Lady Bird Wildflower Center turns a new leaf
Serious environmentalism altering the Lady Bird Wildlife Center
By Michael Barnes
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
The memory of the late Lady Bird Johnson lingered on the breeze. And before the evening was over, it seemed a generational shift had altered the sensibility of her namesake wildflower center, as anyone witnessing its annual gala and art auction on Friday could observe.
The Johnson clan and their longtime friends had not skipped that cornflower spring dusk on La Crosse Avenue. Luci Johnson was there, spreading wisdom like bone meal around the garden. (Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith looked like he was taking studious mental notes while Johnson schooled him off to one side.)
Yet the ages and professions represented at the $500-a-plate dinner embraced a broader range of Central Texans than one might have expected. And the auction art: No dowdy bluebonnets on offer. Lots of exquisite, nature-inspired paintings, sculptures, prints, etc., but nothing that would look out of place in the finest galleries or museums.
We talked with scientists, architects, lawyers, techies, the owner of a collision repair service who'd recently moved his family here from Mexico City, members of families mantled in ancient power and bubbling kids attending their first gala. We also met Ken Gladfish, new high-spirited director of the Austin Community Foundation, and Becky Beaver, who has urged the center in admirable new directions.
We sat between photographer Nancy Scanlan, always the pinnacle of good taste, who traced her relations with present friends through her native Beaumont and her introduction to Austin, St. Stephen's School; and Sharon Watkins, who told vivid anecdotes about her recent trip to France and the ideas she imported for Chez Zee, her Northwest Hills eatery which now seems virtually downtown.
Scanlan's companion, John Watson, told a delicious story about Hollywood star Anne Baxter despising Zachary Scott's old-fashioned mother while visiting Austin, and another about the neighborhood youths vying to swim with the shapely granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and star of "All About Eve."
But the lasting change, clearly evident throughout the evening, was the ongoing and evolving seriousness of the center's mission: environmental sustainability. Not just packets of wildflower seeds distributed to bonnet-wearing gardeners — that's a stale stereotype anyway, sorry — but ambitious study and advocacy of ecological issues. I'm looking forward to the center's new arboretum and its continued work greening Austin, Texas and the nation.
Lady Bird, like the night, must have smiled.