Native Son – September, 2012

Reflection in September

The author celebrates life (and burgers) in Ohio. Photo by Neil Sperry.

September always brings three things to my life: a heat wave that shatters my delusion that autumn has arrived, and the personal introspection that inevitably arrives with my birthday. This year, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and took stock of things from the floor northward. The soles of my feet are starting to remind me of the skin of a prickly pear cactus. My left foot is puffed, splotched, and constantly itchy after serving as target practice for a rogue band of fire ants. My sock tan line is in good order; exceptional, I suppose, as no hair grows under my socks any more. Legs seem okay, though they sometimes do the jackrabbit fandango when I’m trying to sleep. For the sake of modesty, we’ll skip up to my bellybutton, which is particularly happy these days — and why wouldn’t it be, as it now has more real estate than ever to hold court upon.

My back still aches from speed-planting that bald cypress on 9-11 — an ultimately successful fiasco involving mud, blood, rock, and a slip/trip/forward barrel roll that would have scored a 2.8 in the Olympic gymnastics finals. My teeth are crooked and sort of yellow, but I like that these days, because they remind me of my 77-year-old father’s teeth, which reminds me how lucky I am to have my most excellent father. Two inches north, my nose sports a rather gnarly gash in process of healing, the result of losing a brief but gallant battle with a hinged Adirondack chair –though after two weeks of constant public humility, I now grin and say, “You should see the other guy.” My eyesight is still within the arena where my local cowboy optometrist can rope it in, though he does more “hmmmpf”-ing than he used to during the exam. My hair is the envy of most of my male associates (as is my father’s), so I’m in good shape there, though I have learned to have only a woman cut it these days — male barbers simply smile broadly, pop a #3 onto the sheep-shearer, and go completely deaf when I say, “Just a trim.” (I’ve had a standing invitation for a free haircut from the friendly barbers over at Carswell AFB/ Joint Reserve Base since 1977.)

Top photo: A bee works the goldenrod blossoms for nectar.
Left photo: Neil Sperry takes aim during the camera duel.
Right photo: Neil enjoys the win. Photos by Steven Chamblee.

Top photo: The Palm House at Columbus’s Franklin Park. Left photo: A crescendo of color as nature meets magic. Right photo: Chihuly magic inside the conservatory.

So I drag this aging body… (I can see my Master Gardeners’ eyes roll, and hear them say, “You don’t know squat about aging….” This immediately segues into a spirited competition of ailments and survival, which can only be likened to that scene in “Jaws” where the men were comparing scars.) So I drag this aging body to Columbus, Ohio for a visit. It was just horrible … temperatures from 45° to 70°, sunny skies, slight breeze, children laughing, people smiling, songbirds singing, fields of goldenrod waving, bucolic barns everywhere … misery. Even Neil Sperry joined me for a little while, and we took this opportunity to not talk shop, opting instead to play dueling cameras in the Ohio Master Gardeners’ exhibit garden. I also had the chance to get behind the wheel of one of those giant, new-generation tractors, which was cool, even if some fuddy-duddy salesman refused to let me drive it through the exposition fairgrounds. Finally ended up at Franklin Park, where some exquisite pieces of Chihuly glass are on permanent display in the conservatory … which reminded me of the absolutely MONSTER Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum, which reminded me of Texas, which reminded me of that third thing that September brings to my life.  (I’ll bet you thought I forgot about that.)

Left photo: A handful of purple love. Right photo: The Queen butterfly — a Monarch look-alike — feeds upon sweet nectar.

Liatris … Blazingstar … Gayfeather … whatever you choose to call it, it’s an amazing plant.  Forty-three species light up the late summer/early autumn prairies across eastern North America, from Mexico up to Canada, and we have five native species here in North Texas. All of them form a tough, bulb-like, underground structure called a corm that allows them to survive almost anything from flood to drought. I have seen these corms the size of tennis balls, and surmised the plant was 40 to 50 years old. I like the way nature couples the flowering of liatris and goldenrod, creating an amazing purple and gold color display in areas where both species overlap. I have heard that white liatris exists in the wild, but I have never seen it outside of cultivation. All liatris have small, nectar-rich, sweetly scented, lavender/purple flowers in clusters up an (usually) un-branched stem. They provide superb late-season nutrition for many insects, including honeybees and butterflies. I take great delight in the symbiotic relationship between the Monarch migration and the liatris bloom, both moving/flowering southward together from Canada to Mexico with the change of seasons. And every year, all of it … every butterfly, every flower … gets made over brand new.

The secret liatris meadow in Weatherford.

Sure enough, in the four days since I pulled my truck into the long-term parking lot at DFW Airport, the liatris exploded into bloom. Sure, when I left, there was a spike here and there. But in just four days, the liatris on my favorite little remnant prairie hilltop in Weatherford just went nuts … just like it does every late September, just in time for my birthday. Since I take most things personally, I consider it a personal gift from Mother Nature. A giant, fresh and new floral arrangement delivered to giant, not so fresh and new me every year, right on my birthday … and I can’t think of a better present than that.
(All right, all right … a giant floral arrangement delivered to me on my birthday during a four-day, slow-soaking, seven-inch rain event…. I just didn’t want to be greedy.) 

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:

Things are happening at Chandor Gardens! The Hall Ensemble will perform a special chamber music concert, “In the Bloom of the Night,” on Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. The Autumn Art Walk on Oct. 21 brings area artists together for food, music, and some amazing, just-in-time-for-the-holidays shopping. On Sunday, Oct. 28, Goblins in the Garden brings a spook-free, daytime, family-friendly experience to the historic garden. Lunch by The Wild Mushroom every Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. T’ai Chi classes every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. Yoga classes every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. For the craftsperson in all of us, we’re hosting a special Cement Leaf Class on Friday, Oct. 26 and 29. For all the details, go to or call 817-613-1700. Then just take I-20 west to exit 409, turn right and go 2.1 miles to Lee Avenue. Turn left, drive straight for 12 blocks, and you are rolling in the gates!

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
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