One of the prettiest drives in America is through the Texas Hill Country, in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming. The person perhaps most responsible for these roadside wildflowers was a painfully shy woman named Lady Bird.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was president in the 1960’s. LBJ was a complicated man. He was a political genius, but he was abrasive, to put it mildly. His wife, Lady Bird, was a model of courtesy and kindness. Lyndon wanted to be king, but Lady Bird was the grace and good manners behind the throne.
LBJ began his political career in 1937, when he ran for Congress from the Hill Country. Lady Bird was expected to help, but she was terrified of speaking in public. Instead of making speeches, Lady Bird initiated a more subtle campaign–a campaign of flowers.
Lady Bird’s idea was to plant wildflowers along the new roads springing up across rural Texas. Flowers were not political, but the members of the garden clubs were the leading ladies of their towns. By connecting with them, Lady Bird gently advanced her husband’s career.
Lady Bird would drive to a small town to meet with the garden club. In those days, ladies still wore hats and pastel-colored gloves. They would visit over coffee or tea, then divide up their seeds, get into their cars, and drive in caravans down country roads throwing wildflower seeds out the windows. Lady Bird would throw her seeds, wave to the ladies, and keep driving to the next town to do it all over again.
This was the dawn of the roadside wildflower movement: the women of garden clubs going out in their roadsters and convertibles tossing bluebonnet and Indian paintbrush seeds out the windows.
When LBJ became president, he put the full weight of the federal government behind Lady Bird with the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. The grace of this shy woman helped beautiful the trackless roads of America. Today, more than one hundred thousand people per year visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center outside of Austin.
Lady Bird left a legacy of wildflowers. Each spring her spirit blooms in rivers of yellow, red, and blue down the long gray highways of Texas.