The Evolution of Peckerwood Garden

Founded by artist John G. Fairey in the early 1970’s. Peckerwood Garden has been open to the public since 1998 under the auspices of the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation, which manages the garden and offers educational programs.

In 2008, the Foundation purchased the adjacent nursery property, which will ultimately be the center for research, education, and public programs at Peckerwood.

In 2016, John Fairey donated the property to the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation and Peckerwood Garden became a public garden.  We welcome support from the public as we make this transition and create a significant educational center for horticulture, conservation, art, and recreation here at Peckerwood Garden. Just 40 miles from the edge of Houston, the garden is an oasis and retreat, a conserved green space protecting a valuable collection of plants, a visual delight for gardeners and those who love art and beauty. It is truly a garden for the 21st century. Please join us as a member of the Friends of Peckerwood and help us sustain and develop John Fairey’s vision for the future.

“The Beginings”

Peckerwood Garden began in 1971, when an artist named John Gaston Fairey bought seven acres of land in Hempstead, Texas. Over time, as he developed a passion for gardening, he expanded the property to 39 acres, including the original site of Yucca Do Nursery.

He named it Peckerwood Garden after the plantation in Auntie Mame and for the woodpeckers that frequent the property.

“Garden Challenges”

Peckerwood Garden has experienced a variety of challenges over the years, including drought and heavy storms. In 1983, a tornado tore through the property, uprooting mature trees and causing widespread destruction. But Fairey realized that the damage created new design opportunities, and he spent the next several years redesigning the garden into separate yet connected spaces, and adding new varieties of trees and understory plants in new combinations. Some of his “experiments” thrived, while others failed, and through trial and error he learned much about the conditions that various plants needed to grow.

“Expeditions to Mexico”

In 1988, Fairey embarked on an adventure that would have a profound impact on him and on Peckerwood Garden: he accompanied famous Texas plantsman Lynn Lowrey on a trip to the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico to collect seeds and cuttings from rare and endangered plants. In the years that followed that initial trip, he made almost 100 more collecting expeditions, each time collecting more plant materials and inspiration for his garden. The experience of discovering new plants in the wild, then experimenting with their cultivation, profoundly influenced Fairey and his approach to garden design.

“Garden Conservancy Partnership”

In 1998, Peckerwood Garden entered a partnership with the Garden Conservancy, a national organization devoted to preserving America’s exceptional gardens for the public’s education and enjoyment. With guidance and support from the Garden Conservancy, the nonprofit Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation was established in 1998 to preserve the garden for the future and to further its educational and conservation projects.

The Garden Conservancy maintains the Conservation Easement, helping the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation protect the original garden and the vision of John Fairey in perpetuity.

“A Unique and Important Place”

Peckerwood Garden has been widely acclaimed for the originality of its design, the breadth of its collections, and its education and conservation programs. The garden features an extraordinary variety of plants that are well-suited to the Houston area’s climate, including agaves, magnolias, oaks, and many other species collected by John Fairey and his colleagues during their plant expeditions in Mexico.

The garden features more than 3,000 plants from Mexico, Asia, and the United States, many of which are no longer found in the wild. Moreover, the garden continues to evolve over time. As Fairey once explained, “With each addition and change, new problems arise to be solved, resulting in the evolution of the garden both visually and conceptually.”

When situating plants in the garden, Fairey contemplates not just the interaction with other plants, but also the play of light on the leaves, wind, and other factors. During the hot summer months, silver and blue-green foliage provide a cooling effect, and many of the plants shimmer in the wind. His highly innovative combinations of color and texture have inspired countless gardeners not just from Texas but far beyond. As one author noted, “John has expanded the palette of plants for gardeners in the South and Southeast… He is continually experimenting with plants and treating his garden as an artist’s canvas on which he paints with light, foliage, and even the wind.”

From the outset, Fairey was committed not just to creating a beautiful garden full of unique and rare plants, but also to sharing seeds, plants, research, and knowledge with nurseries, research institutions, and the public. Although Peckerwood was a private garden, it was open to the public on select weekends and by private tours year round. Peckerwood Garden is now open all year on scheduled days, see the calendar for details. A variety of plants – including many of those on display throughout the garden – are available for sale at the onsite nursery

Over the years, a great many conservationists, ecologists, botanists, horticulturalists, and naturalists have come to Peckerwood Garden to view and study plant life. In addition, Fairey and his colleagues have shared plant materials and collaborated with experts from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Santa Cruz, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, North Carolina State University, and Cholipo Arboretum Foundation in Korea, among others. The garden has also been made available to students and faculty from the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, and Rice University for joint research projects, seminars, classes, and internships.

“Key Features”
  • It is a pioneering garden, where other gardeners can learn about new plants and cultivation methods. This living trial garden shows the needs and habits of a wide range of Mexican as well as Asian plants that are little known to Texas and U.S. gardeners.
  • The garden’s unique design has influenced landscape architects, designers, and horticulturists from across the country and around the world. It encourages other gardeners to expand their definition of what constitutes a beautiful landscape to include design features that are consistent with Texas plants and climate.
  • It contains many examples of threatened species that are no longer found in the wild.
  • It provides a cultural bridge between Mexico and the United States, raising awareness on both sides of the border about the importance of biodiversity and the threat of plant losses due to overgrazing, development, and other aspects of modern life.
  • It is a garden where plant experts and the public can learn about the characteristics, requirements, and hardiness of rare and unusual plants; research is ongoing.
“Climate Change”

Climate change has further increased Peckerwood Garden’s value and importance. While recent hurricanes and drought have devastated trees and plants in Texas parks and green spaces, Peckerwood Garden continues to thrive. Those responsible for the future of local parks, forests, and gardens can learn much from Peckerwood Garden about how to create gorgeous natural environments using an array of unique, heat- and drought-tolerant plants that are well suited to our climate.