Native Son – October, 2007
Pale Blues and Yucca News: Road Trip to San Angelo
“Yuccas are yucky!”
“I hate those pokey plants.”
“Just another cactus …”
These words roll through my mind as I meander through a stand of pale yucca (Yucca pallida) so dense that it’s hard to believe someone isn’t farming them. The sea of rather sophisticated-looking, creamy-white inflorescences rises on slender but sturdy stems to about nose high on me (I’m 6’3″), making taking photos a pleasure instead of a stoopfest. I’m wearing shorts and topsiders, yet the only scratch I’ve received is from the barbed wire fence a few feet behind me. The ground is covered with a mix of little bluestem, Indian blanket, gaura and a smattering of other wildflowers and shortgrass prairie residents – with not a cactus in sight. So much for all of those perceptions of yucca … and I haven’t even left Weatherford yet.
Back through the barbed wire and into my truck for a trip down to San Angelo to attend the Texas Association of Botanic Gardens meeting. TABG is a loose knit group of folks from around the state who come together once a year to share ideas, fellowship, stories, and of course, plants. (I know what you’re thinking … San Angelo ? What grows out in San Angelo? Well, partner, you’re about to find out.)
Since I’m running late (as usual), I decide to hop onto I-20 to save some time. Wrong. A few miles out of town I hit one lane road construction which makes it real easy to decide to take 281 south through Morgan Mill to Stephenville, then take 377 & 67 all the way to San Angelo, with little bump stops at Dublin, Comanche, Brownwood, and the like. The roadside wildflower show is superb all the way down, save for the stretch that runs through dairy cattle country, where wildflowers are considered weeds that might affect the taste of milk, so they keep the pastures pretty much grass only. Heaven knows I love milk, so I decide to view the Holsteins as black & white wildflowers and it all works out.
What amazes me most is that the pale yucca display occasionally thins, but never ends, all the way to San Angelo. Inhabiting thin, rocky prairie soils and limestone outcrops, pale yucca forms a rosette of about 60 pale, bluish-green leaves through which arises annually a stem that supports the showy inflorescence. The flowers are thick and waxy and roughly round to egg-shaped, drooping with the opening of the petals at the bottom, though occasionally one will splay wide open to reveal such lovely details that you’d swear you’re looking at an orchid.
I eventually arrive in San Angelo, a surprisingly pretty town with a great blend of new and old buildings and a four mile Riverwalk skirting the Concho River that is dotted with parks, gardens, and fun stuff like the funkiest saddle-backed art museum you’ve ever seen. As expected, the streets are easy, the pace is West Texas mellow, and the friendliest people in town are to be found around the gardens. (Or at least that’s where I always find them.) I usually don’t go to visitor’s centers, but this one’s easily worth the trip for the lovely stream-laced gardens and the cleanest restrooms in Texas .
The old Fort Concho was pretty cool, and I’m not sure how they arranged twin ground to ground rainbows for my visit, but I appreciate it. Grab any local badge-wearing Master Gardener and they’ll tell you about the best gardens to visit and maybe show you one or two personally. For the coupe de grace, make sure and visit the International Water Lily Collection, a wonderful array of the spectacular flowers that rivals that of the best botanic gardens in the world.
I shared the ride home with Dennis Jones, my good friend who just happens to be the rose gardener over at Fort Worth Botanic Garden. It was wonderful to travel with someone who’s not only a sharp mind, but thinks nothing of stopping every twenty minutes to look at/photograph wildflowers or crazy yard art. One stop, just south of Bluff Dale, proved especially fruitful, as the standing cypress were as good as anyone has ever seen them, and Dennis expounded a bit on his observations that we Texans have evolved in our garden thinking from “conquering the prairie” to living in harmony with environment. Grasses, perennials, natives, adapteds … it’s all part of making your garden a rewarding, pleasurable living space instead of some sort of beast that needs to be beaten into submission every Saturday. Nice to know that pale yucca fits right into this philosophy … and your garden.
For those of you who have not yet ventured out of the urban island for a countryside wildflower tour this year, do it now. You can almost hear Kate Smith singing, “God Bless America” with angels in the background and Ladybird Johnson humming along. Mexican blanket, coreopsis, horsemint, wine cup, gaura, yellow prickly poppy, white milkwort, purple nightshade, and it goes on and on and on … geesh, there’s even some bluebonnets still blooming out near Granbury. This is the year folks, to pack the whole family in the car and rediscover the beauty and grandeur of this great state.
And hey, why not cap the ride with a visit to Chandor Gardens? Call us at 817-613-1700 or go to www.chandorgardens.com for more information.
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 www.chandorgardens.com.