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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: My First Plant Memories

By Jim Bishop.

This is the first in a continuing series of articles that chronicle Jim Bishop’s experiences with plants and the effect they have had on his life.

The first plant that I remember wasn't beautiful, anything that you would ever want grow in your garden, or even alive. It was an invasive weed brought to the U.S. by accident in a shipment of Ukrainian flax seed to South Dakota in 1877, or at least that is the story you often hear. I'm talking about the plant that by the mid-1950's had become emblematic of the high plains, the tumbleweed. It was 1958 we were living in Monahans, Texas. We moved every 2 years or so as my father, a civil engineer, worked on power plant construction that was occurring trying to keep up with the rapid growth in electricity demand in post-World War II baby-boom America. My parents would have preferred to have lived in Midland (where oil company executives lived) or even Odessa (where oil roughnecks lived) but there was housing shortage and we weren't staying long, so they had to settle for shotgun shack in less attractive Monahans. Years later in high school I'd have a friend that was also from the area. She described the area as so barren that people often mistook the 3 trees in their front yard as a roadside park and they would have to regularly chaise away the picnickers. My mother would recollect that if it didn't have thorn on it, it wouldn't grow in Monahans.

Anyway back to tumbleweeds and my first plant memory. In the fall, when the winds from the northwest would blow, dead tumbleweeds would break free of their roots and roll across the high plains to spread their seeds. They invariably ended up coming to rest against anything that stopped them, such as fence or the side of a house. So one of my first memories was of my father setting the tumbleweeds 'free' to continue rolling before they dropped all of their seeds against the side of the house.

Fortunately, my parents (neither from Texas) knew there was more to be seen in the southwest than endless horizons, frightening hail storms and oil wells. They bought a Shasta trailer-camper and on long weekends and our annual two-week car vacation we’d head off to see the sights. The only trip that I remember was to Yosemite. We visited the Mariposa grove and like everyone else drove through the Wawona Tree - a giant Sequoia that had a tunnel cut through the middle back in 1881. The trailer got stuck and dad had to deflate the tires on the trailer to fit it through the tree. The Wawona tree fell down in a storm in 1969.

So, my first two plants memories represent polar opposites in the world of Horticulture. One became the emblem of how “civilization” forever changed the high plains; the other became the emblem of the Sierra Club and America’s attempt to save natural landscapes for future generations.

Luckily, our stay in west Texas was short lived and my encounters with plants would improve dramatically over the years; until today being fortunate enough to live in wonderfully horticulturally diverse Southern California and serve as president of the San Diego Horticultural Society. My horticultural experiences will get better than tumbleweeds

Jim Bishop has been a member of San Diego Horticultural Society since its first meeting and was elected SDHS President in August 2011.

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