By Jim Bishop.
Kansas City, Missouri, is the only place I’ve lived that has 4 very distinct seasons. The winters were cold with snow, then everything would burst into bloom with the first warm days of spring. Summers were hot, humid and green with frequent thundershowers. In autumn the deciduous trees and shrubs turned brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow.
We were very excited when my father was transferred to the Kansas City area. Over spring break, we took a house hunting trip to KC. Compared to Wichita, it looked like paradise. While Kansas was still brown Missouri already had tulips, daffodils and many trees and shrubs in bloom. There seemed to be deeper sense of history, permanence, and civic pride. People were proud of their home landscaping. Public parks were
designed by landscape architects. My parents bought a house in the suburban town of Gladstone (called Happy Rock by the locals). The surrounding countryside had rolling hills, woods, picturesque pastures, many streams, ponds, small lakes, and the mighty Missouri River.
Between our house and the neighbors grew a large black walnut tree. My mother used a hammer to break open the walnuts on the garage floor and then added them to homemade vanilla ice cream. Down the hill behind the house was an undeveloped wooded area with a small stream. My younger brother and I would spend countless hours exploring the area. We found 2 arrowheads and the neighbor found a cannon ball, presumably from the Civil War. Wild redbud trees bloomed in the spring and in summer fireflies lit up the woods. In early fall sumac and poison oak turned scarlet. In the winter we’d walk on the frozen creeks and sled down the hills when the snow was deep enough.
But the best season was spring. There was a progression of flowers unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. The landscape would quickly turn from winter brown to vibrant green. The season was heralded with fragrant hyacinths and yellow forsythia, followed by tulips, white spirea and flowering trees. It concluded in May with peonies, heavy-scented lilacs and roses. Everyone acted differently and I understood the meaning of spring fever – you know - the desire to be outside immersed in nature. All of these colorful plants, unknown to me, seemed to be begging for attention.
In our yard, mother would grow the most beautiful rainbow-colored tall tulips in front of the house. In the summer on the south side of the house she grew lilies, roses and zinnias. At the edge of the lot she would grow tomatoes. Knowing it was unlikely we’d live there long enough to see them mature; she planted fruit and maple trees in the lawn.
My father was born in and grew up in Branson, Missouri. We frequently visited his mother there. The drive through the Missouri countryside with old red barns and pastoral farms looked like Currier and Ives paintings come to life. As you approach Branson, the hills became taller and more wooded. My grandmother owned a small souvenir shop on Lake Taneycomo where she hand-colored and sold postcards and photos of the Ozarks taken by her husband in the 1920’s. After my grandfather’s sudden death in 1925, she ended up owning a sizable part of downtown Branson. Over the years she would sell off parcels…but it would all be gone before the re-birth of Branson with country music and all that followed.
My grandmother only had one flowering plant in her yard, four o’clocks, Mirabilis jalapa. They weren’t much…but they were fun to watch open each afternoon. However, a neighbor had a gigantic vegetable garden with towering tomatoes, corn and squash. She grew giant beefsteak tomatoes that were the size of grapefruit and tasted fantastic.
The lake was just down the hill from her house and was set in a narrow wooded valley with a cliff on the far side. The lake was very cold because the dam that formed the lake was inoperable so the warm water lake flowed over the top. Upstream Table Rock Dam pulled cold water from the depths of the lake and fed it into Taneycomo. Rarely reaching 50 degrees the lake was too cold for swimming, but perfect for trout. On a balmy summer evening, my brothers and I took rented paddle boats out on the lake and watched the summer fog rise up from the cold clear water. That night we’d be awakened by the sound of thunder echoing through the Ozark Mountains.
Jim Bishop has been a member of San Diego Horticultural Society since its first meeting and was elected SDHS President in August 2011.