Native Son: From Humble Beginnings…

A few months ago, it was still just a figment of my imagination. Today, it finally received its first plants. What was an unruly drainage swale a year ago became a fledgling little Japanese garden today. And the best part…18 of the finest young people in Texas helped make it so.

The excavated arroyo was tarped to prevent erosion.

It all started when I removed several tons of cobbles that were originally installed to “assist” in stormwater drainage, but the water would never cooperate, insisting instead to always flow downhill around the cobbles instead of up and over them. Stupid water. I then came up with the concept of a fancy dry stream bed (aka “arroyo”), which would accommodate stormwater when necessary. After the trench was dug and I installed a small test section of the arroyo, I realized that it would require constant cleaning to keep it attractive…and who needs that? So, I tarped over the whole thing and got busy with other projects.

Continued Below

Untarped after 2 months.

Finally, after a few months, just when folks were starting to discuss whether the big blue tarp was an art project gone wrong, I got back to it. Took the tarp off, installed and covered twin 6-inch drainage pipes, then started planting boulders. And yes, if you want natural stone to look natural, you must carefully position and plant each boulder. And yes again, even though I had a tractor to move the boulders, I had to muscle them into final position manually. I am proud to say that I can still muscle boulders almost as well as I could 20 years ago. I am not proud to say that I came home every day feeling like I’d been mugged by Dick Butkus, Mike Tyson, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…all at once.

Installing pipes can be messy!
The newly levelled site.

Big boulders in at last, we cleared the site, brought in bedding mix, and got busy with the tiller. Boom! It started to look like a garden…finally…and just in time for the arrival of the teenage wonders.

Precision planting of dwarf mondograss.
The cut stone border goes in.

You know, there are a lot of people my age who spend a lot of their time busting the chops of today’s young people. (This has been fashionable since Socrates groused about disrespectful youth 2400 years ago.) Well, neither Socrates nor the modern grouches ever met these kids. Motivated, educated, incredibly polite, and with manners that make the Dalai Lama seem like a ruffian, these young people from Classical Conversations are simply incredible. Made me proud to be an American. Made me wonder what America could accomplish if we all worked together.

This Stone Crew rocks!
Planting and grinning!

Also made me realize that I may have forgotten a thing or two from my own upbringing. (I’ll try to work on that, Buz ‘n Lo.)

It was all smiles from beginning to the glorious end.

So, after a brief session on the mondograss planting project, they launched. Hands were digging, dirt was flying, and lively chatter filled the air like music. Some of the guys peeled off to set the chopped stone border along the walk. The project leader accepted my challenge to bring an artistic flair to the central area by teaming with two other girls to create a diagonal motif through the mondograss with stone slabs. Three hours later, 40 flats of mondograss were planted, 120 feet of stone border were installed, accent boulders were placed, and the site was as clean as a whistle. Not one sour word, not one frown. Now that I think about it, the only time I saw a cell phone was when we snapped a few photos. Life can be beautiful.

The fledgling Japanese Garden as it looks this morning. More plants are on the way. Soon this will look incredible.

My only regret was that I forgot to quote some Will Rogers for the students. I’ve always liked, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Then there’s, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Perhaps even ol’ Socrates could’ve used one: “Things ain’t what they used to be…and never were.”

Note: Classical Conversations is a home-schooling group of senior high school students from the Longview area. They joined together for a service project as a part of their school experience.


Side note: After re-reading this little essay, I notice a whole bunch of “me” and “I” in there. I certainly had help with this project. Large thanks to Tom Babin, Bruce Williams, Willie Thomas, some hard-workin’ community service volunteers, and, of course, those wunderkinds from Classical Conversations. After all, “No man is an island.” – John Donne


Just so you know… the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center is OPEN! Hours are 10am-5pm, Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday 12 noon-5pm. Come out and see us! 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 too small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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