Native Son – April, 2011

The writer brakes for the artistry of the Elephant Butte Ranch gate. All photos by Steven Chamblee.

How To Write an E-Gardens Article

e-gardens breakfast fare.

Wake up. Shut off that stupid alarm and sleep another hour. Get up. Robe and slippers … ahhh! Bathroom. Kitchen. Open all windows while coffee is brewing. Peek into fridge. Hmmm … that bison sausage I got down at Woody’s Smokehouse beckons. Chop. Fill skillet with sausage and some mushrooms. Add a dash of water. Cover. Set heat on low. Go down to chicken house to let the girls free-range and snag a few eggs. Cool, one’s a banty egg. Come back to porch. Check shoes. Eeeooowwwww. Walk around yard wiping shoes off on grass, and grouse like Fred Flintstone, “Rassa-frassa-rassa frassa….” Notice my one rooster, Mr. Belvedere, staring at me like I’m mocking his mating dance. What-ever.

Stir skillet. Burner to medium. Chop up the red-rind cheddar. Fix my regular coffee (Splenda, cinnamon, hazelnut syrup and 2 percent). Wonder if I’ll ever be man enough to drink it black. Hope not. Break eggs right into sausage-mushroom mix. Chuckle at tiny banty egg. Stir. Sprinkle in granulated garlic, and add a dash of “Bite My Butt” seasoning from Lonestar Meat Company down in Hamilton. Wonder for a moment what Willie Nelson is doing this morning. Stir.

Turn on laptop. Silence phone. Don’t even think about turning on the radio or the TV. Stir skillet — almost done. Turn off burner. Freshen coffee. Grub into bowl, cover with red-rind cheddar. Grab salt and pepper. Have flashback to doctor’s office lecture. Put down salt. Select place at table where I can see the birdhouse on the porch. Baby sparrow. Mama comes with worm. Lots of commotion. Mama flies off. Silence. 

Say grace. Look at that “buffalo in a bowl,” and say grace again for all the safe road miles and for the rain. And for my family, and opportunities, and friends, and all of the things I didn’t get back when I used to think I needed them to make me happy. And all the things that didn’t happen that could have … and for the baby sparrow. Chew.

Find cigar and candles. Light candles. Cigars are like roses; they smell wonderful until you set them on fire. Mama sparrow returns to that birdhouse I made from an old wooden cigar box. Used an old paintbrush for the perch.

Hop onto laptop. Feels like I’m sitting with an old friend. She runs slow as cold molasses for a while until she gets warmed up good. Sounds like me. I suppose for a minute that I ought to delete some of the 30,000-plus photos from her memory. Not today.

View photos from the last month. Save a few to the USB, scribble a few notes, and write….

Wrong Turns & Yuccas

Detail of the gate at Elephant Butte Ranch.

Steven found this logic irrefutable.

This restored horse (and dog) watering trough graces downtown Hico.

A monster specimen of beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) tries to strum the telephone wires in Cameron.

Springtime roses festoon the fence at Veranda Bloom in Robert, Tx.

Steven models some bling-bling at Veranda Bloom.

An ornate birdhouse soars above The Arbor Gate.

Studmuffin Mitchell Fenske is ready to help customers at The Arbor Gate.

Max Stephens gets his faux stone trough to go.

Texas horticulture legend Bill Adams with Beverly Welch of The Arbor Gate.

So I’m goin’ down to Tomball this month to do a presentation at my home away from home, The Arbor Gate. As usual, at least for me, the journey is as important as the destination. Unusual for me, I take a wrong turn almost immediately, which necessitates an end-around short-cut through the town of Cool, childhood home of Casey James, that shaggy-haired American Idol teen-heartthrob who now lives in Nashville. Figure I’ll just slide down through Milsap and scoot over to 281 from there, making the most of my error. Well, turns out it is no error at all.

I whip ‘er down from fifth to third to make a quick u-turn after my peripheral vision catches sight of the Elephante Butte Ranch entrance gate. This is simply an amazing work of art. The bright light/heavy shadow situation makes it impossible to photograph well, so I do the best I can with what I have at the time. Thanks, Uncle Teddy.

Pull into Hico to snag a piece of that mile-high meringue at the Koffee Kup. The parking lot is full of motorcycles, and I laugh at how things change. When I was a kid, bikers were portrayed as thugs. True or not … I don’t know, I was a kid. But these days the black-shirted, leathered-sheathed, greasepan gangs are mostly doctors, lawyers, and CPA’s out burning off the workweek stress. And Hico is the perfect weekend destination for folks who need a break from the metroplex mayhem. Quaint little Texas downtown, a chocolate factory, antique shops, free wifi, and that mile high pie … all it needs is 50-cent gas.

Down the road apiece, Cameron awaits. I’ve always loved their school mascot, the Yoemen. Not the Trojans, Spartans, Tigers, or some other regular mascot, but the Yoemen. At first, I assumed it to be a rank of the navy, but it turns out the word can have a lot of different meanings, from royal archers to farmers to administrative clerks (Chevy even made a workhorse station wagon in 1958), but all are rooted in the aspect of hard work. Half a mile from the high school, two hard-working, Texas-tough plants rise from the end of a grocery store parking lot … beaked yuccas.

Native far away in West Texas and Mexico, these beaked yuccas (Yucca rostrata) have thrived here for decades, and have reached more than 25 feet tall, a height I’ve never witnessed before. Their massive, 2-foot-wide “petticoated” trunks have propelled the spheres of blue-green leaves skyward within a few feet of the overhead power lines. Considering the giant floral inflorescences of this plant (literally as tall and wide as big ole me!), a showdown between plant preservationists and the power line company is eminent. I hope someone in Cameron reads this and works to save these rare specimens from demise. (And yes, they can be trimmed back rather than removed.) 

About a block away, a garden relic attracts me like pheromone. Not a trace of wood remains anywhere, only strewn remnants: stone, concrete, petrified wood, bricks, and a stand of nandinas that, I imagine, once lined the front porch. Gate pillars protrude from the ground, still standing guard over the former oasis. Whoever built this place cared a great deal about it, as evidenced by the cut stone curbing, the perfect curve a once-lush pond, and the intricate inlaid patterning in the pillar that now lies like a fallen log. I imagine that the owner knew of the yuccas down the block … perhaps even brought them into town and planted them personally. Maybe they sat and ate dewberry pie on the porch. FYI — the annual Dewberry Festival is April 30 … fun, free, and delicious!

Going through Washington County, I realize the effects of the drought. There are a few patches of bluebonnets and other wildflowers, but not the breath-taking blankets of blue that makes this area the envy of Texas every spring. Guess I’ll have to console myself with some Bluebell Ice Cream while checking out the Wood-Hughes House, circa 1897. I’ve never set foot inside, but the outside is fairytale amazing. AND, they have sculpted Asian jasmine, something you just don’t see every day.

Sliding through the little town of Robert, billows of roses beckon me to stop. Enchanted by the little garden outside, I wander inside this little shop to discover I am out of my element — it’s a Texas chic, girley bling-bling store. Nothing for me here. Hmmm … but do I need to shop for some Texas chic girley girls. Half an hour later, the ladies have me trying on the stuff. Okay, just one picture….

Finally, I arrive at The Arbor Gate for my presentation on Faux Stone Troughs. Dirty, dusty, and lots of fun, we make some troughs of perlite, sphagnum peat moss, Portland cement, and water. It’s been awhile since I did this, but every mistake I have ever made comes quickly to mind, so I am able to steer my audience clear of these pitfalls. As I wrap things up, a man walks up to me, introduces himself, and says I have underestimated the beauty of my “ugly duckling” trough. (One of the first I made, I never liked it, so have always used it as an example of what not to do.) Ten minutes of shameless compliments later, my new friend is carrying the trough off to his car. Ya know, he loved it, and I never was able to appreciate it — better it have a happy home. 

Now that the presentation’s over, I get to browse my favorite garden center. Blinded by the botanical bonanza at hand, who do I walk smack dab into but Texas garden author / photographer / guru / legend / hero Bill Adams! After helping him back up to his feet and apologizing profusely, we chat about tomatoes for a while, until he is swept away by adoring fans. Such is the life of a demigod….

Speaking of celebrities … Eva Longoria … George W. Bush … ZZ Top …. None of them came on my road trip, but you did! 

– 30 –

Hmmm … now what’s for dinner?

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. Steven adds these notes:

Spring is in full swing at Chandor Gardens! Come and visit Chandor Gardens while spring is still flaunting its finery.  Just take I-20 west to exit 409, hang a right, go 2.1 miles and hang a left on Lee Avenue. Head straight 12 blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-361-1700 for more information.  You can always go to for a picture tour and more information.

I can always use another road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come out and speak to your group sometime. I’m low-maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top