Native Son – May, 2009

Equisteum arvense on the cliff side at Newport Beach, Oregon.

A solid bed of Equisetum hymale at Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas.

Sumptuous Japanese maple at The Oregon Garden.

One of thousands of radiant rhododendron inflorescences at The Oregon Garden.

A blanket of bridal wreath and azalea blossoms at The Oregon Garden.

Monster peony blossom smothers a hand at The Oregon Garden.

Self-portrait with towering clematis at The Oregon Garden, Silverton, Oregon.


Restless night. Alarm. Contacts, teeth, hair. Pack bag. Thermostat. Chai tea. Lock doors. Adjust mirror, turn key, first gear. Wipers. Penstemon, Old Plainsman, Black Sampson, four-nerve daisy, freeway. Last of the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Englemann daisy, purple nightshade. Toll gate. Rows and rows of live oak. Park.  Take off shoes and belt. Put on shoes and belt. Find gate. Find seat. Turn off phone. G-force thrust. Sky. Clouds. Sky. Green circles on brown earth. Mountains. Snow-capped peaks. Clouds. Sky. Green earth. Big rivers. Big trees. Green everywhere. Tires touch earth. Turn on phone. Jet bridge. Smiles. Hugs. New air. Portland!

Four hours at 38,000 feet can sure change a lot of things, and so begins my trek to Oregon. Green … everything is soooo green. The air feels cleaner, smells fresher here … maybe it’s newer? Twenty minutes later, I am spellbound. Rhododendrons everywhere, many with screaming-red inflorescences as big as my head. Heath plants smothered in pink blooms. Horse chestnuts in full bloom. Heck, everything’s in bloom. Purple thread-leaf Japanese maples out in full sun. Purple Norway maples.  Fullmoon maples. Sugar maples. Trident maples. Vine maples. Maple overdose! And I haven’t left Portland yet.

Forty-eight hours later, I am standing in the Pacific Ocean. First time since January 1995 … and that water was a lot warmer down in Costa Rica. Fed the seagulls, walked the sands, picked up rocks. Looked over at the cliffs of Newport to find a strange kind of horsetail … the prettiest one I’ve ever seen. Equisetum arvense. Much denser and more colorful than the one back in Texas, Equisetum hyemale, where some folks call it “scouring rush.” (Supposedly, pioneers used it to scour out dirty pots and pans. I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t really work very well … still better than a wash cloth.) BUT, each of these plants is indeed something special … members of an amazing plant family that pre-dates the dinosaurs, and indeed, outlived them. They share many of the same traits.  Both grow like tiny bamboo plants — stacked tubes connected by solid internodes, but the horsetails’ stem walls are ridged and as thin as a drinking straw. Both grow in wet sites, often in or alongside water, forming thick colonies. Both are evergreen, and reproduce both by aggressive underground rhizomes and from spores borne in the little cone-like structure at the tip of each stem. Both are used as ornamentals in gardens, and both are cursed by their respective local gardeners for their propensity to spread everywhere. Both contain poisonous alkaloids, which is really never a problem unless it gets baled up with hay and fed to livestock … an important caveat for those ranchers who grow and/or purchase hay. And both are native plants, filling an ecological niche in their respective homes. Indeed, there is a place for everything.

Forty-eight hours after that, I am drooling over the endless blossoms at The Oregon Garden in Silverton ( Dedicated in 2001, this relatively new garden is a showcase for about every grand and glorious plant that can be grown in the Pacific Northwest … and that is a looooong list. Immense collections of rhododendrons, azaleas, peonies, clematis, dwarf conifers, dogwoods, Japanese maples, Pieris, weeping trees, Christmas trees … and that’s just a start. Six hours and 600 photos later, I retreat to the magnificent Moonstone Resort ( that adjoins the garden to enjoy cold hefeweizen and a warm fire.

Forty-eight hours after that, my cell phone rings and it’s my buddy back in Texas, Mark Carter, who tells me he has just walked across the stage and graduated from Tarrant County College with his A.A.S. in horticulture. (I remember well how proud I was when I did that. It was a lot of work, but it changed my life for the better. You should try it too — I laugh and tell him I have my hands on a giant sequoia at the moment, but I’ll cook him a steak dinner when I get back to town. He pauses for a moment and utters something about "you lucky son of a gun…."

Forty-eight hours after that … tires touch earth, jet bridge, toll booth. Freeway.  Purple coneflower, pink evening primrose, Indian blanket, clasping coneflower, Mexican hat, standing cypress. Old Garner Road. Wild onions, winecup, larkspur, white prickly poppy, yellow prickly pear, coreopsis, Mexican hat. Meadowlark, scissortail, vermillion flycatcher, red-tailed hawk. My chickens, my pasture, my little dog’s kisses, my own bed. Green is great and all, but man, oh man … there’s no place like home.

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. He adds these footnotes:

A little help from my friends….
I still need some destinations for my Texas road trips!  If you would like me to speak to your garden club or group, just shoot me an e-mail at to make arrangements. I’m inexpensive and low maintenance, and you know I love to go just about anywhere, so let me know. No city too big; no town too small. As long as it has a Farm to Market road nearby, I’m in.

Visit Chandor Gardens
Before you know it, summer will be cooking! Plan your visit to historic Chandor Gardens now. We have made lots of changes this past year, so if you haven’t seen Chandor Gardens lately, you just haven’t seen Chandor Gardens! We’ve got heirloom color plants, waterfalls, fountains, sculpture, grottoes, a labyrinth, and more. You can go to the website ( for a preview and call 817-613-1700 for reservations and more information. Combine your Chandor trip with an afternoon visit to nearby Clark Gardens ( for a full day of blooms and beauty.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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