Spring is my favorite time of year in Texas. As I watch the native prairie bloom at our ranch, and the evening primrose blossom at the Bush Center, I am reminded of our vast and varied landscape. The bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that dot roadsides are more than just beautiful, they are indigenous symbols of our state. Even the bluebonnet’s Latin name, Lupinus texensis, reflects the association with Texas.
As Lady Bird Johnson once said, “Native plants give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.” Native Texas plants, such as the bluebonnet, have evolved with our state’s wildlife and arid climate for centuries, and perform better in the delicate ecological balance of our state’s various landscapes than exotic, nonnative plants.
When I returned to Texas from Washington, I helped start Taking Care of Texas with a group of committed conservationists. The mission of Taking Care of Texas is to spur community-based conservation efforts across our state. Recently, I read in the pages of The Dallas Morning News that residential developers are building entire communities with parks, trails and gardens as central amenities. As we connect with these natural spaces in our communities and on our own property, we can choose native plants for landscaping and help restore the native vitality of our Texas lands.
George and I landscaped the 15-acre park around the Bush Presidential Center with the native prairie grasses that once flourished right here in this part of the state. We learned about plant varieties and turned to experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and others for advice. We planted nearly 930 trees, including a wide range of native species such as pecan, Texas redbud, chinkapin oak, Eve’s necklace and rusty blackhaw viburnum.
The grass lawn is made up of a mixture of five Texas natives — buffalograss, blue grama, Texas grama, curly mesquite and poverty dropseed. The Bush Center was awarded the highest Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design ranking (LEED platinum) in part due to the way we gather and collect all of the storm runoff of our building, even from the parking lot, into a 252,000-gallon underground cistern. We use this water to irrigate the park.
Whether you live in the center of a city, like the Bush Presidential Center, or amidst suburban sprawl, you can join in taking care of Texas’ native landscapes. It can begin in your own backyard.
No-maintenance landscapes: If you have a hard time envisioning native plants in your life, I invite you to touch and smell them up close at the Bush Presidential Center. See if you can spot the red-tailed hawk who has made its home in the parkland.
New-native landscapes: Have a yard? Clear a patch of earth and grow your own tiny prairie. Texas native and native-adapted plants save water and are incredibly resilient.
Little landscapes: Only have space for a container or two? Small native cedar sage loves the shade, and you just might see a hummingbird on your doorstep. Or provide habitat for pollinating bees and migrating butterflies by planting a sweet almond verbena or a native milkweed.
Field trip: Take a trip to Fort Worth on Saturday to celebrate Prairie Day. Sponsored by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Prairie Day is a free family-friendly festival that includes a native prairie walk, flight demonstrations of wild birds and live music from Texas musicians. More information can be found at brit.org/events/prairieday.
The simple act of going outside is an act of learning and caring about our native land. By nurturing our own properties, together we can take care of Texas.
Laura Bush is the former first lady of the United States and the founder of Taking Care of Texas, a nonprofit conservation initiative devoted to enhancing Texas’ landscapes, waterways and wildlife by connecting Texans with the resources they need to spur conservation. Visit takingcareoftexas.org for more information.