After the hottest and driest summer on record zapped lawns, shriveled shrubs and withered trees, all it took was a little rain to get ever-optimistic gardeners to scratch their itch for a little "color."
But even as pansies and snapdragons are going in the ground, experts believe that this year's frightful weather is going to hasten a landscape change across Texas as drought-dinged gardeners recalibrate their notions of what will thrive and what will die.
Laura Miller of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Tarrant County sums it up simply: "It's been a tough year to be a plant. We had a 100-degree swing between our lowest low and highest high."
The epic drought, expected to stick around into next year, is forcing many gardeners to look at their yards from a new perspective, she said.
"I see plenty of trees and shrubs around town that have died, and people are rethinking their landscape plans. We're getting a lot of calls about plants that require less than 20 inches of rain a year," she said.
But for now, nurseries say cooler weather and a little precipitation have gotten the dirt flying, as many gardeners apparently have a sunny view of weather prospects.
"It has been tough, but everybody started coming back out Monday after last weekend's rain. I think our pansy season is really going to take off," said Shawn Hampton, manager of The Flower Ranch in Southlake.
"Gardeners have been holed up all summer and they want to get out there and do something," he said. "People want some color for a change. They are dying to get their yard looking good after this terrible summer."
Not to mention a winter punctuated by frigid temperatures and lingering layers of ice and snow.
"People in this area have seen the absolute worst winter that we've ever had, and now they've seen the absolute worst summer ever," said Gary Harrell of Archie's Gardenland in Fort Worth.
"But gardeners have optimistic attitudes; we're selling a lot of color right now. Most people don't give up on their yard. They keep planting," he said.
More adaptive plants
Steve McLaughlin, whose Greenscape company maintains 600 landscapes in Fort Worth, is convinced that most people are "still in denial" about the scope of the damage from the brutal summer and what it portends.
"We're still determining what has survived. We are not yet in the Central Texas mode of landscaping," he said. "But this drought is going to start that move to more adaptive plants. It's going to be a gradual conversion. But it needs to happen."
That movement is beginning, said Bill Welch, a professor in the department of horticultural science at Texas A&M University.
"People are having to rethink what they are doing. They're looking for tougher plants. It's a healthy thing. We have to look at water use and sustainable landscapes," he said.
Part of the solution, he believes, is a return to our horticultural roots, those resilient mainstays of Grandma's Southern garden.
"If a plant has been doing well for 200 years, that tells you something," he said.
"Texas isn't an easy place to garden. I don't think we want gravel landscapes. We just need to be selective and look for things that give you better chances to do well," Welch said.
The co-author of Heirloom Gardening in the South, published in April, Welch suggests a tour of historic neighborhoods to check out old reliables like antique roses, altheas, crape myrtles and winter honeysuckle that have withstood the test of time.
But from the retail side of the plant world, Hampton and Harrell are not convinced that come hell or no water, gardeners will change their ways.
"You can call them optimistic or stubborn. People like what they like and that's what they plant," Hampton said.
And that's not such a bad thing, Miller said.
"People do form emotional attachments to certain plants. You just need to plan where you put it. People need to think about hydrozones -- putting plants with similar requirements in one zone of irrigation," she said.
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981