Native Son – October, 2007

God Bless America, there’s just nothing like a little meandering highway, some rolling hills, and the ever-changing Texas landscape to help me lose the blues. And missing traffic is like icing on the cake, so I slid into the truck in Weatherford and headed south to San Antone (that’s hip road trip slang for “San Antonio”).

Slipping out of town on good ol’ Tin Top Road, I could hear angels singing as I passed over the Brazos River just shy of Thorp Spring. Drove right through that fabulous Courthouse Square down in Granbury, hit a few green lights, and didn’t stop till I rolled into Hico for a genuine Dublin Dr. Pepper on tap at that little gas station on the right. Hopped onto 281 and headed south. Circled the square at Hamilton for some grapes at the grocery store and spent 20 minutes talkin’ to an old man who swore his daddy grew grapes out in their back yard back in the prohibition days. He was 30 years old before he figured out why his daddy got mad at the young’uns for eating them.

Slowed down and smiled at the “blink and you’ll miss it” quality of Adamsville, and wondered who lives in the few houses that line the road. Saw a few deer at Lampassas, then climbed that big hill at Marble Falls that let’s you see for 50 miles. Forgot how absolutely beautiful the Pedernales River is until I crossed it again – smooth, majestic and lined with trees that arch way out over the water. Stopped to walk around the courthouse in Blanco like I always do, and checked out that little native plant garden they have down there.

Hit the San Antone sprawl about 20 (maybe 30) miles earlier than I did back in the late ’70s, but at 2 p.m., traffic was light, so I breezed right on in to the Hildebrand exit, hung a left over to Broadway, hung a right down to Funston, and left again and I’m pulling into the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

For those who have never visited the SABG, I can tell you it’s worth the trip. (Yes, there’s more to San Antonio than Shamu.) Personally, I am drawn to the East Texas section of the ten-regioned Texas Native Trail at SABG because of the pond, wildlife and those wonderful bald cypress trees. Did you know they brought in more than 6000 yards of acidic, sandy loam soil to make the project possible?

Bald cypress, botanically known as Taxodium distichum, is native to the eastern U.S., from Delaware to Florida and west from Illinois to East Texas. It grows in a pyramidal shape to 80 feet in height, and its strong branch angles and fine leaves create little wind drag, making it one of the few large trees to survive hurricanes along the coast. Many people have marveled at the specimens along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, several of which have grown to more than 100 feet tall. Traditionally used at water’s edge because of its ability to grow right in wetlands and swamps, bald cypress is also adaptable to fairly dry and slightly alkaline soils, particularly when irrigated and fertilized. It is simply a superb choice for a landscape tree east of I-35; west of that line, it just depends upon the site.

Bald cypress have amazing root systems that often produce those famous “knees” that project up out of the water, sometimes as high as 3 or 4 feet! (I am currently restoring the knees Douglas Chandor used in the Moon Grotto at Chandor Gardens. Come and see it this spring!) The knees and incredibly intricate root systems often form magnificent mazes and patterns at water’s edge. Interestingly enough, bald cypress rarely produce knees when grown in lawns or other areas that do not have saturated soils.

About the time I’m getting saturated of the East Texas area myself, along comes Paul Cox. Paul has been at the SABG for what seems like 100 years, serving as everything from director to resident horticultural guru. (He’s the guy I call when I need help.) Anyway, he comes up the path and says hello in his usual unassuming manner, and before I know it, we’re scarfing down some righteous Mexican food in a funky little restaurant over on Broadway. (See, I told you there’s more to San Antonio than Shamu!)

Go see Paul, the bald cypress, their knees, and the crew at the San Antonio Botanical Garden! Chocolate Day is coming up Feb. 10! Call 210-207-3250 or go to for more information.

Come see me at Chandor Gardens; 711 West Lee Avenue, Weatherford. From the Metroplex: I-20 (or I-30-they merge) west to exit 409 (Santa Fe); turn right and go 2.1 miles to Lee Avenue; turn left and go straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-613-1700 or go to for more information. Let me know you’re coming and we’ll roll out the red carpet.

About the author: Steven L. Chamblee is Chief Horticulturist at Chandor Garden in Weatherford. He is also a contributing editor to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine, where his writing appears each issue. For more information, visit

Steven Chamblee will teach Horticulture classes at Weatherford College this spring semester! Credit and non-credit classes are available. Contact Mike Brown at for details.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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