Dancing With the March Hare – by Tom Spencer / Soul of the Garden


In Austin, March is a month of gardening exuberance and it’s hard not to get caught up in the rush of the season. Everything seems to be exploding with color and new growth, and the nurseries are loaded for hare. The March Hare that is… the ancient Celtic symbol of fertility and bounty gone mad (and progenitor of the Easter bunny.) I think that as gardeners who suffer through the heat, drought, and other indignities heaped upon those who call themselves Texans, we owe ourselves at least one mad fling with the hare. Before you kick up your heels, however, remember that what starts as a party in the nursery often ends up as a hangover in the garden.


I’ve gone overboard a few times in spring’s past, and I’ve learned a few hard lessons as a result. So, what follows is a short list of personal garden delusions and one down home indulgence. Maybe by sharing these horticultural horrors, and a favorite happy-ending, I can help prolong the spring in your step.


First a few cautionary tales…


Never, ever delude yourself into believing that you can control any species of vine that a salesman refers to as being “vigorous”. Japanese honeysuckle may smell sweet in the springtime air, and trumpet vine may attract humming birds galore- but they both require a degree of vigilance that borders on the maniacal (especially if planted near a tree or fence.) In fact, trumpet vine, the sneakier of the two, might some day abduct your first born if you’re foolish enough to invite it home for your spring fling. Just say no, or be prepared to pay the ransom.


Another phrase that should trigger alarms is “low maintenance.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with anything that’s low maintenance, but what we really hear is “NO maintenance.” Typically, if something strikes our fancy, say the latest salvia hybrid, and the salesman whispers something soothing about how easy it is to care for, do not assume that it will water itself. That hasn’t happened yet in my garden, though, on occasion, I think I actually talked myself into believing it would. Wake up and smell the water bills! We may be dancing with the hare now, but the dog days of August lurk just around the corner.


I think that one of the biggest delusions that we face is the belief that we will find the perfect plant. Believe me, no plant is perfect- though there are bound to be many that are perfect for you. You just have to be clear-eyed about their strengths and weaknesses, not to mention your own expectations.


One of my favorite plants, one that I recommend to people all of the time, is slow growing, hard to find, and prone to a brief spell of winter ugliness (faded leaves that refuse to fall). Despite those failings, to me, it is still perfect. It’s called the “Lacey” or “Blue” Oak. A native to the far reaches of the hill country, this little oak has many virtues: it is extremely drought tolerant, oak wilt resistant, and often has great fall color. Best of all, it’s new foliage has a bright red hue that resembles flowers from a distance, and as summer approaches the leaves mellow to a unique smoky blue.


Should you invite Lacey Oak to your garden party? Well, that depends. I think of this plant as being perfect, in part, because I associate it with many fine memories of the western fringe of the hill country where it grows. I’m reminded of the cool waters Frio River and the rugged canyons of Lost Maples State Park whenever I see one. But there I go again, getting lost in garden reverie and the madness of the season.


What’s a gardener to do? Oh hell, I say throw caution to the wind. March only comes once a year. Go ahead, dream of perfection! Dare to be vigorous, even high maintenance! Let that wild hare grow!



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