Native Son: Big Ideas, Bad Ideas, and Little Red Wagons

My brain is still buzzing from attending the annual conference of the Texas Association of Botanical Gardens & Arboreta (TABGA). This year’s host was the Dallas Arboretum, and, like everything they do, they did it with style and panache. The presentations gave me a lot to think about, as they ranged from black & white administrative pie charts to wondrous floral calliopes of color. From pumpkin villages and fairy wonderlands to contractor conundrums and infrastructure nightmares, we covered it all. And yes, a common thread ran through it all—change. Every program dealt with change, whether it was carefully implemented, high-dollar development projects or Frankensteining the garden back together with duct tape and volunteers following a hurricane.

While I find change interesting, I find people’s reactions to change even more intriguing. Some folks revel in change like a hippie at Woodstock, while others literally barricade themselves in a bunker to avoid it. Some choose the head-in-the-sand approach to simply deny change happens; others go for the nostalgia-driven “let’s go back to the good ol’ days” approach, as if there was ever a problem-free time in the history of the world. As for me, I regularly alternate between all these reactions…sometimes on the same day.

Continued Below

My favorite part of TABGA is the stories that weave us all together. Travel always seems to lead to great stories of grand adventures (“There was a bat in my bathroom!”) and bizarre meals (“Which fried scorpion goes best with the cobra wine?”) and amazing people (“When we shook, I noticed he had two thumbs on his right hand…”). But wonderful stories can happen at home as well…and this one’s mine.

The year was 2000, and I was staying in a little (400 sq. ft.) yellow house near TCU. I had worked out my tension from the recent divorce by digging out the front lawn and planting a garden. (Thank heavens my landlord was open-minded!) While tending the garden one morning, I looked up to see a woman pulling a little red wagon down the sidewalk—and there was a pretty fair-sized Century Plant in that wagon. Unable to resist, l smirked and said, “Taking your Agave for a walk, I see…” She cheerfully smiled back and said, “Yes, I am.” Feeling slight remorse for being a bit of a smart aleck, I asked, “Well, what are you going to do with it?” She smiled sweetly and said, “I figured I’d give it to you.” Naturally, I was stunned. She gazed around the little garden I had planted and said, “You look like you would know what to do with this.”

She was right. I planted that Agave and it grew and thrived and flowered and, of course, died (as Agaves do after they bloom), but the ring of pups around the edge grew up and still thrives today. Of course, I eventually moved out and on with my life, but I still drive by to check up on that little garden now and again.

I thought that was the end of my story until Megan Proska, sitting next to me at the conference, said, “That was my mom.” (I’ve known Megan, a Dallas Arboretum employee, for several years now.)

“What? Who was your mom?”

“The lady with the little red wagon…with the Agave in it.”

What? I don’t think you understand…this was twenty years ago in a little rent house by TCU.”

“Yeah, and I was a little girl back then. My mom used to take me by that yellow house to visit her Agave. She told me about you.”

First time in years I’ve been speechless…

Little Megan grew up, but still loves little red wagons.

There were fun stories about people, like someone’s next-door neighbor, who put out a pre-emergent with his ryegrass seed so weeds wouldn’t grow in his new lawn. Like the guy who had just given an enthusiastic pitch for an extensive beautification and economic revitalization plan for his hometown in Delaware—complete with expensive graphics & promotional materials—all based around the wondrous Neem Tree…and I was the one who had to tell him they’re tropical trees and won’t take a freeze. And the lady who bought some mature chickens and put them in her vegetable garden to eat the bugs…and soon discovered that chickens love vegetables.

Then there was the story of a woman who was out gardening right after she had mopped the floors in the house. She was all sweaty and her boots were muddy when nature called. Since no one was around, she just went over and tinkled by the compost pile. Mission accomplished, she stood up and noticed her cat had been watching her. Tiger ran right over and pawed the ground, covering it up!

Vocal artist k. d. lang, once called life “the beautiful struggle.” I like that. None of us skates along without incident, though, admittedly, some folks’ sidewalk seems to be more cracked than others. And every once in a while, a little red wagon appears out of nowhere, serving up treasure…with a side of change. As for me, I seem to blunder along down life’s path, leaving little stories and a few gardens in my wake…and I’m good with that.


There’s never been a better reason to come see me at the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center than the upcoming Spring Concert Series. Thursday evenings from April 9 to May 14, we’ll feature some of the finest local talents you’ll ever see. Go to for details and tickets! (Go straight to “Events/Current Events” for concert info.) All concerts are only $10 each…best bargain in town!


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
Back To Top