Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Visiting the Family Garden at the Wildflower Center

June Summer Fun Checklist Item: Play outside in the Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 

On a recent hot afternoon, I took my kids, who are almost four and almost two, for a visit to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. We go there a lot — we live just a mile or so down the road, which makes it pretty easy to head over straight from picking the little ones up at preschool. And they love it so much! I would make it a point to visit even if we lived across town, because it's gorgeous and fun for people of all ages.

See the turtle?
When we visit, we often stop first at the little pond beside the front entrance to check out the turtles sunning themselves on lily pads or swimming in the water. Next, we head across the courtyard to the Café for some sustenance (this time we spent about $7 total for two bottles of water, one bottle of Topo Chico, and two Capri Suns) before heading straight for the Luci and Ian Family Garden. There's a stroller- and wheelchair-friendly route to get there, but the main route involves a few stairs and a long, winding sidewalk path, plus a bridge that the kids like to run and jump along — and of course lots of wildflowers to stop and inspect along the way. You'll also pass a field with cool, realistic, life-sized metal coyote and rabbit sculptures that my kids love playing with (or, more accurately, on). There's even a workout station on the far side of the field, with ellipticals, pull-up bars and other ways to burn some calories if you're in the mood.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden
But if you keep following the path, you'll find yourself in the Family Garden. There are so many cool things about this place — including large family restrooms (whew! necessary after all those refreshments) and a large pavilion that's shady and breezy (nice for sitting a spell when you get hot) — but the part of the Family Garden that my kids love the most, every time, is the water pump and stream.

The water pump is an old iron one that looks like it should be out on a pioneer farm. You can swing the arm to pump water into these big metal basins, and my kids love using the plastic watering buckets there to transfer water back and forth between the basins, or water the plants nearby, or sprinkle water over the interesting hole-filled rocks and watch it trickle down into the running water of the stream below. There's a cave and waterfall feature, too. There are even drawings on the cave walls! (Okay, they're actually cool mosaics.) And once you're inside the cave, you can stand inside the waterfall and look out.

The water pump — their favorite thing
There's also a shrubbery maze to walk through, which has metal butterfly benches to sit on (these make for great photo ops, but be careful — they get pretty hot in the sun), and giant birds' nests for kids to check out, and tree stumps for climbing, and a whole lot more.

Another Wildflower Center favorite of ours is the cylindrical Observation Tower. Situated near the Cafe, it's got a series of steps that lead up first to a landing and then all the way up to the very top of the tower. At the top, you can see for miles around, as well as much of the Wildflower Center gardens and acreage.

Apparently, you can even host your child's birthday party in the Family Garden!

Zeph rides a
The Wildflower Center has several upcoming summer events, including Nature Nights — starting June 11, 2015, every Thursday evening from 6 – 9 PM, you can visit the Wildflower Center for "fun explorations of plants, animals and the ecology of Central Texas." (Visits to the Center during the day of each Nature Night are also FREE! And the Café stays open those evenings until 8 PM.) Kids can enjoy interactive presentations, hikes, and nature crafting at Nature Nights, and children 12 and under receive a free gift from the Gift Store.

The first Nature Night of the summer, on June 11, will focus on plants, including which ones are edible, and how plants help us. Nature Night on June 18 will focus on pollinators — birds, bats, bees, butterflies and more. See this page (scroll down) for the full list of Nature Nights offerings through July 23.

Cave drawings (okay, mosaics)
Admission fees to the Wildflower Center:

  • $10 for adults (age 18+)
  • $8 for students with a college ID and seniors age 65+
  • $4 for kids ages 5–17
  • FREE for children under five

*Members also get in free with their membership; our family sprang for a membership once we realized that, at $80 for the year, a family membership would pay for itself after just four visits to the Center. Plus, members get lots of extras: Along with free entry for two adults plus all children under 18 years old living together in the household, members also receive a complimentary subscription to Wildflower magazine and Wildflower Wire, the Center's email newsletter; a 10% discount in the Center's gift store; early admission and discounts at the Center's twice-yearly plant sales; and more.

Location: 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin
Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM on Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 AM – 4 PM Saturdays, and 9 AM – 3 PM Sundays. The Center is closed Mondays.  

Click here for more info and to plan your visit.

Pearl finds the butterfly chair a bit hot

Beautiful waterfall

Looking out through waterfall from inside the cave

Have Capri Sun, will travel (to the family garden!)

Zephyr loves the water pump!

Pearl rides a coyote!

Don’t forget! Snap a picture, upload it to Instagram with the hashtag #AustinSummerFun for a chance to win weekly prizes!

About the author: Catherine Avril Morris is a romance novelist, freelance writer, mom and wife living in southwest Austin, Texas. Check her out on the Web at

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