Wildflower Center’s kid-friendly family garden to open in May

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A hedge maze, 10-foot wide bird nests and a wildlife blind are some of the features the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will install in its new family garden, which is currently halfway completed.

Center director of horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya said the $5 million Luci and Ian Family Garden, which will open in May of 2014, will be a 4.5-acre area aimed at educating children about wildflowers and nature.

“Visitors would come to the Wildflower Center, and it’s not terribly kid-friendly … There’s a lot of ‘Don’t run,’ ‘Don’t throw rocks,’ ‘Don’t pick the flowers,’” DeLong-Amaya said. “We really want the new children’s garden to be designed more so that there is a space where kids can run around and make lots of noise if they
want to.”

Mark Simmons, director of research and consulting at the Wildlife Center, said although the addition of the garden could skew some research data because it will create more pollination activity, the garden should significantly improve research opportunities, especially possible sociological behavior research.

“Potentially, you can imagine that sort of data, which is badly needed, on how people react to the natural world, how that improves interaction and how people learn,” Simmons said. “There’s been quite a lot done on that already, but certainly this could be an opportunity to do that because [research] is what [the garden] is designed
to do.”

The garden is part of the pilot program of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, also known as SITES, which is an international program aimed at promoting sustainable
land development. 

TBG Partners, an Austin-based landscape architecture firm, helps ensure the project meets as many SITES credits as possible, TBG senior associate Ronnie Stafford said.

DeLong-Amaya said the garden will include a hedge maze that will have sculptures depicting the life cycle of a frog, from egg to tadpole to adult.

“I think of the maze itself as being sort of a metaphor for life,” DeLong-Amaya said. “You progress throughout your life, change into different things and sometimes you make a wrong turn, and that’s okay. You just turn around and go back the other way.”

The garden is the largest project since the Wildflower Center opened in 1982, DeLong-Amaya said.

“There’s a lot of need for families to have places where they can go to let their children be outside in a safe environment, so that’s one of our main goals,” DeLong-Amaya said. “The idea is that kids will discover things in a more natural setting but also in a more controlled setting.”

Stafford said the project will be helpful to the Austin community because it is focused on nature.

“If people come to it, I think they’ll find out that it’s different than going to a regular playground,” Stafford said. “It gives them an opportunity that a lot of kids don’t have anymore just by playing on a structured playground versus being able to be hands-on, put your hands in the water, utilize the canopy walk to get up into the trees, and go out and get dirty.”