Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

FORMER FIRST LADY LOOKED AT A GARDEN, SAW A NATION

It has been too hot to do much in the yard.

In the morning, I grab my hand pruners and snip a few branches here and there. I pull the obvious weeds as I make my rounds. An hour in the yard seems to be enough now. It's much more pleasant just to read about gardening, or people who have made an impact on our hobby.

One such person is Lady Bird Johnson. Her recent death has brought to our attention what impact a single person can have on the greening of America. Politics aside, many believe that Mrs. Johnson's beautification campaign made America a more beautiful place.

"Ugliness is so grim," Lady Bird Johnson once said. "A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony, which will lessen tensions." It may sound simplistic, but it does give hope that each gardener, in their own way, can make a difference to the environment. At the very least, perhaps, your landscape can help lessen your tensions.

I read that part of Mrs. Johnson's motivation came because of the scenery between her Texas home and Washington, D.C., which featured billboards, junkyards and a lack of vegetation. Perhaps we can be motivated by similar landscapes.

I also read that she was much more interested in the entire environment than in just making areas look pretty. She was interested in the science. Dr. Robert G. Breunig, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, explained in an article produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions that Mrs. Johnson never liked the term "beautification."

"She considered it to be cosmetic. I agree," Breunig said. "What she was really talking about was something much more profound. She talked about the beauty and the health of the land.

"Today we talk about her ideas in terms like biodiversity, restoration ecology, habitat conservation and similar terms - terms that were not in common use during her White House years. Yet I believe that is what she was talking about, and these are the concepts we research and foster here today," he said.

Mrs. Johnson started the national Wildlife Research Center in 1982 at the University of Texas, and it was later renamed in her honor.

It might be nice if each of us had a bit of her enthusiasm for our surroundings and made an effort to have a positive influence on our habitat. The easiest place to start is in our own yards, using less water and chemicals. But on a larger scale, consider:

- A school garden project: The best I've seen so far was at a small elementary school in Northern Idaho. Add a few flowers beside a portable, or build a small raised bed planter near the entrance to the school yard. Butterfly gardens are always a favorite with children. Get more complex as the children get older. Use math skills to design a vertical garden and then have the shop students build the trellises. Ask local businesses to provide supplies.

- Empty urban lots: These can be eyesores. Work with the property owner (perhaps the city or county), and plant the area with native plants, or, if you are really energetic, fruits and vegetables. Make it a neighborhood project. It's easy to say it won't work, but if one out of 10 tries is successful, you will have made a change.

- Work location: What about that outdoor lunch area at work? Perhaps a few container gardens would help liven up the place.

- Government involvement: It's important that we let our government officials know that the urban environment is important to voters and taxpayers. Even with dwindling funds, we need to make our environment a priority.

Lady Bird Johnson did not have a political agenda, so whether you are a Democrat, Republican or independent, and whether you have any interest in continuing her beautification program, read a little history and start making a difference on your block.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement