Peckerwood Garden founder John Fairey kept meticulous records of his numerous collecting expeditions to Mexico. He recorded the date, time, and weather at each stop along winding mountain roads where he found specimens of the hundreds of plants he brought back to grow at Peckerwood Garden.
Each plant in the garden sports a metal tag referencing these coordinates; and the date of its planting in the garden. For many years, these tags have been the only reference point for identifying plants in the garden and their place of origin.
That is changing now, thanks to a generous gift from Laura Fain in honor of plantsman Will Fleming. The gift is providing seed money for an ambitious initiative to capture our plant records in a new and dynamic database tied to a GIS (Global Information System). This sophisticated mapping program will allow staff and researchers to not only learn the history of any plant, but also locate it growing in the garden today.
With more than 3000 species of plants, Peckerwood Garden is a cornucopia of botanical riches, with origins in diverse climatic zones and conditions, most grown from seed. The array of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs is representative of growing areas from Louisiana to the mountains of northern Mexico. The range of cacti and succulents, for which Peckerwood is perhaps best known, come from desert areas stretching from Texas into southern Mexico.
These plants have been tested for garden-worthiness for nearly 30 years and the information gathered about their horticultural values is as important as the botanical data represented in John’s records.
Leading our plant collections initiative is Sue Howard, a horticulturist based in Vermont who has taken up residence in the nursery house at Peckerwood Garden for the winter months. She is working closely with garden consultant Bill Noble, former preservation director at the Garden Conservancy, who has tapped into the Alliance for Public Gardens to enroll Peckerwood Garden in a pilot project using the ESRI GIS software. This program is making it possible for a select group of public gardens to use this sophisticated software at virtually no cost.
Sue is spending her days walking the garden with John, transcribing stories of the individual plants and their history, then poring over the collection journals and stacks of note cards to pull together the data behind each plant in the garden. Her first efforts have been focused on the Mexican oaks, which were documented and mapped in 2007. It was no surprise to learn that a dozen additional species had found their way into the garden since then!
Each tree is measured to determine the current caliper size, and its specific location identified for the new site map. Botanical photos of leaf, bark, flower, and seed will also be part of the database record, all shareable with botanical institutions and, one day, with the general public.
We will be updating you on this complex effort as it goes along, and hope you will join us for a presentation about the project by Sue Howard at the garden on Saturday, March 28th, in conjunction with our Open Day.
Documenting Peckerwood Garden’s plant collections through participation in ArcGIS for public gardens is an essential first step towards participating in national plant conservation programs. This step will also lead us towards making Peckerwood’s plants available for research and horticultural purposes. Documenting and sharing Peckerwood’s outstanding resources with researchers and other public gardens is an essential part of our vision for the future of the Garden.
— Bill Noble
I have been here at Peckerwood since early January and am thrilled to be part of such an interesting project in such a splendid and notable garden. Working alongside John is a pleasure, he is a wealth of information, interjected with stories of travels and beams with the pure joy of doing what he loves.
We have been updating the previously catalogued oaks, adding additions, taking leaf samples, measuring caliper, photographing each individual tree and cross referencing each with the coinciding collection trips to Mexico. The oaks are interspersed throughout the garden so every venture brings with it glimpses of spring unfolding – the Prunus mume in full bloom, Magnolias just starting and the sweet scent of Mahonia chochoca wafting through the air.
Our ArcGIS software has arrived and once up and running we begin mapping. There is a great team of people here both staff and dedicated volunteers who love this garden, I am honored to be a part of that mix.
— Sue Howard