Kid-friendly garden underway at Wildflower Center


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and Photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS

Posted on July 23, 2013 at 5:43 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 23 at 6:19 PM

AUSTIN -- A massive new project is underway at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in South Austin.

These days the tranquility of the Lady Bird Center is shattered by the sound of heavy machinery.  Fences mark the spot where a new project is underway.

“What we're building is a 4.5 acre family garden,” said the center's Executive Director Susan Rieff.  “It's a project we've wanted to do for many years, and we actually had it designed some years ago.”

Construction on the Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin Family Garden began a week ago. Johnson is the daughter of President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson and Turpin is her husband.

The goal behind the 4.5 acre space is for children of all ages to be creative and have fun while learning about nature.

“There are too many times they're told, 'No, don't pick a flower. Don't go here. Don't step in this area.' We've flipped that over,” Rieff said. “This is the garden of 'yes' for kids. We want them to enjoy and explore things on their own.”

The new garden will feature a giant play lawn, a maze, a small man-made cave to explore, and much more. Everything that's dug up or torn down in this project, from the littlest twig to the biggest boulder, will be reused on site.

“We're paying very close attention to keeping within our limits of construction, not to cause any harm to the vegetation or the trees that are outside of it,” said botanist Damon Waitt.

Crews say protecting the native plants that grow and thrive throughout the space is crucial.

“We're very carefully controlling the vehicles that come on site because we don't want them to bring seeds from another location, any invasive species for example,” Waitt said. “So all the vehicles that come in have to wear diapers. That's what they call them in construction lingo.”

The family garden will cost about $5 million. Luci Baines Johnson and her husband Ian Turpin contributed $1 million toward the project.

The family garden should be finished by spring 2014.