May wildflowers and the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson
Coffee, Tea and Me

May wildflowers and the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson


I am not a gardener. It is just not in my DNA. In fact, no one of my generation in my family has a green thumb. When my parents left their Minnesota farm, that was it. No more long hours working in the fields or gardens. It was a hard life in the harsh winters, and California sunshine sounded good.

Our mother never served anything strange for dinner. She’d had her fill of deer, pig or rabbits. And as the oldest spoiled child in our family, I am a fussy eater. Even today, I tell my husband that his venison sausage, wild hog hams or hairy smoked turkey will never touch my lips.

Now, I don’t know if Lady Bird Johnson enjoyed gardening with her parents in her youth. I do know she went off to college and graduated with honors in two majors. We all know she had a head for business and probably ran the Johnson family finances while he ran Congress and the nation.

She always had an appreciation of beauty and love for beautification of our country and her home state of Texas. She organized planting tulips and daffodils while in the White House between 1963 and 1969. The Highway Beatification Act was passed in 1965 in her honor. She was a strong environmentalist all her life and instrumental in the “Making Texas Pretty” campaign.

Dr. Richards Lyon, a fellow columnist and a long-time friend, is our own Napa Valley Register wildflower expert. Dr. Lyon is a retired urologist, who is also an inventor, photographer and renaissance man. He loves finding new areas of wildflowers in Napa and sharing photographs of them with his readers.

On one of our recent road trips we were lucky to see the Hill Country of West Texas in bloom. We were visiting Fredericksburg, Texas, with the Johnson Ranch and two major museums on our list to visit.

World War II Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was from Fredericksburg. His family was one of the German-American families who settled this country in the mid-19th century. We toured the Nimitz Hotel, which was started by his father and became a museum in Adm. Nimitz’s honor in 1967. It is next door to the huge National Museum of the Pacific War. Both of these museums are well known and worth a day’s visit.

Fredericksburg is a wonderful town. It is a little like Carmel but without the ocean. In addition to the museums, there are many shopping opportunities and if we had enough room we could have found some wonderful antiques. The area is famous for its German cuisine and there are many German restaurants to try. It is pedestrian-friendly and was also a perfect area for our motorcycle so we stayed for several days.

Fredericksburg has an interesting history. It was settled by German immigrants in 1846 on the edge of the western frontier. At one time, it was called “Fritz town.”

There is a sad past, though, as Comanche and Apache warriors raided their farms and often kidnapped the German children. Some survived and were accepted into the tribes and were raised as their own.

An interesting book, “The Captured,” by Scott Zesch, tells the stories of many of these children. Some of the young boys later said that they enjoyed being warriors and being trained in horseback riding and hunting with bows and arrows.

Some even participated in raiding parties on their former neighbors. Life for the girls often wasn’t very pleasant. A few took mates and had children. Sarah Parker was one of them. Her son, Quanah Parker, became a great chief of the Cherokee.

There are still families living in the area whose ancestors lived through those hard times and whose stories have been passed down from generation to generation. The volunteer working the desk at a small downtown museum had an ancestor who had been kidnapped but later rescued.

We spent our first few days touring the museums. When Philip wanted to revisit them, I managed to escape and wander among the shops. We learned about the large seed company, which was just a few miles down the road from our motel. Now, as you know, my husband will go anywhere if I suggest we take the Harley. So off we went.

This ride was absolutely delightful, Dr. Lyon would have loved every minute of it. Wildflowers were everywhere. They were in the fields and along the roads. They were blooming in blue, yellow and orange. At each bend in the road we would see more fields of color. Texas Highway Departments carry on Lady Bird Johnson’s interest in highway beautification today.

Wildseed Farms is the largest family-owned wildflower seed farm in the U.S. It is huge, occupying about 200 acres. The Thomas family sells almost 100 varieties of wild flower seeds for every region in the country.

We spent hours wandering through the various shops and then enjoyed homemade ice cream cones in the large covered patio. It was one of those areas where men would wait for their wives. You could find anything there from apparel, food, home decor and, of course, everything for a garden of your own.

People drive hundreds of miles just to shop for seeds. We could hardly find a parking place in the large parking area, even for our motorcycle. I imagine there were more than 250 people there, with cars constantly coming and going.

I spent most of my time in the seed room looking through the packages for our area of California. But I needed help finding the correct blue flower seeds to grow in here. You can order seeds on line from the Wildseed Farms. It is colorful web site and worth looking up if you are interested.

Interest in gardening or farming has skipped my generation but our daughter Catherine married a St. Helena farmer who grows grapes in Chiles Valley.

Now when you marry a farmer who grows grapes, he also knows how to grow vegetables and flowers. They have a wonderful garden and beautiful flowers surrounded by a tall wire fence. One evening our daughter collected lettuce and tomatoes for our dinner salad from their garden. Watching her, I could picture my mother back on her family farm in Minnesota doing the same thing.

The sight of wild flowers growing along Texas roads, made me think of a Napa Beautification Program along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. We could add flowers or grape vines around our “Welcome” signs to make our entrances to Napa more attractive too.

Is there a group that would could come forward to start a program? Or maybe a Boy Scout is looking for a perfect Eagle project. Napa could follow in the footsteps of Lady Bird Johnson and Dr. Richards Lyon with their love of wild flowers. As Oprah once asked, “Are you as pretty as you can be?” That goes for communities too.

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