Friday, July 27, 2012

Firebush



 It is always good to see old friends. The same delight I feel in the company of the people who share part of our history, holds true for plants that have been part of our garden, present and past.
    When we moved from New Orleans to Arizona, oh so many years ago, we were astonished to find old favorites growing there. We natively considered Phoenix so different from New Orleans that we expected to see only new, as-yet unknown, plants. It wasn’t as true as we thought.
    This time around we resettled from Arizona to South Texas where we expected the opposite; here we knew we would find plenty of plants in common between the two gardens. After all, some of the most reliable ornamentals in the desert, Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), Texas rangers (Leucophyllum spp.), and red hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora) just to name a few, are Texas natives. But it was an old favorite, firebush (Hamelia patens), living happily along the long garage wall that thrilled me.
    I have been enamored of this shrub since I first sold it in Phoenix many years ago. It didn’t catch on all that well there. It had the reputation of being cold intolerant which certainly was the case when it was young, in a container, or in a growing yard on the outer reaches of town. But once it grew up and settled in it was spectacular. I had one in our Arizona garden for many years until it finally died from the after effects of the wicked freeze of 2007 and a constricted space for its roots.
    Cold tolerance is a multi-faceted issue in plants. Although my Arizona firebush declined and ultimately died in the devastation of that record freeze, I find large plants all over South Texas, place that often gets much colder than Phoenix.
    The difference may be in the overall growing conditions. Here subtropical species such as firebush, grow quickly in the hot, humid summer. With regular summer rainfall or watering, they grow to be large shrubs quickly. Therefore, when a hard freeze does occur, they have the hefty root system and large stems to withstand it, and rely on their rapid summer growth to restore the plant completely.
    The line of firebush in our new garden looked atrocious when we got here. They had been living more or less on natural rainfall, which was scarce that year, and it showed. There were nine of them; some were stick dead, some were more dead than alive, and a few showed signs of recovery once we watered them thoroughly. Eventually, Gary took out all but three and began to water them regularly.
    Now, two months later, they are in full bloom with sprays of spiky orange flowers. The hummingbirds of the neighborhood are delighted.
    We consider these plants to be the first stab at the creation of a colorful, lush perennial planting in this side yard. The exposure calls for rugged, heat and drought tolerant choices and these firebush satisfy that criteria as well as look inviting from the street.
    Just like those beloved friends who know so much of your past, this delightful reminder of another time and another garden, is right on the spot to help us establish our new garden life.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bringing em home


Moving is never easy. When we coupled the upheaval, the sad goodbyes, and the complete destruction of daily life with the relocation of over 600 plants, I am reminded of that scoundrel Sisyphus’ punishment to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it fall down each time he almost reached the top.
    Shifting our plants from their tidy little shadehouse in Arizona, to their crooked but larger shadehouse in Shelby County, Texas began last October. In a fit of kindness, which we shall never be able to repay, eight extraordinary friends showed up to haul them out of the yard and load them into a massive Penske truck. The next day, we took off to our new life in a caravan; Gary drove the gargantuan yellow truck while I followed like a lamprey in the little grey car.

 The trip was remarkably uneventful, despite El Paso traffic and a small load shift. The unloading went well. The gang of plants have been in East Texas for about 8 months and we are getting ready to load them all up again, and bring them here to their new permanent home. And now you can go ahead and say it - WHY?
  Its like this; they are simply the touchstones of our lives. We miss them dreadfully in our new home. The new South Texas garden is virtually blank, which has its own rewards. Yet it feels barren, desolate, and unhealthy when we look out and there is no array of plants, potted and otherwise, to look at, worry over, make plans for.
    Frankly, we need them, they give grace and focus to our lives.  They are the string that holds the remembrances of when or where we got them, of who handed them over or pointed us toward them. They are the ticket to the memories of our life together. They are an eternal reminder of a slew of great friends and colleagues, living and dead. And now they are the unfocused beacon pointing into the wilderness of our new life.

Most of them are scheduled for long overdue planting. We have pledged that all the palms and yuccas are going in the ground. They will be much happier and planting them marks the first glimmer of a plan to shape of this garden into one that reflects our interests. These refugees will be the first installment of gardening on the dry side with a South Texas twist.
    So, despite the agony of another truck loading and unloading (just us chickens this time around), with a drive that is mercifully two days shorter than the last, we are going to do it all over again.

And we are thrilled.