Welcome, Spring!Posted on : April 6, 2015
We were expecting you and you didn’t disappoint. March was a huge month for me. First, it signaled the end of a pesky winter. This past winter certainly wasn’t epic, but like all winters, it had long worn out its welcome. After a rather timid start, it gradually worked its way around to several snow and ice storms along with the habitual late killing freezes. This year the blooms and buds on my experimental lilac collection took the brunt of it.
I vacillate on whether I love spring or fall best. After all, they both offer resurrection after several months of death and dormancy. While fall rewards me with spider lilies, rain lilies, and oxblood lilies, spring brings me my much-loved narcissus, daffodils, and jonquils.
Most of my bulbs are old fashioned pass-a-long sorts that I’ve collected from old homeplaces nearby. They tend to be early bloomers. On average, they peak around the last weekend of February, although they have peaked in late January before. This year, thanks to the late winter cold snaps, they peaked in March. And though I’m trying to curtail my travel these days, I got carried away and went to visit two other Narcissus collections, each far more grand than my own. I’ve always made a habit of going to experience visions that I’d like to create one day. I live for inspiration.
The most important aspect of March each year is my week-long vacation for spring break. Although I don’t teach anymore, I do get most of the same university holidays. For the last decade, spring break means controlled burns for me. I use prescribed fire on both my young, evolving pine savanna behind my house, as well as my recreated tall grass prairie at Big Momma’s just up the road. The annual fires serve as herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide, while promoting habitat for wildlife. Thanks to lightning strikes and later Native Americans and early settlers, any place in the South that didn’t stay wet, evolved to not only tolerate fire but even require it. Another important reason I burn is to eliminate branches, needles, and dead grass that could lead to a catastrophic fire if accidentally ignited during the summer. Although many fear flames, fire lanes, accurately administered slow moving back fires, and a spray tank full of water–all used properly during a period of the year when everything is green and lush—make my annual burns rather uneventful and even pleasant.
Spring break also brought a visit from my old friend and mentor Dr. Jerry Parsons. Jerry was a long time vegetable specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension in San Antonio. He drove four hundred miles both ways to bring me Tycoon tomato transplants for my home garden and our SFA Gardens annual spring plant sale. Dr. Parsons has conducted spring and fall tomato trials in Texas for more than 30 years. He’s done it so long now that the worst things in his trials are better than the favorites that most folks grow. In addition to the highly productive and tasty Tycoon, I also planted Bobcat, the winner of last year’s trials. And though I’m not a big fresh tomato eater, my family and friends most certainly are. We obnoxious gardeners need all the peace offerings we can grow.
The final weekend of spring break found me speaking at The Arbor Gate on the assorted plants that I’ve introduced to home gardens and the nursery trade. Despite the fact that it was cool and trying to rain, an enthusiastic little crowd showed up to hear me babble. As always, The Arbor Gate didn’t disappoint with an amazing selection of plants, art, and supplies. If there’s a better nursery in the state, I haven’t seen it. Thank you Miss Beverly and Co. for making all our gardeners healthier and happier.
In addition to fire and flowers, every March has me anticipating other spring beauties as well, including butterflies. March 14 brought my first little orange falcate, March 15 my first tiger swallowtail and dainty spring azure, and March 22 my first zebra swallowtail. Zebras are my very favorite butterfly and I long for the first sighting every year. Though the spring crop is smaller and less showy than the later generations, I breathe a healing helping of spring air when I glimpse the first one zigzagging about.
Spring break also saw me feverishly trying to finish my contributions to a book on rose rustlers for Texas A&M Press. As gardeners and educators, co-author Dr. William C. Welch and I both maintain busy spring schedules; so sitting at the computer pecking away, isn’t very enjoyable or even very feasible.
As much as I enjoyed the flowers and butterflies of March, I have to admit the highlight of the month was a guided trip to Boykin Springs in the Angelina National Forest to see beautiful, fire maintained longleaf pines and my first sightings ever of the endangered red cockaded woodpecker and Bachman’s sparrow. Both only live in old growth, fire maintained pine savannas—the kind we used to have in East Texas as part of the original 90 million acres stretching from here to the East Coast. Sadly, less than 3 million acres remain in America with only tiny remnants in Texas. With the exception of the more than likely extinct ivory billed woodpecker, the noisy little red cockaded woodpecker was the last of our 8 native species of East Texas woodpeckers that I hadn’t ever laid eyes or ears on. It was a trip of a lifetime and I’ll remember it forever.
The tail end of the month had me scrambling at work to prepare for our big April 11 SFA Gardens annual spring plant sale. As it’s the primary source of operating income for the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches where I work, it’s essential to pull off a successful one. If there’s any doubt that I love gardening follow me home from a hectic busy day at work where I pick up my tools and do the same thing that I did all day.
Until next month, enjoy spring while you can, because as we all know, in Texas it can last for three months or three days! -Greg-
Written by Greg Grant
Greg Grant is an award-winning horticulturist, conservationist, and writer from Tyler, 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 tends his grandparent’s restored dogtrot farmhouse, his Rebel Eloy Emanis Pine Savanna and Bird Sanctuary, and terriers Acer, Lizzie, Mollie, and Sonny Boy Desalvo Fontenot.