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New Austin Wildflower Center Family Garden features nature play for all ages

Luci and Ian Family Garden at Wildflower Center in Austin
Luci and Ian Family Garden at Wildflower Center in Austin
Wildflower Center

The new Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center opened in early May as a place for families to come and experience creative outdoor entertainment together. Named for primary donors Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and her husband Ian Turpin, Addition of the Family Garden has doubled the maintained garden acreage at the 279-acre Wildflower Center. It’s truly a destination enjoyed by both adults and children.

Designed to encourage hands-on, imaginative outdoor play, the Luci and Ian Family Garden includes sustainable features such as giant birds’ nests, a creek, caves, and a maze. “The Wildflower Center is on the cutting edge of sustainability,” says Luci Baines Johnson. “Our hope is that the Family Garden will be a place where parents and children go to play and discover the wonder and importance of nature,” she adds.

With more than a dozen interactive and educational features, the Family Garden uses natural materials and exhibits to connect children and families to the nature that’s all around them. Kids will have fun climbing giant tree stumps, viewing giant birds’ nests made from native grape vines, checking out dinosaur footprints in the creek, and exploring a grotto complete with caves and a waterfall.

Studies have shown that today on average only 6 percent of children ages 9-13 play outside on a weekly basis. But nature play is important for many reasons: It increases confidence and self- esteem in children, helps them solve problems, fosters cooperation, and encourages development of conservation values. In a setting such as this garden, children tend to play more with parents and grandparents, too.

“There is nothing like this garden in Texas on many levels,” says Susan Rieff, executive director of the Wildflower Center.” It offers children a safe environment for exploring the natural world that we hope will instill a sense of wonder and excitement.”

The $5 million garden was designed by landscape architect and artist W. Gary Smith and TBG Partners. It’s a pilot project of the national Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) program, the most comprehensive national system for rating the design, construction and maintenance of sustainable landscapes.

Located at 4801 La Crosse Ave in Austin, Texas, the Wildflower Center is affiliated with The University of Texas at Austin.