Native Son: November 2013
Petrichor (PET-ri-kuhr) The scent of rain on dry earth after a long period of drought. The fragrance comes from oils exuded by plants, which is absorbed by rock and soil over time and released suddenly by rainfall.
I guess it’s official now: I survived the summer of 2013. Physically, I was roasted. Mentally, I was toasted. Emotionally, I was ghosted. A dash of rain and a dip in temperatures helped a little, but it did not break my personal drought. Fortunately, I had a guardian angel rescue me. Her name is Bev, she wears overalls, and she coaxed me into a road trip right through the heart of the Brazos Valley, right in the nick of time. Not quite sure if she actually saved my life, but she sure saved my biscuits.
Hopped in the truck with only two goals in mind: 1. End up in Tomball, Texas, and 2. Don’t get on the interstate. Headed over to Cleburne and quickly got all caught up at Griffin’s Classic Cars. If I ever hit the Lotto, I’m bee-lining for this place. I imagine myself liberating that two-tone-teal ’57 Chevy Bel Air from owner Tom Griffin, who is all smiles while driving that 1956 blue-white-blue Ford Fairlane Club Sedan right behind me all the way to my dad’s house. I imagine my dad coming out the front door in his bathrobe and hollering something like, “Hot dang! That’s the car I had back when I had money! I mean, back before you were born.” I lean back on my Chevy, doing my best James Dean, and say something cool like, “Yeah, Daddio, but your new baby’s got that rare T-Bird 292 V8 engine … and some righteous air-conditioning.” We all laugh, raise a toast, smoke cigars, and glide down Memory Lane … classic guys in classic cars.
Stupid Lotto ticket didn’t match a single number. Onward….
Snagged some cream cheese/pumpkin kolaches from the Czech Stop in West to provide the proper sustenance on the way to Cameron, where I always stop to visit my favorite yuccas. This pair of beaked yuccas (Yucca rostrata) are the tallest I’ve ever seen, and their dried infructescences are indeed flirting with the telephone wires. When push comes to shove, I can only hope that a local plant lover will let “the powers that be” know that if these ancient plants can be chain-sawed off at 10 feet high, they will regenerate new heads. It won’t be pretty in the short run, but it’s a better option than a bulldozer.
Three of the best roads in Texas lie ahead: 77, 36, and 6. I opt for the middle, and head down 36 toward Brenham. Sweet road. I split off at that little green and white church to go to Independence and the Antique Rose Emporium. What a place! Beautiful gardens, lots of light-hearted whimsy, lovely chapel, crazy labyrinth, great gift shops, flowers everywhere … oh, and they have roses, too! This is the place where the rose demigods shop for roses. Happenstance, I saw Betty Prior, Cecile Bruner, Don Juan, Graham Thomas, and Lady Banks in a Parade. Napoleon and Robin Hood were Living Easy as a Folksinger charmed Belinda and her Seven Sisters with his version of “Pinkie, the Magic Dragon.” I said Aloha to American Beauty Peggy Martin, who got Nearly Wild with Lafter and the Chuckles. Spoke with Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin about the Republic of Texas, Pioneer Spirit, and that Little Buckaroo in Nacogdoches who started the Fires of Alamo. Chatted up Mary Manners, who I figured would be both a Carefree Beauty and an Enchantress, but she was an Iceberg. I was so upset that I grabbed my China Doll, got in my Chrysler Imperial, turned on some Mozart, and Skyrocket’ed out of Independence Musk until the Moonlight turned into a New Dawn. Ahhh … Quietness!
Window-shopped in Brenham, strolled in Chappell Hill, then hung a hard right and headed over to Round Top to see the amazing Festival Hill. (Now, seems every time I say “Round Top,” someone says, “You mean Round Rock.” I say, “Round TOP,” and they say, “You mean Round ROCK.” I say, “Fine, you go to Round Rock … I’m going to Round Top.” They say, “I never heard of Round Top,” and I say, “I’ve said it twice already.” They say, “It’s by Austin,” and I say, “It’s by Brenham.” They say, “Round Rock is by Austin,” and I say, “Yeah, but Round Top is by Brenham.” Then they say — and I’m not kidding — “You mean Round Rock.” So I say “What-ever.”)
Round Top, Texas, is a tiny little town that’s big on charm. This hamlet does indeed have a Shakespeare Garden, right across the street from a music hall that looks kind of like a swanky barn on the outside. Inside, your jaw drops as you view an 1,100-seat, world-class orchestra hall that rivals Carnegie Hall in grandness, with custom woodwork in a Texas motif covering every square inch of the place. This is truly one of the most majestic buildings you will ever see, worthy of a drive from, well … anywhere!
Outside, the campus is simply one adventure after another … gardens, fountains, an immaculate chapel, and one of the most interesting spaces in Texas, the Herzstein Plaza. It’s like the now-proverbial box of chocolates: a delightful series of sights, scents, and surprises at every turn. Stone walls, waterfalls, grottoes, classic statuary, bizarre statuary, Old World elegance, New World spirit, and it goes on … all arranged in an unpredictable manner that piques your brain yet relaxes your body. A Latin inscription above a statue sums it up quite well: “Cur Cotidiana Somnies” (Why dream the ordinary?)
Stopped in at the new Buc-ee’s in Waller. After my fifth sample of spicy jerky, I got all beavered up and decided that some early Christmas shopping was in order. (I hope my dad likes his purple “Peace, Love, and Beavers” T-shirt … sssshhhh!)
I finally rolled into The Arbor Gate first thing Saturday morning. Glad I was well into my 34-ounce coffee, ‘cause I had forgotten just how mind-blowing this nursery is … and how busy! This horticultural haven is a buzzin’ beehive of all things bright and beautiful. The gardens are fabulous, the plant selections perfectly arranged, the gift shop is packed and stacked with everything from trendy tools to whimsical whatnots to bodacious boots to perfumed potions … and that’s what I can see from outside on the front porch! While all of this is amazing, what really impresses me is the staff. They are true rock stars, assisting people with the intelligence of John Lennon, the charm of Paul McCartney, the sensitivity of George Harrison, and the enthusiasm of Ringo Starr. (Can you believe it’s been 50 years since “The British Invasion?”)
My angel, Bev, met me with a smile and a hug, unaware of how she had changed my life. A quick chat and she flitted off to tend to the throngs of customers while I set up my Mosaic Stepping Stone demonstration.
Two hours and seven stepping stones later, I toured the place at my own slow pace. Heaven, simply heaven. Great color combinations, texture contrasts, fun themes … but what I really loved was the element of discovery. As a ragged-around-the-edges plant guy, I get a little jaded at seeing the same things, but here at The Arbor Gate, I bathe in humility. LOTS of plants I’ve never seen or heard of before. Dazzling blossoms, phenomenal foliage, and an exotic touch that you normally find only in cutting-edge botanic garden conservatories. My mind bristles with possibilities; my imagination soars. It’s like a deep breath of fresh air cleaning out the cobwebs of my mind. It’s like … well, petrichor!
Come and experience the richness that is autumn at Chandor Gardens! Go to www.chandorgardens.com for details. 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.
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 too small. Just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work something out.