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A Month to Remember
Posted on : September 11, 2017

My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones, homes, gardens, animals, and dreams to Hurricane Harvey. Once again, our proximity to the Southwest, the Gulf, and the Tropics, put us in the record books…and not in a good way. Texas now claims (by far) the deadliest storm in U.S. history (Galveston in 1900 with 8,000-12,000 dead), the greatest 24-hour rainfall in U.S. history (Tropical Storm Claudette in 1979 with 43 inches), and the greatest rainfall total from a single storm (Hurricane Harvey with up to 53 inches). If we Texans are anything, we are tough and resilient.

Thank goodness, as gardeners we are programmed by nature to re-build and re-beautify. If there’s one silver lining in such a dark cloud, it’s the “hurricane lilies,” “magic lilies,” “resurrection lilies,” and “rain lilies” that follow these deep soakings. I only got five inches at my farm from the storm, but it was more than enough to bring out my hundreds of “oxblood lilies” (also known as “schoolhouse lilies” thanks to their traditional bloom time.) All these Texas tough bulbs work on a wet dry cycle and bloom best after dry summers followed by deep saturating rainfall. Interestingly enough, all are in the amaryllis family, not in the lily family. The amaryllis family loves Texas! The lily family, not so much.

I first fell in love with oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) when I enrolled at Texas A&M University and saw an entire lawn full of them in an older College Station neighborhood. To me there’s no redder flower or more cheerful symbol of hope following hellish summers and devastating storms. This little amaryllid was purportedly introduced to Central Texas from Argentina by botanist Peter Heinrich Oberwetter. One expert said there are more oxblood lilies in Central Texas than there are in Argentina now! I started with three bulbs years ago and won’t stop until I have 3 million.

With Autumn just around the corner, I think it’s safe for me to reflect on our mild and moist summer. I never watered by little ‘El Toro’ zoysia lawn or my perennial border a single time. That’s pretty amazing. I keep harping on folks in Tyler for running their sprinklers too much and causing so many unnecessary diseases, but it mostly falls on deaf ears. Without irrigation, aerial phytophthora on periwinkles and brown patch on St. Augustine lawns would hardly exist.

Tyler has nice gardens, but none any nicer than our IDEA Garden at the Tyler Rose Garden. This garden was designed, planted, and is maintained by the Smith County Master Gardeners. Every Tuesday morning, they show up like leaf cutter ants and work away in it. It’s not large, but it is beautiful. Thankfully it’s free and open to the public. It used to be the dump pile at the Tyler Rose Garden and now it’s the prettiest little spot there.

Unfortunately, some unique combination of events and weather brought a Biblical plague of lovebugs to Deep East Texas. It lasted about five weeks. Each weekend, which seemed to be the worst, was outdone by the following weekend. They were in the air, the house, the porch, my mouth, my clothes, etc. I started out in love with them, telling folks what good pollinators they were. I ended up in therapy vowing to have my dogtrot porch and windows screened in. After all, they piled up in drifts…in my house!

Right in the middle of it, my young neighbor, Alan Mercer, came to put a new ignition on my Pappaw’s old 1950-ish John Deere Model M tractor. He tested it by driving it up and down the highway catching lovebugs in his teeth. I was on the porch the whole time with the blower trying to blow away lovebugs, like they were black snow.

I spent much of August picking peas, pears, and okra. My mom puts up all three…peas for boiling, pears for preserves, and okra for frying. I had two nice rows of purple hull peas producing about a bushel each picking, which meant I had to haul out the pea sheller to save time. Miss Lizzie insisted on riding on the pea sheller as I hauled it around in my truck. Although my Jack Russell terrier Acer ate at least a pear a day, there were still plenty left over for my mom to make pear preserves and fried pear pies. Hard canning pears are a hundred times easier to grow in most of Texas and the South than apples. They have pretty spring blooms and nice fall color as well. I’d much rather have an eating pear than a ‘Bradford’ pear.

As you know, I love bees, butterflies, and birds and take every opportunity to admire and study them. My pocket prairie continues to be a source of joy and intrigue and showed off in August with button snake root, rough gay feather, and partridge pea. False foxglove, a host for the buckeye butterfly is up next and then goldenrod, a bee feast.

A huge unexpected gift this summer was the return of red-headed woodpeckers to my little farm and woods. I learned to love them as a kid in Arcadia when they’d hang out in the old post oaks there. Now they are back, flitting here and there and occasionally even posing for pictures. I love all eight of our native woodpecker species, but I must say, the true red-headed woodpecker is the most beautiful of all.

Good new! The Rose Rustlers book with Dr. Welch (Texas A&M University Press) is finally out!!! Hopefully Miss Bev will stock them at the Arbor Gate. Until next month, help your friends and neighbors out and show as much love as possible. -Greg

Written by Greg Grant

Greg Grant is an award-winning horticulturist, conservationist, and writer from Arcadia, Texas. Each month he writes an article for the Arbor Gate Blog where he is given free range to write about any topic that interests him. During the week, he is the Smith County horticulturist in Tyler for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and on the weekends, he and his wife tend Greg’s grandparent’s dogtrot farmhouse, his Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, a small cottage garden, a little flock of laying hens, four terriers, and two cats.

Garden Greg's Ramblings