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!