Native Son: Homecoming

The Chinese Bridge above black waters. All photos by Steven Chamblee.

Got asked to do some Master Gardener Intern training back at my old stomping grounds, Chandor Gardens. I’m always happy to oblige when asked to do anything for the Parker County Master Gardeners, as I can never properly repay them for all the things they’ve done for me.

After a three-hour drive, I had a bit of anxiety as I neared the garden. Would it have all gone to ruin? Did they remember to water the corners?

It’s not that I am a worrywart; I was having a flashback of my visit last May to my old home in the country outside Weatherford. Puttering down that little strip of asphalt, my breath fell away as the house came into view. Every strategically-placed tree on the west side was cut down. The screening shrubs and shade trees on the south side were cleared. The Vitex hedgerow was gone. It was like somebody bought a new chain saw and kept cutting until it broke down. I planted every one of those trees; many with friends. That little house stood there bare naked in the sun. As I slowly drove away, regretting my visit, all I could think of is, “You folks just broke my heart…and quadrupled your summer electric bill.”

The Dragon Pond.
Bananas near the South Porch.

But four miles away, Chandor Gardens looked great. Tidy hardscapes, lush growth wall to wall, and annual beds billowing with glorious sumptuous color. The garden was being loved. They had made some bold choices, the biggest of which was to paint the pond bottoms black. (Good decision…no way to keep them looking clean, so just hide the muck.) I was so proud to see so many of the things I planted looking so happy, including the Sperry tree…

The Sperry Tree at Chandor Gardens.

The Sperry tree was never really meant to be. Neil was visiting the garden in late September a few years back. While he and I were chatting, a visitor came up to me, pushed some money into my hand, and said, “Please use this to buy something beautiful for the garden” before quickly walking away. I thanked her and quickly slid the money, which I assumed would be about three dollars, into my pocket.

A few minutes later, as Neil took photos, I pulled the money out to discover it was two $100 bills. I quickly tracked the woman down and asked her if she had meant to donate so much. She said yes and went on her way. Hmmm…

Continued Below

Two quick things you might not know…since the budget year ends September 30, we had to cease all spending on the fifteenth. And, all cash donations like that went straight into the City’s general fund, not to the garden. Hmmm…

An hour later, Neil and I are visiting the awesome Stuart’s Nursery in Weatherford, and I spot this beautiful weeping Japanese Maple. It was so lovely it made my heart ache. Marked at just $249, I knew it wouldn’t be there for long. Judy Cain, the owner, noticed me drooling over the tree and asked me if we needed to load it up. I was about to say I didn’t have any money, but I remembered the donation. Judy cut me some slack and made it $200 even.

After our nursery visit, Neil went home and I headed back to Chandor. I already had the perfect spot picked out to plant the tree, and was in the midst of doing so when an obviously-irritated City employee came up and demanded to know where I got the tree and how I paid for it. I was busted. Thinking fast, I said, “Neil Sperry donated it.” Well, Grumpy didn’t like it, but turned and went away.

I immediately called Neil to explain the situation in case he was ever questioned about it. He chuckled a bit and said, “You are so welcome, my friend! And just let me know if there’s anything else I can’t do for you.”

The Cave Grotto with its bamboo fascade.
The Curved Pergola.

On the way back to Longview, I kept thinking about how much I enjoyed Chandor Gardens, and it dawned on me that now I’m not worried about what isn’t right. When it was my baby, I had to constantly battle broken this and rusted that. Today, I could just enjoy the beauty of it.

Mushrooms thrive on an old Bradford Pear stump.
A shaded Lutyens bench provides the perfect place to rest.

When I got back to the Longview Arboretum, my mind immediately shifted back to what isn’t right…until a group of garden club ladies from Arp, Texas, showed up. (They were surprised that I knew about Arp and its famous rosemary.) As I toured them around the Arboretum, they oooh’ed and ahhh’ed about all the lovely things here. They laughed and joked like the place was perfect. They completely ignored the problems that have me tied in knots half the week. They helped me look at the garden with new eyes…focusing on the good stuff, not the problems.

And the perspective lasted. As I drove home, I looked at all the beauty in the city of Longview…even my house looked better as I pulled in the driveway. My eyes focused on that line of big, beautiful oaks that line the south side of the house and I wondered who planted them years ago. I hope that person drives by this house now and again. They will see that I love these trees…as does my electric bill.


Bring your little goblins on down to Spookyfest at the Longview Arboretum, October 29, 4pm – 6pm. We’ll have a costume contest, a parade, and spooky characters handing out sweet treats all over the garden. Great family fun for even the youngest children! (Shhh…it’s really not that spooky!) Regular admission for adults; free for the little spooksters.


It’s almost time for the Longview Arboretum’s First Annual Birthday Bash! November 7 & 8; 10am – 5pm. Free admission, food trucks on site, and fun for the whole family! We’ll be celebrating the new Southern Living Garden and dedicating the new flagpole that will anchor our future veteran’s memorial.


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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