The Human Touch

It’s not that I have a beef with machines…heck, I’m writing this on one and you’re reading it on another. It’s not that I eschew mass production…my truck and home AC system were mass-produced, and I love them both. It’s not that I think everything is made by hand is necessarily better…except pie; homemade pie is always better.

What I appreciate is craftsmanship. I love the look and feel of a handmade saddle. I love the sound of a gutsy guitar solo. The deep, robust taste of my home-cooked soup. Perhaps most of all, I love a well-crafted garden.

Thought I might share just a few of my favorite well-crafted garden creations…

Below, left: Starting small, side-by-side pots planted with Impatiens become one floral form. Below, right: I painted an old quad tire purple…ahem, aubergine (thank you, Gary)…then playfully planted it with Persian Shield and Lollipop Plant.

I’ve known Steve Owens, owner of Bustani Plant Farm in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for years, and can attest he is a rather discriminating plantsman. He searches far and wide for plants that excel in his area. (Make plans now to visit during his limited autumn open days—September 14-October 2.) Steve is also a craftsman. Below, left: Steve’s handmade wattle fence garden. Below, right: Myrtle, begonia, and variegated corn!

Below: Steve built a display garden around an old water tank on his property. Before and after. (All Bustani photos by Steve Owens.)

Craft can be small or large. Below, left: One of my stepping stones. Below, right: My bamboo shroud for the Cave Grotto at Chandor Gardens.

Continued Below

It’s harder than you’d think to create an artificial waterfall that looks truly real.

Below, left: My favorite little waterfall anywhere…at the Dallas Arboretum. Below, right: The entrance waterfall at Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford, Illinois.

Below: The entire Anderson Japanese Garden is exquisitely crafted. What a joy!

While almost everyone already knows what the front of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house looks like, fewer folks are familiar with the pool at the guest house just up the hill (left), or the fastidious detail given to everything on the property, including this little seating wall (right).

I know that sculpted trees are not everyone’s thang, but I enjoy them. This little front yard live oak in Longview, Texas (below, left) pays homage to the tree sculpting performed in almost every public jardin in Mexico, including the main square in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (below, right).

Also in Mexico. Below, left: a gas station proudly features sculpted fig trees. Below, right: An incredibly well-crafted drystack wall, built without concrete or shaping stones, along a sidestreet in Mani, Yucatán.

Construction was not quite complete when I visited this mind-blowingly organic and botanically-accurate home near San Miguel de Allende in 2013. (The roof on that seating area at left is a nightshade blossom!) Formally named Ranchito Cascabel, but more affectionately called Timmyland, its outlandish forms belie the creative craftsmanship it took to build this magnificent compound. For more photos, google “Timmyland.”

Perhaps the most colorful craftsmanship on the planet is created by Dale Chihuly, whose installations into gardens began in 2001 with his Garden Cycle exhibition at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory. These photos were taken at the Dallas Arboretum on May 11, 2012—heavy rain had scattered every guest as I entered with a camera in one hand and an umbrella in the other. It was the only time I have ever visited the Arboretum completely by myself…though Tucker Reed and a few other staff came by on golf carts to see if I was okay, after they saw me dancing and laughing in a delirium of delight.

Just my biased opinion here, but Chihuly glass is most at home in a garden.

The Eugenia Leftwich Palmer Fern Dell at the Dallas Arboretum is normally a mysteriously beautiful place, but add a little Chihuly glass and presto…magic!

Click image for larger view.

And finally…I made a trip to California in 1989 to buy beer…oh, and visit some trees. Yes, I saw the redwoods, but my main goal was to see Axel Erlandson’s Circus Trees in Gilroy, California. I had heard that a visionary plantsman named Michael Bonfante saved them from ruin. By the time I saw them, they had already been dug and boxed— but there they were…and I went gaga! Of the original 70+ trees produced by Erlandson before he died in 1964, 25 are still alive and well at Gilroy Gardens…including my favorite below, The Basket Tree. And yes, that’s me.

FYI—With a little community support, I hope to plant some “Circus Trees” at the Longview Arboretum this fall.

Click image for larger view.


Mark your calendars for the Longview Arboretum’s—
—Fall ROOTS Concert Series…Thursday nights; September 30 to October 28!
—Fabulous Pop Up Party…Food, Fun, Friends, and Frivolity! Friday, October 8!
—Our 2nd annual Birthday Bash on November 13! Free family fun!
For more details, go to

Come see me in beautiful Nacogdoches! I will be giving my best program, “Peace, Love, & Milagros” at 9:30am on Friday, October 1 at the AgriLife Extension Office downtown (203 West Main Street). Event is free and open to the public. Put it on your calendar now…and I will see you then!

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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