Lady Bird’s Azaleas Beautiful and Clean – 1965 Editorial

Lady Bird Johnson is planting azaleas along Pennsylvania Avenue as her contribution to the Great Society, and though this may appear to be a frivolous gesture to some it may prove to be of lasting import.

President Johnson’s emphasis on beautification of our ugly, old cities is a rather curious item in his long list of projects to upgrade American life to something only once removed from Utopia. It hardly classifies as a «cause» and is relatively inexpensive.

Nevertheless, the head-long rush to urbanization has created some mighty dreary scenery. It certainly is appropriate to disguise our ant-heap civilization with a few touches of Nature’s handiwork.

Lady Bird’s azaleas were donated by a garden enthusiast of New York City and so cost the tax payers nothing. This is not likely to be the pattern for the rest of the program, but it could be a precedent for local garden clubs throughout the U.S.

Azaleas are a particularly attractive flowering shrub. One of the most beautiful sights in this country is the Smoky Mountains in the spring when many thousands of acres of azaleas are in bloom. If Mrs. Johnson’s plants thrive, they could rival the Japanese Cherry Blossoms for national attention.

The Japanese had the right idea when they sent over their famed cherry trees. There is no better expression of friendship than a flower that later becomes a useful plant.

Cultured Japanese people set aside one hour each day to do nothing but contemplate beauty. It might seem a little odd to us to go up to our room an hour every night and stare at a rose. However, if we could compose our attention for a little free thought in the presence of a beautiful object it seems there would be a psychological gain somewhere.

Though the Japanese custom is a mite esoteric for «practical» Americans, a waft of perfume through the car window or a flash of color in the corner of our eye has to have some beneficial effect.

Many cities and states already recognize the value of landscaping in building real estate values, attracting tourist dollars or just providing pleasant surroundings. The Cleveland Art Museum gardens, Cuyahoga County Metropolitan Park system, Akron’s Stan Hywet estate and Mansfield’s Kingwood tulips come readily to mind.

The state highway department, without any prompting from Washington, last year planted several miles of flowering shrubs in the median of Route 21 from Ghent to Brecksville. We should reap our first dividend of beauty this spring. In addition to appearance, the bushes will help to reduce headlight glare of cars in the opposite lane.

Hand in hand with landscaping go efforts to clean up our air and water. The pollution of our air by the manufacturing plants which are a mainstay of our economy has been accepted as inevitable. The pollution of our streams and lakes by poison sewage from crowded cities likewise has been condoned as a necessary evil.

A new breed of, conservationist, such as George P. Smith, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Reclamation Commission, declares all is not hopeless. Our fish, our birds and our trees are NOT doomed to extinction if we exercise a little intelligent care in how we handle our mountains of waste.

Increasingly, local governments and manufacturers are cooperating in bringing our environment closer to the natural state.

The paper industry, once a major contributor to stream pollution, has taken great strides in bringing its effluent under control. Paper mill executives are active in just about every local conservation program.

Steel mills and petroleum refineries are the biggest offenders of pure water and air at the present. However, they recognize their responsibility in this matter and have taken the first steps toward controlling their wastes.

All this costs money, quite a lot of it. The consumer ultimately pays for it in the prices he pays for goods. Everything is relative, though, and so long as all manufactures and cities comply their comparative competitive situations remain the same.

The giant cesspool otherwise known as Lake Erie is a problem of monumental proportions. To cleanse this great natural resource probably will require both federal help and an international treaty. Contamination of Cleveland beaches can be traced all the way to Chicago. The bulk of the poison, however, comes from Detroit and Toledo.

These and other Great Lakes cities are not unmindful of their role in ruining Lake Erie, but the economies of disposing of municipal and industrial wastes will require more self enlightenment than is now evident.

It is not a pleasant thought that Lake Erie is filling up with sludge at the rate of six inches a year. Ugh!

Smith sums up the need to beautify and conserve in a little bit of prose:

Man in his thoughtlessness,

Man in his unfairness to God,

Man in his greediness

Is killing what God has given him,

And if not stopped, will kill himself.

«The elimination of pollution of our water ways and air ways is so very, very vital that it means the survival of Man, Fish, Bird and Vegetation,» says Smith.

Strong words, but we can’t leave this tremendous job up to Lady Bird and Smokey Bear.

April 1, 1965

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