 acres of the Wildflower Center. Zebras and lions would not have looked out of place.
Look closely — a dozen or so varieties of wildflowers carpet the ground.
"If you're an oak nut," says Jesse Greendyk, "you can come here and look at them."
Many layers of native Texas grasses, wildflowers, scrub and trees. We may have missed the Bluebonnets but a view like this did not disappoint.
Jesse Greendyk and Jean Perin, talking horticulture. Lee Clippard zooms in on an unsuspecting beetle.
The new Luci and Ian Family Garden.
The fish were hiding during our visit, but this pond is stocked.
Jean, Damon and Lee as seen through the Hill Country Grotto.
Little ones delight inside the HIll Country Grotto.
To grown ups this may look like only a mess of stumps, but to children it is a fascinating play area.
A large piece of Calcite Crystal from Marble Falls, Texas.
Bird nests big enough for a class of children are a fun feature of the Family Garden.
The beauty of a Texas landscape at almost high noon. The sun can't be denied. This is a part of a family play lawn.
These bronze coyotes keep watch over the play lawn.
It's easy to feel at home at the Wildflower Center, where the architecture feels like a well done ranch with indigenous desert plants looking happy to be there, too.
Cactus flowers.
Natural desert plants.
One of the greenhouses at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
As with any great garden, the behind the scenes is active with young future plantings.
If you find yourself with an Austin trip on the calendar, consider the wonderful Four Seasons Hotel for the old world glam of its lobby lounge, and its pool by the lake, or the Stephen F. Austin Hotel for a central location and a fine breakfast buffet, and make reservations at Lamberts, La Condesa, Uchiko and Qui, and sit outside at Clive Bar on Rainey Street for after dinner drinks, and then be sure to hit the food trucks for pizza and what all before slipping between the sheets. Needless to say, put the Lady Bird Wildflower Center on the “must do” list, too.
Flowering cactus on the grounds of the Four Seasons Hotel.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt