The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center uses native plants to restore and create sustainable, beautiful landscapes. They carry out their mission to inspire the conservation of native plants through their gardens, research, education, consulting and outreach programs. In doing so, they improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, and enhance human health and happiness. In 2017, they were officially designated the Botanic Garden and Arboretum of Texas.
KPI 1a: Garden creates a plan, policy or protocol that guides water conservation and quality decisions and actions on site.
- The Wildflower Center (Center) planting designs include species exclusively native to Texas, which are generally more adapted to their region’s climate. The garden consolidates species with similar moisture requirements and plants them in appropriate soil and light conditions to maximize plant health.
- The Center shuts off its irrigation any time there is rainfall of a ½ inch or more and evaluates the length of time the irrigation can be off based on the amount of rainfall received. In addition, garden maintenance includes adding mulch in seasons with intense heatwaves.
- Garden staff check irrigation for major breaks every day. Staff review the irrigation program system weekly and also conduct system checks for all other irrigation issues on a quarterly schedule.
Photo Credit to Wildflower Center: Nectar Garden
KPI 1b: Garden water management practices include reducing municipally supplied water.
The Center is currently permitted to pump up to 6.7 million gallons per year by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), and complies with all BSEACD water restrictions, well standards, and water use guidelines. The Center also complies with all City of Austin code requirements as they relate to the use of non-potable auxiliary water sources (well and rainwater). Since the irrigation well was brought online in 2014, the Center has been able to reduce the use of municipal water for irrigation by an average of 4 million gallons per year. Some municipal water is still used as a backup source during periods of extreme drought when the water demand exceeds the well supply. Water from the City of Austin is used only as a last resort in the case of well supply limits, well failure, and if rainwater is depleted.
The Center’s buildings feature a rainwater-harvesting system that collects rainwater from 17,500 square feet of rooftop. This amounts to 10,815 gallons per inch of rainfall. This water is stored using two 18,000-gallon concrete cisterns, two 10,500-gallon metal tanks, and two 20,000-gallon fiberglass tanks. The two 20,000-gallon storage tanks are also used to store well water prior to being pumped into the general irrigation system, which is used to irrigate all horticulture plantings and the nursery.
Photo Credits to Wildflower Center (left ro right): Little House Cistern, Entrance Cistern, & Aqueduct
KPI 1c: Garden's water management practices include measuring, improving, and reducing annual water discharged.
- The Center's Luci and Ian Family Garden has a series of six rain gardens which capture rainwater, reduce runoff, and increase infiltration to reduce downstream flooding and recharge groundwater. In the event of major flooding, these interconnected rain gardens move water from one to the next in the series instead of overflowing. The Family Garden has two swales to slow water flow during a rain event and to direct water into the rain garden system.
- Runoff from the Center parking lots is delivered to a series of retention ponds for capture and to increase infiltration on the property.
Photo Credit to Wildflower Center: Family Garden
KPI 1d: Garden adopts/aligns water conservation and quality strategies with broader local/regional efforts.
The Center voluntarily follows City of Austin water restrictions during drought. The Center has also taken the following actions to align with broader local/regional efforts:
- BSEACD funded interpretative panels located in the Savanna Meadow Trail specifically discuss water quality issues and aquifers, see example here.
- The Center has collaborated with several departments within the City of Austin and BSEACD to organize and co-host Austin Cave Festival over the last few years.
- The City of Austin conducts its Earth Camp on Center grounds, taking advantage of their public caves to teach students about their aquifer and water supply.
- The Center also worked with the landscape architecture firm TBG Partners in the design of the Family Garden, which incorporated rainwater harvesting, water conserving drip irrigation, and a series of rain gardens throughout the site. The Family Garden is certified as a SITES pilot project created in partnership with the United States Botanic Garden and American Society of Landscape Architects. The Center fulfilled the water prerequisite and all but one of the available water credits (see SITES attachment referred to above).
KPI 2b: Garden educational/interpretative components include water conservation and quality as a theme.
- Learning Stations for school groups show students how physical properties of rocks differ, the effect of pores in rocks, how water and pollutants move through the rocks, the effects of the amount of water that enters the pores, and the relationship between aquifers and springs. The Habitat Observation Walk discusses plants in the Savanna Meadow and how the long roots of grasses allow them to survive droughts and wildfires.
- The Center has Summer Camps, teaching six week-long (five-day) camps on water, which include how rain (groundwater) makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The six camps have eight students each for a total of 48 students. These camps include all three of the topics listed below:
- Plant Camps discuss native plants and how they are water efficient.
- Nature Detective Camps look at the aquifer and water wise plants for different environments.
- Habitat Camp explores how plants and wildlife in different habitats use water and what happens if we run out of water.
- Sprouts is a one-hour lesson offered twice each week for walk-in families and guests. Topics covered include water conservation, rainwater, Earth Day, creek life, native plants, water and eco-pots.
- The role water plays in habitat restoration and natural lands management and climate change content related to water conservation and management (where water is drawn from, differences between water sources and finite amounts of water) and drought-tolerant plant species are covered in Earth Camp, which is hosted on site and led by City of Austin staff, and in Austin Cave Fest, a day-long bonanza of all things cave related, which extensively explore these topics.
- On-site interpretation. The Center's Savanna Meadow Trail features six interpretive signs devoted explicitly to explaining the Edwards Aquifer and how the landscape influences it; this project was funded by the BSEACD.
- Class subjects offered to adults vary from year to year and frequently address water quality and conservation themes. For example, the Native Plant Gardening Series, offered twice each year, covers waterwise gardening and drought-tolerant native plants along with other topics of sustainability.
KPI 3a: Garden develops best practices for water used outdoors for landscape maintenance and plant health.
- The Center has mapped 90% of current irrigation systems.
- The Center has invested in automated sprinklers/irrigation systems that shutoff automatically when there is rain or turn on in extreme heat. Staff also use baselineapps.net that has the ability to shut off after rain but not turn on in heat.
- Garden staff and/or volunteers in charge of grounds and maintenance have a rigorous plant health maintenance plan/schedule for manual watering.
- Gardens staff each monitor their main areas of responsibility on a daily basis for any major irrigation breaks and watering needs. Photo Credit to Wildflower Center: Theme Garden
- A list of new plantings is created to guide staff in monitoring water needs for plants that are not yet established.
- Garden staff review the irrigation programs weekly. In-depth system checks are conducted quarterly for all other irrigation issues.
- Center collections are comprised exclusively of Texas native plants, which are generally adapted to normal rainfall. Irrigation use overall is less than would be expected in a garden that uses non-natives.
KPI 3b: Garden follows best practices for indoor facilities to reduce water consumption.
- Garden uses water-efficient plumbing fixtures in public bathrooms for guests and staff (automated to shut off when not triggered).
- Commodes in Courtyard and Administration building restrooms have been replaced with low-flow models.
- Commodes and sinks in the Family Garden restrooms were installed with low-flow and auto shutoffs to meet SITES requirements in 2014.
- Arboretum restrooms have composting toilets that use 2 ounces of water per flush.
Photo Credit to Wildflower Center: Water Collection Admin Building
4801 La Crosse Ave, Austin, TX 78739
Phone: (512) 232-0100