Native Son: This Is Our Year

Nothing like new beginnings. Fresh start…clean canvas…blank slate…whatever works for you. There’s that chance to write the first words in the next chapter of your life. Thrilling for some folks and terrifying for others…it’s all about perspective. Here’s a little ditty about my 2021 beginning…

Three in the morning and a blanket of snow covers everything out the window. The moment finds me with a blue glow on my face and my mind racing with a floral fantasy. I’m about 35 minutes into an online shopping blitz at Wildseed Farms. A quick glance at my cart…$791.93. Outrageous for a home gardener; barely a pittance for an 11-acre arboretum. After some quiet deliberation, I push…the…button…and we are off to the races.

Classic pink double ruffle poppies at Clark Gardens near Mineral Wells, Texas. All photos courtesy of Steven Chamblee.

In my fantasy, every seed I nonchalantly toss on the ground will take root and be smothered with blooms in 3 days. The Longview Arboretum will explode into a festival of color. Birds will sing. Ladies will swoon. Children will laugh. Everyone will stay on the pathway. Litter will be in the litter bin. My board will dance with ebullient joy. The New York Times will do an exposé on me entitled, “The Seed Whisperer.” A tsunami of money shall arrive in thick envelopes marked, “To use at your discretion…more on the way.” Martha Stewart & Snoop Dogg will insist on filming “Martha Knows Best” here. Elton John will say, “Let’s throw THE party of the year at the Longview Arboretum!” My life will become the theme for a week of Wheel of Fortune. Vanna will blush when she says my name. Brad Pitt will insist on playing me in the Spielberg movie. Queen Elizabeth will come to Longview, Texas to knight me…and insist I keep the sword. Google will make me an icon. Jimmy Hoffa will stop by and say, “Now this…this I had to see.”

Morning Glory and Hyacinth Bean are vines that are easy to grow from seed.

Reality returns and I realize that the best I can hope for is a modicum of success and my buddy, Greg Grant, exclaiming, “Hey! I like it!” A moment later, thinking I was out of earshot, a nearby figure in a trench coat mumbles, “Not bad…for an amateur…who got lucky.” (You know who you are…Mr. Doubt.)

Cool-season Petunias shown here. ‘Laura Bush’ Petunias will take the heat of summer.

Continued Below

And while the world may never be astounded by my germination prowess, Greg and I both know the real secret to direct sow success—select seeds that germinate easily. This year, I’m trying Poppy, Sweet Alyssum, & Larkspur for early spring crops; Nigella, ‘Laura Bush’ Petunia, & Lacy Phacelia (Bee’s Friend) for late spring; Cosmos, Celosia, & Zinnia into the heat of summer.

Blue Larkspur is a dependable self-seeder.

But we’ve both been around the block enough times to know that, even with good seed, judicious selections, and decent soil prep, it’s all still a gamble. The timing is off. Necessary bed renovations have got me behind schedule. The Larkspur really should have been sown in November. Sweet Alyssum can be a fussy little girl at times. One of my guys just quit. And Lord only knows what the weather is going to do. Things can and will go wrong. Trust me—some kind of failure is certain.

Often called Love In a Mist, Nigella is a pretty plant whether in flower or not.

Believe it or not, that’s kinda the cool part. Adjusting your insanely optimistic fantasy to a different–and perhaps inadvertently even better–reality is one of the best things about life. It’s like a road trip where you’re forced to change direction…you were originally headed for Round Rock but ended up in Round Top…far out! Let’s go to Festival Hill!

Can you see the white bunny heads on these pink Larkspur?

It works that way in gardening, too. Once upon a time, you thought you wanted a traditional hybrid tea rose garden with a few perennials for complements…but the roses all died and you ended up with an earth-friendly, pollinator-positive, insanely-magical cottage garden…right on! Check out this pink Penstemon!

Plume Celosia comes in many forms…this one is named, ‘Flamingo.’

And each year it’s a little different or a lot different, mostly depending upon your gumption. (You thought I was going to say, “budget” there, didn’t you?) Toss your doubts onto the compost pile. Arm yourself with some solid knowledge, march into that garden like a bulldog with a snout full of sizzling steak fumes, and spin the wheel of fate. If you are still timid, may I remind you that some kind of success is certain. Trust me.

Candle Tree is a common “Pass-along Plant,” usually as seed.

If you can make it through a Monday, you can grow sunflowers.
If you can make it through rush hour in Dallas, you can grow daisies.
If you can make it through rush hour in Houston, you can grow peonies.
If you can make it through bringing up children, you can grow anything.

Grown from seed collected the previous year, this stunning garden didn’t cost the owner a dime.

Take the inspiring words of Kathryn Hepburn,
Life is hard. After that, it kills you.

Ummmmm…maybe not. Perhaps Erin Hanson…
There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?

Nice and sweet, but I like the way Charles Bukowski put it…
We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives
so that Death will tremble to take us.

This is your new year…our new year. Let’s make it count.

Peace & Love,

Just a quick list of flowers that are easy to grow from seed—
Poppy, Larkspur, Nigella, Bluebonnet, Zinnia, Petunia, Hyacinth Bean, Sunflower, Cosmos, Cornflower, Celosia, Candle Tree, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Pea, Moon Flower, Morning Glory.


Just so you know…the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center is OPEN! Hours are 10am-5pm, Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday Noon-5pm. Come out and see us! Check out the progress on the Southern Living Garden and other areas of the Arboretum. Please observe social distancing at this time. And bring your own brand of Zen! 903-212-2181

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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