Native Son: A Garden You Love

People tell me they love Neil’s e-gardens because it’s so up-to-date. You have no idea…

3:13am Tuesday as I write this. Farewell party’s at 3pm Wednesday. This article will go out Thursday at 6pm.

Steven with the succulent cake.

I worked at Chandor Gardens for thirteen years straight, the longest I’ve held any single job in my life. My sense of identity has become so intertwined with the garden that I wonder if it’s even a healthy thing anymore. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. During springtime bloom, people point at me and shout, “That’s the Chandor Gardens guy!” When things aren’t going well, they point at me and whisper, “That’s the Chandor Gardens guy…”

The whole place is a bit like a complicated machine that needs constant tweaking just to keep the thing going. I sound like a mad scientist –or probably more like a lunatic–when I try to explain even a little bit to someone…”You don’t want to fix that broken irrigation head over there because it squirts just the right amount of water on the rock ledge, which then drains down just enough to keep the fountain level where it needs to be, because the broken fountain fill line valve is under the 500-pound keystone boulder that you really don’t want to touch because it maintains just the right amount of pressure to keep the entire subterranean Goodnight-Loving fault line stabilized. So basically, if you fix that broken irrigation head, it will trigger a chain reaction and the entire garden, together with about half of Parker County, will be sucked down into the bowels of the Earth.”

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So I’ve got a 3-ring circus going on between my ears now—sentimentality has got practicality in a headlock, logic is cracking the whip on the emotions beast, and every time I open my mouth a clown car of ideas, concerns, wisdom, and silliness come rolling out—and I’m just trying to pack up the stuff in my office! What to keep, what to pitch, what to give away, what to recycle…and I know I’ll face the same questions again when I open these boxes back up in a few weeks.

A few celebrities showed up for Steven’s retirement jubilee.

Stay with me here, because I’m going to try and reduce a 9000-word novelette into one short paragraph. When’s the last time you had to move a household? As I finished moving in thirteen years ago, I got all Gone With The Wind, stood on the front porch and declared to the world, “As God as my witness, I shall never move this stuff again!” That was then. I’ve had thirteen years to collect more treasures. Eclectic treasures, rock treasures, art treasures, book treasures—seems everything I collect is either heavy or delicate. Dogs. Cats. My mother-in-law’s quilting fabric. The realtor could hardly form the words. There’s a burn ban on. And to make it all worse, I’m hopelessly sentimental…

My last two projects at Chandor Gardens…creating the Secret Garden and rebuilding the Cave Grotto bamboo enclosure.

So, concerning e-Gardens, here’s what I got…

When you’re green, you grow. When you’re ripe, you rot.
A Garden You Love…

Things that drove you crazy yesterday suddenly vanish like smoke in the breeze. Things that you simply liked yesterday become as revered as redwood trees. Things that you once took for granted now make you hit your knees. No taste of bittersweet is stronger than leaving a garden you love.

Visions and voices of friends now fill empty pathways as I walk,
Stones and trees along the way seem like they might begin to talk,
About my days here, witnessed in bud, bark, and stalk,
Shadowed memory is the price paid for leaving a garden you love.

Every square inch of this earthly parcel my feet have tread,
I know her deepest secrets and where she keeps her dead.
I dare not speak of these dark things, so I keep them in my head.
No sense of loyalty is deeper than leaving a garden you love.

I poured my sweat, my heart and soul into her without fear,
Thirteen years since my now-cracked fingers first dug soil here.
In that time and in my mind only one thing remains so clear,
No proof of dedication is required when leaving a garden you love.

I know I laughed and loved here, or it sure seems like I did,
Times I played with frogs and worms and bugs, like a small-town kid.
There were times I cursed and cried here; times that I just hid.
No loss of youth is greater than when leaving a garden you love.

My hair was brown when I started; now it’s all gone white.
My knees were good, my back was strong, my fingers worked alright.
Now I walk a little slower, I grunt a lot, and my whole body lists right.
Evidence of burden is obvious when leaving a garden you love.

So down the pathway I do tread,
Whirling thoughts now fill my head,
Memories rich with events that changed me,
Together with time and people rearranged me.
Laughter erupts from me one minute,
A ten year-old memory—I’m now in it.
The next, I’m deep into regret
About what could have been, and even yet
I know in my heart I’ve done my best
And that this garden’s but one test,
Of my meddle and dedication
To this land and my vocation.

There’s one thing that’s become clearer,
Don’t you dwell on that rear-view mirror.
Best to focus on what’s up ahead
(Seems like words Will Rogers would have said).
When you focus on what’s ahead and
There don’t come an Armageddon,
You’ll build another memory to hold dear
Until the next opportunity does appear.

That opportunity, my friends, is the brand-new Longview Arboretum and Nature Center! Officially opening October 12, Phase One is the beginning of an amazing new garden in East Texas. Check us out on Facebook, or go to

Mark your calendar right now! Plan to be part of horticultural history! And, assuming I survive the move, I’ll see you there.

I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come 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 Steven Chamblee
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