Native Son – October, 2007

I remember reading a book years ago entitled The Man Who Planted Trees. I forget who wrote it, but it was a magnificent little novelette heavily laden with superb woodcuts about a man who planted 100 acorns every day. He had done this for years and seen various results from this practice, including loss and failure, but ultimately, his good works yielded wondrous results. Perhaps as important, his work shaped who he had become over the years, again reaping a hearty harvest from sowing good seed.

I think about that man often, and he inspires me to try to deliver my best to the world each day. (I said “try,” as I’m well aware of my shortcomings!) I thought about him on my recent road trip to Colorado, as some seeds I planted over a decade ago came to fruition in a chance to spend a week in a little cabin near Glen Haven, about 20 miles northeast of spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park. The cabin is still inhabited by its original owner, Helen Holbrook, who, although departed from Earth, still helps those who stay there find direction in their lives. (Or at least that’s what I think.)

On the way back to Texas, we stopped outside of Leadville to visit a splendid little handmade garden created by a Mr. And Mrs. Peper. Mr. Peper stopped his work to visit with us, but not for long, as a concrete-laying job only allows for a few minutes of social pleasantries. He said it was a shame that Mrs. Peper was out of town, as she would have loved to chat about her garden – and hear the river of compliments that gushed out of me ad nauseum. I couldn’t help myself, it was a fabulous little garden! After turning down my obligatory offer to help (I must admit, I was glad he declined – it was hot and I was clean, for once), he excused himself to go back to work and I continued to take photos and howl with delighted surprise at every turn.

Driving down the road, still feeling the “horticulture buzz” that always comes from visiting a great garden, I suddenly slammed on the brakes and spun the truck around. Sure enough, my eyes had not deceived me. Right there in the dank little bar ditch was the most beautiful patch of pink milkweed I’ve ever seen.

Now, most gardening folks are familiar with a few species of milkweed, including the ever-popular butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), with its umbrellas of deep orange blossoms (and some naturally-occurring color variations, from yellow to almost red). A few folks cultivate blood flower (A. curassavica), a South American plant famous for its stunning clusters of two-tone crimson and gold flowers. Native plant and prairie lovers have long appreciated green milkweed (aka antelope horns, A. asperula) for its beautiful little domes of soft green and ivory blooms and the way it can stand up to the hottest summers Central Texas can dish out.

But these, these are the magnificent pink milkweeds (A. speciosa), with their tennis ball-sized spheres of sweetly scented, pink star blossoms and wonderfully textural, soft, grey-green leaves, cushioned on the bottom like velvet. Native to much of the central and western U.S., these lovely plants have made me stop my truck and swoon on road trips from Mineral Wells, Texas, to some unnamed mountainside in Utah. So I’m out there, thigh-deep in these beauties, taking photos and inhaling deeply the fragrant blossoms held gently in cupped hands, completely lost to the world, when I suddenly notice my arm has changed color. Yours would too, if it were literally covered in a blanket of blood-sucking mosquitoes.

So I come flying out of the ditch, saying something like, “Gracious sakes alive! Good gosh a-mighty!” (ahem) and make a run for the truck. Once inside, I discovered that colorful language does not necessary frighten off ravenous mosquitoes, as they now filled the cab of the truck. Took 20 minutes of “2/65 air conditioning” to get them all out. I’ll never forget how they buzzed around all pink and bloated and happy … I could swear more than one of them smiled and thanked me.

And somewhere down the road it occurred to me that while certain plants and people do indeed trigger certain feelings within each of us, these feelings can and do change as we live out our lives. For me, the romantic notions I have associated with pink milkweed for years have been, well, parasitized. Which leads me to wonder if that little old “man who planted trees” ever got into a patch of chiggers?

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

Come see me at Chandor Gardens; 711 West Lee Avenue, Weatherford, Texas. 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.

Check out the new slate of fall classes at Chandor Gardens! We’ve even developed a tag-team seminar with Lisa Grove over at Grapevine Botanic Garden . Go to for details.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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