Native Son – July, 2008
Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans). Photos by Steven Chamblee.
Hummers and Trumpets
Mid-summer in North Central Texas … that special time of the year when I strut out the door in the morning chin up and chipper, only to return a sweat-plastered hulk muttering, “Ugh … Mongo hot.” Witnessing this daily transformation are the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder on my front porch. These little miracles take great delight in blowing my mind with their whizz-buzz-zing-zapping, interrupted only by the smart poses they strike when they land. It’s as if they want to make sure I am admiring them properly. As I pass them on my way to work, I smile a bedazzled smile and say things like, “Amazing … simply amazing.” They concur. Nine and a half sun-scorched hours later, I might greet them with, “You’re just three chromosomes away from a cockroach.” Unfazed, they continue their antics. I could swear one of them harangued me last week, pompously quoting Shakespeare while flying backwards and upside down.
When not amusing/taunting me, the hummers roost in the live oak tree and cavort en masse around the trumpet creeper vine out back, feeding from its nectar-rich blossoms. Technically known as Campsis radicans, trumpet creeper is a deciduous, shrub-like vine with big, showy clusters of large, orange flowers that can make a serious impression in the garden. I like one plant label I read that said it would get 18 feet tall and 10 feet wide…HA! Left unchecked, it can easily go 35 feet up and grow just as wide … and that’s not counting the ever-spreading, underground rhizomes that sprout to form new plants far away from the parent. (It has been theorized that there is actually only one trumpet creeper in the entire state of Texas … and it’s just coming up in different spots all over!)
Trumpet creeper and I go way back to my lawn-mowing days, when one of my customers tried to inhibit the sprouts with inverted cat food cans. I actually had to pick up dozens of cat food cans, mow the yard, and replace the cans where I found them. (I swear, that is true.) I’ve seen mature specimens with trunks as thick as baseball bats. But, like anything else, it’s a great plant in the right site. Mine is growing up and over an old trellis, sprawling over to, and down, the barbed-wire fence, and has started to meander into the pasture. If it gets out of hand, I’ll just borrow my neighbor’s goat for a day or two. For you folks without pastures and goats that can be “rented” in exchange for a cold beer, you might want to try the cultivar ‘Madame Galen’, which is a much smaller and less aggressive hybrid between good ole American trumpet creeper and Chinese trumpet creeper (C. grandiflora). Read my lips.… Buy ‘Madame Galen’ only from a reliable nursery; there are many fake ‘Madames’ are out there, and you won’t know it until you come home one day and can’t see your roof!
Anyway, I just re-read this and realized you may have gotten the impression that I don’t like hummingbirds or trumpet creeper. Actually, I love them both. The trumpet creeper is a splendid native plant, impervious to anything but brush-hogs and 2,4-d. It has lovely, dark green leaves, a bold and course texture that stands out in the landscape, and flowers in the hottest part of the year, in wet times or drought. That ranks it right up there with crape myrtle and esperanza in my book. (Interesting to note here that a close relative, desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), also flowers in the middle of the summer sizzle AND serves up a hummingbird banquet in its blossoms.)
Now, about my hummingbird “attitude….” Truth be told, I’ve always been enamored of these little flying jewels, just like everyone else. BUT, I took a trip to Colorado in June for some cool air and deep sleep. Little did I realize the hummingbirds up there make loud buzz-whistling noises, a trait that is both interesting and cute. However, they “fire up” every morning before sunrise, which equates to an organic alarm clock permanently set for 4:45 a.m. Seven straight mornings of being zinged awake at such an hour and the “flying jewels” seemed more like tiny demons bent on bringing me to the dark side. Thankfully, the ruby-throats here in Texas practice proper morning etiquette. They also know how to truly appreciate the great outdoors. And as soon as it cools off a bit, most likely, so will I.
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.