Thursday, November 3, 2011

Purple sage memories

Enlarge this if you can to see the tiny hairs
covering the leaves and flower petals.
Every gardener knows that gardening is a way of preserving memories. Each of us has memories associating certain plants with beloved people and places. Gardeners preserve those memories with their plant choices.

I was reminded of a memory last week when my cenizo or purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) burst into bloom two weeks after recent rain.

When I entered first grade, we lived in Kermit, Texas, truly one of the state’s armpits. As I recall, it was hot, dry and dusty. Periodically dust storms would attack. Its only reason for being, as far as I could tell, was to provide my father with employment in the oil “bidness.” (We left this town after my fourth grade year, so it may not be as bad as my fourth-grade self remembers.)

But one good memory remains. I started school at Purple Sage Elementary there. I turned 7 the week after first grade began (I skipped kindergarten). I was ready to learn. Even though school has its social challenges for nerds like me, the educational challenges were mostly enjoyable. I liked school; I was good at it.

In my mind’s eye I can see a row of purple sages planted across the front of that school, brightened with lavender blooms after a rare West Texas rain.  Perhaps I associate purple sages with the advent of a new phase in my life – away from home, mother and sisters; out in the big world; in an arena in which I would be successful. I have had a soft spot for these shrubs ever since.

When we moved to the hill, my father drove up soon after wagging a cenizo dug out of his yard in North Texas, where conditions weren’t quite right. I was not ready to landscape yet, so it sat in a pot for over a year.

I finally found a spot out front in a xeric bed, semi-shaded by live oaks, tucked behind an already established yucca.  In it went, and on it has dwelled since. In this summer’s drought, its bones were showing. However, it survived the summer without supplemental water and is now blooming beautifully.

Cenizo is a southwest Texas native according to the Wildflower Research Center. It needs good drainage, likes limestone, is evergreen, blooms after rain (giving rise to another of its names – Texas barometer bush), provides nectar for butterflies and insects, survives drought and heat, and does not appeal to deer.

I have not seen any cenizos in the wild in my area, but it seems quite happy here. I’d better plant more!

Favorite spot in the garden:

I actually have three favorite places right now, but that’s not fair. I have to choose.  So I choose – this patch of new gold lantana (Lantana x hybrida ‘New Gold’). By happenstance, these three plants were put in exactly the right spot five years ago, and they have done exceedingly well. This year they have not bloomed much, but with the recent rain they have made up for lost time. Unfortunately, we may get a freeze overnight, so their glory may be short-lived. Long live the lantanas!


  1. Isn't it funny how plants can evoke such memories? I just love it when a plant jogs a memory in my mind. Your lantana are amazing! Wow!

  2. Wow, amazing how your garden has bounced back!
    I love the close-up of the cenizo.

  3. Many plants across the country are making up for lost time by having odd bloom times. I really think your lantana is pretty. You can certainly grow plants I only see as annuals here.

  4. @HG - I know - I see a whole new vein for blog posts . . .

    @Lona - Well you know, the fun thing about a blog is I get to show the best parts!

    @GWGT - It's hard to imagine lantana as an annual. It is definitely a staple of gardens here.

  5. I think experiences with plants and flowers make a huge impact upon children--and those experiences make gardeners of us when we are grown. Or perhaps they keep gardeners being children... (That might just be in my case.)

  6. I can certainly see why you chose your beautiful gold lantana as a favorite. There are so many plants in my garden that are favorites of mine. I must document them someday for posterity.