Native Son: Dr. Steven and Mr. Hide

There’s that old saying –
The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.
I get it. After a day worrying about keeping the Longview Arboretum up to snuff, I really don’t feel like doing much controlled gardening at home. So I don’t.

Dwarf bananas rise from a blanket of sweet alyssum at the Longview Arboretum. Click image for larger view.

You guessed it…
respectable horticulturist by day; mad scientist by night.
So, while I must share the front yard with the neighbors, the back yard has become my little science experiment … which some folks might call madness!

Simply put, I am trying to surf that razor line between sweet idealism and down to earth practicality. The basic idea is simple – it’s not about horticulture; it’s about letting what already exists on this little acre thrive. All of it … trees, critters, “weeds,” and all manner of shrubberiness (Well, it ought to be a word.) Everything is already in place…about 50/50 sun/shade; fence line is completely vegetated with … ahem … shrubberiness 15 to 20 feet deep; several fruit trees, and a grassy area about 50’ x 200’. It’s even got a vine-covered pergola, a rustic shed, and a spectacularly-populated wasp house that looks just like a Purple Martin house.

Continued Below

I only mow selected areas, and only once every two or three weeks or so. (The dogs like it more often.) Other than mowing, the only physical things I do are treat fire ants, water trees in drought, and fill the birdfeeder.

What I really do is observe. In what sequence will the pocket prairie bloom this year? Squirrels, rabbits, fox. Indigo Bunting, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Brown Thrasher, Cardinal. Watch the mimosa tree leaves fold up in early twilight. Intentionally notice the gradual change of seasons. And how a prairie absolutely glows in the moonlight.

I readily admit this kind of thing isn’t for everybody … and it probably depends upon where you live if this kind of thing even can be your kind of thing. For me, this is about learning to accept the world the way it is, not how I wish it was.

Let’s take a peek!

Above: The grapevine-draped arbor and those crazy tendrils that will search for and entwine anything to support the vine. Click images for larger view.
Tiny flowerbuds will soon enough become juicy grapes. Click image for larger view.
With Virginia creeper, the entire vine tips act like tendrils, ever-searching for something to climb.

Continued Below

Every evening, my mimosa tree folds its leaves, tips first. Click image for larger view.
The short prairie only grows to about 6 inches high. Click image for larger view.
Check out the sharp, bristle-covered stem of dewberry! Click image for larger view.
I’m guessing this yucca is at least 40 years, maybe 50. Planted about 18 feet away, this yucca slowly grew toward the light as it became shaded by other plants. Notice the snakelike trunk along the ground behind the left plant. Click image for larger view.
Remarkably supple new growth on a maple tree. Click on image for larger view.
I have always liked the way sassafras holds its leaves in a tidy pattern.
At work, I might say, “That maple has poor branch angles and a bad case of included bark.” At home, I say, “If you fall, try not to hit the shed.” Click image for larger view.
Once again, at work I might say, “Japanese honeysuckle is a terribly invasive species … kill it!” At home, I say, “You smell nice.” Click image for larger view.
Discovery is all around, whether it’s an abandoned bird nest, a cool mushroom, lichens on deadwood, or leaves with surprising undersides. Click image for larger view.
Click image for larger view.
Click image for larger view.
A rumex of some sort has lovely infructescences. Click image for larger view.
Competition for the dandelion diaspore. Click image for larger view.
I find ever-changing grass patterns fascinating. Click image for larger view.
A peek through the crape myrtles at my neighbor’s neat and tidy yard. I don’t think of one as better than the other; they’re just different. Click image for larger view.

To me, my back yard is not about laziness or giving up or going overboard on ecological sensitivity. It’s just about accepting a little piece of this world as it is. Fifteen minutes of any newscast reveals eight billion people all fussing and fighting each other for what each feels is right. At least I have found one little place to escape all of that.

Peace & Love,

PS—Say hello to UGG when you visit the Longview Arboretum.


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
Back To Top