Photo by John Taylor. Title: Lady Bird’s Gift
Another great column by John Kelly for the Washington Post – this time about Lady Bird Johnson’s “beautification” program.
Lady Bird’s beautification campaign started in the spring of 1965. She was involved with a group called the Society for a More Beautiful National Capital, which, among other things, aimed to improve hundreds of little oddly shaped parcels of land that dotted the District, and to build playgrounds. By the spring of 1966, 750,000 tulips and daffodils, 50,000 mums, 220,000 annuals, 3,000 roses, 12,000 azaleas, 2,400 cherry trees, 1,000 magnolias and 1,000 dogwoods had been planted in the District.
“She has contributed above all to a realization that this once beautiful land is being converted into a tunnel of concrete arched over with billboards and lined with beaten-up hamburger shacks and old automobile dumps.”
It’s easy to dismiss Lady Bird because of her focus on the aesthetic — pretty flowers — but she recognized that the environment shapes our lives. Being impoverished can mean more than just not having enough money. In the documentary, she says that all our landscape needs is “joyous use and good maintenance.” It’s a simple prescription worth keeping in mind today.
To joyous use!
It’s nice to be reminded of what she did and the philosophy behind it, especially her belief that all our landscape needs is “joyous use and good maintenance.”
Kelly says it’s “easy to dismiss Lady Bird’s focus on the aesthetic – pretty flowers!” Indeed, the desire for beauty in our yards is under attack these days, so it’s good to be reminded of the documented benefits of “beautification.”
To the documentary!
The occasion for the column about Lady Bird was a screening of “A Life: The Story of Lady Bird Johnson” made by Charles Guggenheim in 1992. Thanks to the DC Environmental Film Festival.
Now about those plant choices…
Let’s look at the plants chosen in 1965, starting with tulips, which last how long? Still, I love them, and when I went looking for photos of some I stopped to swoon over the shot below of my former back yard, but naturalizing daffodils are a much better choice, given the limits of public funding. And I wonder – would mums, annuals or roses be used today? Or cherry trees, for that matter, of which this city has more than enough.