Native Plant Road Trip – January, 2008

Steven Chamblee’s AFTER photo of his three-acre meadow.

My Trip Home

"Be careful what you wish for … you just might get it."
                            – American adage

I was late getting my wildflower seeds out into the meadow this year. I’d been collecting seeds and seed heads all summer – standing cypress, purple coneflower, partridge pea, prairie verbena, brown-eyed Susan, gayfeather, goldenwave, Indian blanket, horsemint, mealy-blue sage, and whatever else I could find. I even got a nice one-pound package of bluebonnet seed from Mark Schusler, my mentor since I first walked into Tarrant County Junior College back in 1980-something. I was unsure how the January-sown seed would germinate, since mid-October is the traditional target for this event, but I was certain they would do better outdoors than in the paper sack.

The day began like most any other, and as I drove past my neighbors’ houses out here on this little country lane, I thought it was both odd and sad that I had met only a few of them. I chalked it up to this busy era in which we live, and drove on in to work at Chandor Gardens. 

That afternoon, Toby and I were putting the finishing touches on a new Encore azalea bed when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I will always remember the message: "This is your neighbor. There’s a wildfire out here and I think your house is going to burn." I wheeled around to see the smoke plume billowing west of town, dropped the shovel and ran to my truck.

As I topped the last hill, it looked like the west end of my house was totally engulfed in 30 feet of roaring flames. When I finally pulled up, I realized that the shed next door was actually the source of the huge fireball, courtesy of some stored gasoline cans. I leapt out of the truck and saw a woman holding my dog – scared but safe – wrapped in a towel. I thanked her and entered the frenzy of fire trucks, flames, and folks running everywhere. A young man was standing right in front of my house, spraying the flames with my water hose. I thanked him and ran to the barn for my shovels. The next three hours were a blur of smoke, flames, adrenaline, panic, triumph, and emotional zig-zags. By the time the last fire truck pulled away at 8 p.m., I was totally exhausted, mind and body. 

I stood back and took account of things … it could have been so much worse. No one lost a house, and none of my buildings were damaged. My biggest loss was a nice live oak tree. About two-thirds of my three-acre meadow was burned, except for my brush pile, which I was going to burn when conditions allowed. (Oh, the ironies of life!)

The next morning, as I again drove past my neighbors’ houses on my way to work, it finally hit me. I had met them. I had met them all. My neighbors … the woman who saved my dog, the young man who saved my house, the man who helped me pull the burning pile of pallets away from my barn, the firemen, the woman taking drinking water to the firemen, the couple who helped me spray water on my burning tree, and many others … they were all my neighbors. They jumped right in without hesitation to help a guy who had been too busy to walk down the lane and say hello. Now THAT got me thinking….

You know, I’ve had some great experiences in my life, but baking fifteen dozen chocolate chip cookies and walking down this little road collecting handshakes and hugs has got to be somewhere near the top of the list.

Now as far as the wildflower seeds go … Mother Nature has been burning and regenerating these prairies since the Ice Age, so I figure it’s all a blessing in disguise. I’ll keep you posted.

Peace & Love,

About the author: Steven Chamblee is the chief horticulturist for Chandor Gardens in Weatherford and a regular contributor to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS magazine and e-gardens newsletter.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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