Native Son: My Favorite Garden

People ask me all the time… ”What’s your favorite garden?” That’s ridiculous, of course. It’s like asking to choose between a perfect ribeye steak, Junior Yokum’s home grown corn, Barbara McClellan’s Dutch apple pie, Lynn Sperry’s chicken casserole, and a fresh-off-the-tree peach that explodes with juice when you bite it.

But I do have favorite places to restore and center myself. The big one is Longwood Gardens, but that’s in Pennsylvania. Luckily, I have a place in nearby Lakeside, Texas, that brings me peace and rekindles my spirit. Let’s take a little tour…

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Shrouded by a dense tree canopy, the front entrance is “guarded” by twin pillars playfully capped with mushroom finials. I love how this portal takes us from a richly planted informal garden into a formal courtyard.

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A Ligularia collection thrives in dense shade. Courtyard pots provide portable color.

Courtyard interior, including that darn fountain that never works. Over time, I have grown to love this dry fountain … it reminds me to accept the world as it is, not how I want it to be. At right, Yuccas share space with Coleus and Begonias … crazy plant combinations that somehow work.

Around back, a saltwater pool, outdoor kitchen, and plenty of seating make entertaining a breeze. The hand-crafted stonework is simply beautiful. Small items like dishes and containers are souvenirs from travels to exotic places.

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I absolutely LOVE this carpet of silver Dichondra, and how it spills like an overflowing fountain. I also love knowing that this drives some Type A people crazy. ALL containers are planted with xeric plants.

The same spot; different years. Containers make it easy to change or evolve any garden.

I love surprises … and who doesn’t?
Smooth granite boulders anchor a corner. The interplay between native and exotic plants is everywhere … by mid-summer, this native Coralberry gets shade from the big-leafed Hoja Santo.

I find it amazing that digital cameras can never really capture the color of Cardoon blossoms. The true-blue flowers of Sky Vine (Thunbergia laurifolia) bring magic to the garden … until somebody kills it. (Inside joke)

At the risk of personal embarrassment, I present a few pics of “The Orange Party.” I had no idea how many ladies have been waiting their entire lives for the opportunity to paint a man’s fingernails … and toenails. (I will never forget the look on my father’s face when his big ol’ hairy son visited with painted nails … you would have thought his house burned down.)

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This mystery garden is the home of my good friends, Richard Hartman and Ben Cortez. I have known Richard since 1986, when we both worked at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.

This little article is dedicated to the memory of Shnooty, who put down more footprints in this garden than anyone else.


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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