Have you ever been on a tour at Peckerwood and wondered what all those other intriguing plants are that weren’t covered by the docent? Or perhaps you are a docent-in-training and are overwhelmed with the wealth of species to learn? One of the most critical features of a botanical garden is to have the plants clearly identified, and it has long been a goal to get all the plants at Peckerwood labeled for easy reference. After much research and advice from others, we’ve settled on metal markers from Kinkaid Plant Markers http://www.kinkaidplantmarkers.com.
These stainless steel tags won’t shatter when hit by a weed eater or be gnawed on by squirrels like the plastic engraved tags. They are surprisingly economical, with the label being generated by a Brother label maker, which is weather/UV resistant for many years. The twin-prong stake design prevents rotating in the ground, keeping the label always facing in the right direction. If you have a plant collection in need of attractive labels (who doesn’t?) this is by far the best option. They provide discounts for orders from garden clubs too! We’ve started labeling key plants along the main tour routes and will expand from there. This is a major advancement for Peckerwood!
On the subject of winter interest, one unusual conifer demands attention this time of year. During warmer months, the upright Japanese plum yew selection Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ leaves observers wondering why a dark green plant has such a name. Only after a few late fall cold snaps will the show really start, when the outer foliage is gilded with bright yellow highlights and contrasts sharply with the dark green inner needles. This winter coloration is produced through an interesting process called “photoinhibition”. During winter when the plants are dormant and physiological functions are slowed down, they undergo a temporary change that allows them to deal with excessive sunlight that would normally be utilized for photosynthesis during the warmer months of the year. This change of color is not to be confused with fall color on deciduous trees, as these colored needles will not fall off. On the subject of winter interest, one unusual conifer demands attention this time of year. During warmer months, the upright Japanese plum yew selection Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ leaves observers wondering why a dark green plant has such a name. Only after a few late fall cold snaps will the show really start, when the outer foliage is gilded with bright yellow highlights and contrasts sharply with the dark green inner needles. This winter coloration is produced through an interesting process called “photoinhibition”. During winter when the plants are dormant and physiological functions are slowed down, they undergo a temporary change that allows them to deal with excessive sunlight that would normally be utilized for photosynthesis during the warmer months of the year. This change of color is not to be confused with fall color on deciduous trees, as these colored needles will not fall off.
Many conifers will show photoinhibition to a slight degree if conditions are consistently cold, appearing in winter as light green to slightly golden, or in some specie bronze, brown or reddish purple. Even loblolly pines will have a slight, barely noticeable light green to gold hue after some cold weather. However, certain rare individuals will display photoinhibition to an excessive degree, visually appearing a bright shocking gold, and these notable examples become popular winter garden subjects. There are several cultivars of pines, hemlocks, firs and spruces that are as yellow as a school bus in winter, then revert back to normal green in summer.
Unfortunately there are few of these selections that are adaptable to southeast Texas, or they will thrive but simply don’t receive enough chilling to attain the coloration in USDA zones 8-9. Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ is one of the few that will develop color in winter in this area, most prominently in the inland sections away from the warming influence of the gulf. Though plum yews are most often utilized in shady garden settings, most will also happily take nearly full sun but might require a little more irrigation. In order for ‘Korean Gold’ to attain the best winter color it will require this sort of open exposed conditions. In sheltered areas it will remain plain green, no different than the regular form of upright (fastigiate) C. harringtoniana.
Senecio aschenbornianus was a new one for me upon starting here last month. I had grown many other members of this genus from North American natives, South African succulent species, as well as Asian representatives too. I was quite drawn to the color and shape of the blue/gray foliage which somewhat resembled a shrunken oak leaf hydrangea. The multi-stemmed shrub held this beautiful evergreen foliage in a naturally dense manner. Though it looks very tender, the plant is remarkably hardy in our area, without any blemished leaves through the several freezes we’ve had. Normally walking around with my head to the ground looking at every plant I am passing, I was stopped in my tracks yesterday by a sudden sweet fragrance that I couldn’t immediately place. Prying my eyes up to survey the surroundings for the source resulted in an instant visual impact of school-bus yellow mounds of Johns grouping of three plants. The buds that had been on the plant since January had all suddenly opened seemingly overnight. During one of my always-enlightening walks in the garden with John, I had remarked on my great appreciation for this plant based on foliage alone, figuring the flowers would be simply an added bonus. He mentioned not collecting it for years as it was “everywhere” in Mexico, and being so abundant it was just seemingly less of a priority while out searching for the few-and-far-between treasures. Fortunately he did finally collect it and now I can’t wait to propagate it for others to enjoy as much as I have. John has grown it in the dappled sunlight of a high overhead tree canopy and has endured zone 8b winters like a champ. It is being grown in a well-drained setting with supplemental irrigation only when necessary and seems pretty ironclad once established. Check in later this year for this plant’s availability in our nursery.
Congratulations to John Fairey upon winning the American Horticultural Society‘s prestigious Liberty Hyde Bailey Award. The award recognizes individuals who have made siginficant lifetime contributions to at least three of the following horticultural fields: teaching, research, communications, plant exploration, administration, art, business, and leadership.
The 2016 awards will be presented on the evening of
June 2 during the Great American Gardeners Awards Ceremony at River Farm, the AHS’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
Fairey has been creating beauty at Peckerwood Garden since 1971, when he purchased the first seven acres of what has expanded to thirty-nine. With more than 3,000 species of plants, many rare and endangered, Peckerwood is the consummate plant collector’s garden.
Over the years, Fairey has been recognized for his lifetime contributions. In 2013, the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College awarded him the Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal for his “outstanding national contribution to the science and art of gardening.” John was also named a “Place Maker” by the Foundation for Landscape Studies, an award that will be presented in New York City in early May.
Peckerwood Garden, located in Hempstead, Texas, has been a Garden Conservancy partner since 1998. It is celebrated for its unique collection of rare plants, as well as its artistry.
Sprouting New Roots: Houston Chronicle. April 8, 2016
Peckerwood Garden continues transition as founder passes his shovel to horticulturist. –By Claudia Feldman
A friend of John Fairey, one of the country’s great gardeners, once told him: “I feel sorry for your plants. I’ve never seen one not at the end of a shovel.” Fairey, 85, still gets a laugh out of the story, and he agrees. “I’ve never hesitated to move things if they’re in the wrong place.”
Recently, Fairey called on that same resolve as he completed some long-planned changes to his beloved Peckerwood Garden near Hempstead, a living laboratory of more than 3,000 rare and unusual plants from around the world.
Already he had helped cement the relationship between Peckerwood Garden and the Garden Conservancy, which helps great American gardens transition from private to public. And he’d transferred ownership from his name to the nonprofit Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation, with the provision that he be allowed to live on the property until he dies.
The final piece of the puzzle dropped into place in mid-January, when horticulturist Adam Black reported to work. The tall gardener with flowing blond hair will help carry out Fairey’s vision as long as he lives – and after.
Black, 41, is a native Floridian who grew up in the Everglades. While friends were playing video games, he was wading in the swamp.
“I’m a complete nature nerd,” Black says. “At 8, I was reading field guides and identifying plants. I can’t imagine living without them.”
Says Sarah Newbery, president of the foundation’s board, “We needed someone who is strong but also able to earn the founder’s trust. So our new director of horticulture couldn’t be so strong in terms of his own ego that he couldn’t listen and learn.”
Fairey, a painter and retired Texas A&M University professor, was looking for a very specific quality in the new horticulturist. He told Newbery he could teach someone to identify the plants at Peckerwood and how to care for them. What he couldn’t teach was passion for the job.
After a short pass at college, Black worked for reptile breeders in the pet trade, then managed the forest pathology and forest entomology laboratories at the University of Florida in Gainesville. All the while, he was collecting rare plants and cementing relationships with horticulturists around the globe.
Black was settled and happy in Florida when he learned about the job opening at Peckerwood. It sounded interesting, but he figured he wasn’t ready for a seismic change. But as the months passed and the position remained open, an old friend and mentor from Stephen F. Austin University, Dave Creech, urged Black to apply. At the same time, Creech talked to Peckerwood board members about Black.
“He’s a still-waters-run-deep type of person,” Newbery says. “Maybe he’s like a plant. He’s not the showiest flower. But the more you look at him, the more interesting and rewarding the looking becomes.”
Fairey and Black hit it off immediately, Newbery says. “The chemistry was there. They seemed to speak the same language.”
Hardy and low maintenance
Fairey bought property off FM 359, about an hour northwest of Houston, in 1971 and started creating Peckerwood Garden the same week he moved in.
His first planting – lycoris bulbs sent by his dad.
“I knew I had to get them in the ground,” Fairey says.
Back then, he taught design to first-year architecture students at A&M. Though he was and is obsessed with plants – he’s traveled the globe searching for what he calls “counterparts” to hardy Texas natives – his true love is garden design. It’s said that he paints with flowers.
“It’s about creating some sort of space, whatever space you want it to be,” Fairey says. “You don’t teach it; it comes through experience. You can help students learn to see, and you can turn them upside down mentally so they open their minds, but it has to come from within. It’s a slow process and sometimes very frustrating.”
Black, in his job just a few months, is still learning about the magical place Fairey created on roughly half of the 40-acre property, a combination of woodland and dry gardens. He has planted oaks, for example, from all over the world. Peckerwood contains 70 different types – about 170 in all.
Black’s personal favorite is a hand basin oak. “This is one all the collectors want,” he says. “The leaves are concave and the size of paper plates. Rainwater collects in them.”
A few of the other plants that Black admires as he steps a few feet into the garden: Chinese fringe trees, Australian grass trees, green goblet agave, pink flamingo grass, loropetalum (not pruned), conifers of all types, maples, dwarf loblolly pines, trilliums, meadow rue, mahonia.
Neither Fairey nor Black is big on garden doo-dads or flowers, per se. Most roses are a no. Most of the common plants found at big box stores are a no, too.
Instead, the two gardeners prize plants that are hardy and low maintenance – no matter their country of origin. They like plants with interesting foliage, texture and layers. They’re interested in canopies. In the most shaded section of the garden, tall trees, smaller trees, various bushes and ground covers keep company. The light is constantly changing, depending on the time of day, the season of the year.
Every time he walks into the garden, Black says, it looks different and he sees something new.
Not a copy
Fairey still directs the changes and improvements on the garden that he designed, planted and perfected.
But Black has more than enough work to do. With the 20 acres that are virtually untouched, Black would like to create a new entrance and develop the acreage in a way that is complementary to the existing garden but not a copy.
Also, Black hopes to develop the small nursery operation on site into a much larger business. Gardeners from across the region would jump at the chance to buy Peckerwood’s prized plants, and the money made in the nursery would help fuel the garden.
Black still has 1,000 of his own rare plants back home in Florida. He looks forward to moving them here, propagating them and sharing them with other gardens across the country. “They should be in multiple locations,” he says. “It’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket.”
Black also hopes to create a database of Peckerwood’s existing plants, offer more private tours and expand the visiting hours from occasional “open” days and special events to a more regular schedule.
And he is an ambassador of sorts. In addition to bringing plants from around the globe to Hempstead, he’s in touch with plant experts locally. Both he and Fairey want to be part of the burgeoning interest in gardens and green spaces in the Houston area.
As Black introduces himself around town, he finds himself having to explain the name “Peckerwood.” Some know the word as a disparaging term for rural white Southerners, but Fairey told Black he named his garden after the fictional southern plantation in the famous old book and movie “Auntie Mame.”
That’s the story, and both men are sticking to it.
Volunteers, join us to deepen your knowledge of Peckerwood Garden and the specific collections housed here!
Our volunteers are a key part of our work and development and these monthly training sessions allow you to develop your knowledge, connection, and experience. Join us each month for these docent training sessions.
Peckerwood Garden has been widely acclaimed for design originality, the breadth of its collections, and its education and conservation programs. Learning about these collections is an ongoing process and an excellent opportunity to deepen your knowledge of plants, design, Peckerwood Garden, and more.
Please note this is not a casual tour but a focused class on a single topic and class size is limited to 15.
About the Classes.
The class will be 1.5-2 hours and will focus on a specific topic. The goal is to deepen your understanding of that specific topic and develop your ability to share that information. These are in-depth sessions, not casual tours.
What happens after?
After these classes, volunteers may assist a docent as Second for tours on Open Day or for private tours. Volunteers may continue training to become a full docent. If interested ask Adam or Bethany.
You can be a Docent.
Interested people should not feel intimidated by the subject matter or breadth of information, these are education. This is a process and is about enjoyable but educational tours. Speak with Adam or Bethany if interested.
A Docent is a teacher, serving Peckerwood Garden and the community in the field of education. Docents are knowledgeable, enthusiastic people who act as liaisons between the Garden and the general public. Docents facilitate personal interaction, education, and enrichment between Garden visitors and the garden, artwork, specimens. They develop expertise through ongoing training, research, and education.
Peckerwood Garden is proud to partner with the Garden Conservancy to bring you the April 30, 2016 Houston Open Day, a self-guided tour of 8 private gardens in Houston and a plant sale hosted by Peckerwood Garden. This event is part of the Conservancy’s national garden visiting program, and a portion of the proceeds of this Open Day will benefit Peckerwood Garden.
Discounted ticket books for the Houston Open Day may be purchased at the Peckerwood Plant Sale, offering a savings of $16! Individual tickets are $7 per garden, discounted books are $40 for an all day pass. Tickets may also be purchased on the Garden Conservancy’s website, where you will also find extended garden descriptions.
Peckerwood Plant Sale – 1236 Studewood Street. 77008
During the Garden Conservancy Open Day event, Peckerwood Garden staff and volunteers will be hosting a special sale of plants found at Peckerwood Garden. The plants offered for sale are ideally suited to the Houston area and range from succulents to summer blooming natives. Select garden books will be available. The plant sale will take place at 1236 Studewood Street, Houston, Texas 77008 from 10:00 a.m.to 4:00 pm.
Special bonus for Houston Open Day visitors: If you bring an Open Day Garden ticket stub to Peckerwood Garden on May 8th, you will receive 2 for 1 admission, a $10 savings.
802 Woodland Street
Description: A garden planned to provide a habitat highway for birds and pollinators that celebrates the spring with wildflowers. This is a smaller Woodland Heights garden. Once the spring extravaganza is over, the perennials are the focus of this compact but impressive cottage garden.
The Art Compound
1901 West 14th Street
Houston, Texas 77008
Description: The property of a prominent artist, Dixie Friend Gay, this garden is an ongoing project by the owner and her son. The garden, home, and art studios are located on an acre of land off a tributary of White Oak Bayou in the Clark Pines neighborhood, built by the artist in 1992. The garden is a collection of native and tropical plants intermixed with beautifully placed art and found objects. Features of the garden include a beautiful mixed-media gate by the artist, artfully designed meandering plant beds and a goldfish pond.
744 West 43rd Street
Houston, Texas 77018
Description: This garden is situated on an acre and a half in the Garden Oaks neighborhood. Stepping through the garden gate into this urban Eden it is evident that a true gardener lives here. Mostly hidden from street view, this garden features a 15,000 gallon garden koi pond approximately 30 feet long, bisected a wooden bridge. Though the pond is the highlight of the garden there are also flagstone pathways curving around beautifully tended beds, planted to provide a habitat for birds, butterflies and bees. The garden features unusual collections of native and Houston-hardy plants.
2111 Bolsover Street
West University Place, Texas 77005
Description: This neo-traditional garden is located in West University Place. It is the home of prominent garden designer Cedar Baldridge. The main space of the backyard is situated around a pool and water feature, flanked by containers of citrus. Architectural features include a Chippendale trellis for the owners beloved sweet peas, beautifully detailed gates, flagstone terrace and a collection of 1940s Saltorini outdoor furniture. The planting design includes espaliered magnolias and citrus trees, a topiary holly colonnade, olive trees and cutting flowers.
No. 5 West 11th Place
Houston, Texas 77005
The recently built home of architect Dillon Kyle and Sam Lasseter is located in the gated neighborhood, West 11th Place, near the Museum District. The garden is inspired by vernacular southern gardens. The backyard garden is centered on a circular pool with brick coping set in a manicured lawn edged by repurposed brick paths and planted beds. Small raised water gardens are placed asymmetrically within the lawn area. The owners’ casual lifestyle and love of gardening is evident in planning of the outdoor spaces. An eclectic container garden is set off by a brick serpentine wall and informal seating areas with vintage furniture. A mixture of recycled pavers are set in loosely planted mixed beds.
3250 Reba Drive
Houston, Texas 77019
Description: This new garden, designed by Cedar Baldridge, surrounds a recently built Bobby McAlpine house in River Oaks. The traditional front yard and drive with lawn and foundation planting accentuates the dramatic neo-traditional vernacular architecture and beautifully detailed fence and gates. The more contemporary rear courtyard is centered around a small pool. The space includes a boxwood and seasonal flower parterre, crape myrtle screen set in gravel, a small lawn and container garden. The plant palette includes boxwood, camellias and multi-trunk Natchez crape myrtles.
505 South Third St
Bellaire, Texas 77401
Description: This Texas native garden is located in the suburban city of Bellaire. The owner’s love of the Texas Hill Country is the inspiration of this garden. An exemplary use of Houston hardy native plants in the context of a suburban setting, this garden keeps the integrity of the design while still in keeping with the neighborhood. An existing pool dictated the shape of the planting bed in the delightful rear garden. An inspired contemporary water feature was added updating the feel of the space. Mature olives in mammoth white pots anchor the expertly designed planting of the backyard.
6510 Auden Street
Southside Place, Texas 77005
Description: Part of the success of the garden in Southside Place is the juxtaposition of the owners’ contemporary art collection and the unique plant selection of the garden’s landscape architect, Mark McKinnon. Bold texture and colors are evident in the foundation planting at the front of the house. The garden has a contemporary feel. The garden was designed around a large sculpture/ water feature that is set in the large swimming pool. A shade garden with unusual plant specimens runs the length of the pool garden behind a modern shade structure. A substantial potager garden with raised vegetable beds is located on the property.
Published in the Houston Chronicle January 18, 2016: By Claudia Feldman (View original article and the full slideshow here)
Adam Black, an expert in rare, unusual and endangered plants, has been named director of horticulture at Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead.
“I look forward to working in such an important, fascinating and beautiful garden,” said Black, who comes from the Forest Pathology and Forest Entomology Laboratories at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Peckerwood, about an hour northwest of Houston, is receiving national attention for its vast collection of plants from Mexico, Asia and the United States, some of which are no longer found in the wild. Located at the convergence of three climate zones, the garden serves as a testing ground for plants that are beautiful as well as durable and suitable for the Houston area as it grows hotter, drier and also prone to flooding.
Retired Texas A&M professor John Gaston Fairey started the garden as his own in 1971. Over the years he mixed the familiar, such as magnolias and pines, with drought-resistant sun-loving plants like palms and agaves. “You just have to learn to live with these things, ” he told the Houston Chronicle last fall. “To be optimistic whatever happens.”
Today the garden has grown from 7 acres to 40 acres, including a former nursery property, and the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation manages it and offers educational programs. Peckerwood also is a preservation project of The Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving exceptional American gardens and landscapes.
“Adam not only has the expertise and experience necessary to maintain and preserve Peckerwood Garden, he also possesses a long-standing passion for plants,” said Sarah Newbery,Peckerwood’s foundation board president. “He has many ideas for developing a broader network of support and expanded offerings to garden visitors, and we are extremely excited to see those ideas come to fruition.”
To visit Peckerwood Gardens, call 979-826-3232 to set up a tour, or check the site, peckerwoodgarden.org, for information about public tours.