Suddenly, vitex was everywhere.

Rarely does a rotting fence lead to an opportunity for personal growth, but that’s exactly what’s happened to me this year. We had to tear down our vine-covered wooden fence in February, and when we did, our garden—planted by our home’s previous owners and pretty much ignored by us for five-plus years—had to be ripped out, too.

Soon we had a lovely new fence, but the backyard, with its empty, bombed-out beds, looked downright depressing. Something had to be done, but what? How would know? I, with my zero years of gardening experience.

I decided to invite my mom, mother-in-law, and aunties over for brunch, where I would pick their brains, which are full of decades of experience coaxing green things to flourish.

On the appointed day, they trooped in clutching source material—Neil Sperry’s Complete Guide to Texas GardeningA Garden Book for Houston—along with a basil plant from my mom and a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers, accented with rosemary, from my aunt Annabelle.

And so it was that after a cheerful meal, we wandered the yard, brainstorming ideas about which types of plants would do well, and where. By the time they all streamed back out of the house—“you could charge by the hour,” I told Annabelle, and she so could—we had the beginnings of a plan. 

Thus began a spring and summer filled with consultations of reference material, trips to Home Depot, Buchanan’s, and Wabash, and, yes, backbreaking, sweaty labor as we planted Ligustrums, knockout roses, milkweed, a pineapple guava tree, and bougainvillea in the beds. Feeling inspired, we decided to try a raised vegetable garden, too, with tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, and, in the front yard, a purple vitex and a Texas olive tree.

Did I know what a Ligustrum even was before 2019? Certainly not. But a funny thing happened as I set about educating myself about gardening: Suddenly I saw the plants I was learning about everywhere. It felt like more yards had Ligustrums than didn’t! And how had I never noticed vitex? I had to chuckle to myself when, during a work meeting, I glanced out the window and spotted a huge one, covered in cones of vibrant purple, right across from the Houstonia House.

A world previously unknown to me, there all along, had suddenly revealed itself, reminding me that it’s never too late to learn something new. Which brings me to this month’s Continuing Education Guide, full of all kinds of worlds just waiting to be cracked: 16 fascinating Houston-area courses on everything from photography and wine to Italian and dancing. Go on, sign up! If I can learn to garden, believe me: You can do anything.

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