Native Son: Ode to the 2021 Snowmageddon

I took a long stroll to take a solemn toll,
Of what winter did to my garden.
My neck turned red and much of what I said
Is unpublishable; beg my pardon.

I was mumbling when I wasn’t grumbling,
As I was stumbling around,
Seeing so many bushes turned into mooshes,
Looking like cow pies on the ground.

I gasped as I passed the daylilies at last,
They’ve always been part of my summertime bliss.
I had to sit my big ol’ rump upon a big, ol’ stump,
And ponder how the garden, or I, might ever recover from this.

Oh, how my mind did grind with my rump on a stump!
Memories came flooding back once again,
Of the times I’ve had, both good times and bad,
Déjà vu came right through, like a train in my brain.

I remember Fort Worth back in 1983, when Santa sent a Blue Norther just before Christmas that killed out half of every garden. Legendary Texas meteorologist Harold Taft said it was the coldest thing he’d ever seen. What hurt me the most was the total loss of big Sago Palms and 30-foot Loquat trees. Folks surmised that sudden and intense bright sunlight was to blame when the bark blew off the Live Oaks along University Drive at TCU. It was one of the most surreal sights I’ve ever seen….and I don’t use that word often. The Live Oaks and I survived, but the gardens around Fort Worth were never quite the same again.

I think it was 1989 when straight-line winds laid over that grand line of Shumard Oaks along Old Garden Road at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. One limb punched an 18-inch-deep hole in the road. (I later repaired that hole, pressing my handprint into the wet concrete, then a nickel into the palm of my handprint.) It also destroyed the 100-foot-tall trees in the majestic Cottonwood Hollow. I remember thinking it looked like a jumbled pile of giant wooden matchsticks…and I cried in front of my co-workers without shame.

Continued Below

I was a graduate student at Longwood Gardens in January of 1996, when it snowed 30 inches in as many hours. I put on my insulated coveralls and took a walk around the gardens. Actually, it was more like a stomp and flop around the gardens. In Pierce’s Park, a few of the snow drifts were up to my armpits, and I began to wonder if I’d be the first grad student to die there. Later that morning, I bumped into Director Fred Roberts in a parking lot and we chatted and laughed about my death-defying adventure. A week later, I found out that some employees got in trouble for not coming in to work that day because, “even some grad student made it in.”

I also remember the scorching summer of 1980 in Fort Worth. I didn’t think it was that bad…but I was 20 years old and in great shape then.

My rump is about froze to the log, so I get up and continue on. I realize that I’ve lived through some true “disasters,” but have come out of it all rather unscathed. Things may change, but life moves on…I mean, really, what else are you gonna do?

Larry Schaapveld once told me, “It doesn’t matter what the averages are…it’s the extremes that really matter.” He was right; that average February night low of 38 degrees means nothing when you get a few days below zero. It doesn’t matter that Roger Maris averaged only 25 home runs a season; it’s his still-standing record of 61 home runs in 1961 that’s important. (Sorry, I don’t accept any records set during baseball’s “Steroid Fest” as legitimate.)

It’s “Wait & See” time in Texas! This Viburnum might actually drop the dead leaves and refoliate. Photos by Steven Chamblee.

So if you’re still with me now, my Snowpocalypse gardening message is this: Listen to the advice being given by seasoned horticulturists. We’ve seen this kind of thing before…unfortunately. Remove anything mushy in your garden right now and then wait a few weeks to see what all comes back to life. Yep, everyone has fried foliage right now, except for at ground level, where that ten inches of snow provided insulation against the real cold…which I find rather fascinating. Just give it a little time before you do anything rash—always good advice for anything.

Cold air-fried foliage where it was exposed, but notice how the snow-insulated leaves at the bottom of these plants are just fine.

My life message is different: Winter has given us a big ol’ lemon…and it’s time to make lemonade. If your sub-par garden has been bugging you, now’s the perfect time for a design change. If you love your garden the way it is…ahem, was…then baby it back to beautiful. Either way, you’ll get a great garden…and hopefully, some great memories.

Oh yeah…I also remember spending all day meticulously planting the Old Entrance beds at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden…probably 1989. I came to work early the next morning, ready to bask in the radiant glory of my horticultural prowess, only to discover a brand new, bright red Cadillac sitting in my flowerbed. Ever the optimist, I looked under the car and figured I could salvage most of the plants between the tires. Imagine my delight when the wrecker lifted the rear of the car and pulled it out, the front bumper taking a 2-foot-deep gouge out of my perfect fluffy bedding soil and annihilating every plant in sight. An hour later, I was complaining about the total destruction of my magnificent artistic endeavor to my friend Richard Hartman, who casually replied, “Well…at least it was a Cadillac.”

Thirty-two years later, I realize he was right.


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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