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Quercus glauca

This beautiful evergreen Asian oak tends to form multiple trunks bearing a dense crown of glossy green leaves with chalky blue undersides.

Peckerwood is known for its extensive oak collection, especially those from John’s Mexican collections, but we do have a variety of Asian oaks as well. A few decades ago, John imported seeds of Quercus glauca, also known as the Japanese Blue Oak or Ring-Cupped Oak. They germinated well and were offered through Yucca-do Nursery locally and via mail order, but according to John none sold, presumably due to being just too unfamiliar to collectors at that time. After sitting around for a while, they were eventually planted around the Peckerwood and Yucca-do properties. As they attained significant size, people finally began to notice what attractive evergreen trees they had become, with spreading branching structure, multiple trunks and smooth polychrome bark in shades of silver, white, light green and grey. Many did not immediately recognized these trees as oaks, being the thick, stiff glossy leaves with dark green tops and chalky blue undersides didn’t look remotely like any familiar North American oak. The spreading branching structure was especially appealing, combined with the naturally dense crown. These trees began producing seed –recognizable as a standard oak acorn, but with concentric rings encircling the cap, hence one of the common names (Ring-Cupped Oak). With mature trees to behold in the garden, and now offspring, there were now customers lined up for the opportunity to finally grow this tree that had to earn its admiration over time in the Peckerwood landscape.

Quercus Glauca

Quercus Glauca

20160421_151443I have been fortunate to see Q. glauca in Taiwan where it is native. It occurs in low elevation tropical forests that are rather dry, yet when grown in colder areas it is quite tolerant of hard freezes it would not otherwise see naturally. It does get some damage in zone 7 but excels in zone 8 to 10. It seems adaptable to any location with well-drained soil and full sun to light shade. I think the best specimens are attained in full exposure, starting out as a compact tree with a fairly upright habit, and eventually producing additional trunks that spread gracefully outward. If grown in shadier conditions, it will grow more vertical, less spreading, as it reaches for the light. Examples of both forms growing in these different conditions can be observed at Peckerwood, and both have their merits.

In March, the new growth emerges a purple-bronze color that is quite attractive, and when the tree is a little older this growth will be accompanied by hanging catkins of flowers.  Of particular note are the trees on the west side of the nursery property, as they did not receive any supplemental water in the most recent prolonged drought, yet they really never missed a beat. Taiwan was in a severe drought when I visited in early 2015, and many adjacent natives were clearly wilted and suffering while Q. glauca looked flawless.

We are sometimes offer small seedlings of this species propagated off Peckerwood’s magnificent trees– the perfect size for planting.

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Dyschoriste linearis – Snake Herb

Dyschoriste linearis

Dyschoriste-thin-leaf-form-available-in-nursery

Dyschoriste linearis

Some might expect a “plant of the month” to be some exceptionally rare and boldly attractive plant. This month I wanted to focus on a groundcover that at first glance may seem quite humble in many ways, but is in fact incredibly versatile and has a unique charm of its own. I always liked Dyschoriste after growing a Florida native species prior to my move, but assumed others would never see its attractive qualities over the more flashy options. Shortly after starting at Peckerwood, I was surprised to find that one of our most reliable volunteers, Craig Jackson, shared my appreciation of the patch of Dyschoriste linearis that John has growing along the perennial border near the south entrance to the woodland garden. I then began to see that nurseries here in Texas actually carry this plant, and soon found that, when offered in our nursery, others were attracted to it and bought it, shattering my assumptions!

Snake Herb is an evergreen Texas native that is drought tolerant, cold hardy and low maintenance, with dense, weed-suppressing foliage that looks attractive year around. Dyschoriste linearis is a highly variable plant, with leaves that can be either thin and needle-like, or slightly more

20160602_190805

Dyschoriste linearis

broad and elliptical. John’s plant is the broad-leaf form, but the linear-leaved form seems to be more common in the nursery trade. Both are equally attractive and create a low, dense mat of 8” to 12” tall evergreen stems that gradually form a tight, tidy clump. Throughout the warmer months, purple flowers resembling smaller versions of the related Ruellia are readily visible.

Naturally growing in dry, sunny spots in sandy or gravelly open areas, this plant is amazingly tolerant of neglect following establishment, after which water should only be necessary following long dry spells. The dense mat it forms tends to be compact and tight, but occasionally an errant runner will result in a random patch or two forming a short distance away from the main plant. Some may prefer to remove any satellite clumps if you are keeping a more formal, organized landscape, but for naturalizing it is simply a matter of preference. It is in no way an aggressive spreader, so it will not become something you regret planting and removal of undesired shoots easy.

South entrance to the Woodland Garden

In addition to its xeric qualities, snake herb will also grow in fertile garden soil with regular irrigation,

Quercus-oblongifolia

Quercus oblongifolia

provided there is excellent drainage and at least a fair portion of the day in full sun. Design ideas utilizing this plant include planting around bold foliage, like around the base of thick, succulent Agave leaves, or as a foreground layer in front of or in-between taller specimen perennials or low shrubs. I think its color and texture goes well with silver colored foliage. Gravel mulch around the plant really helps make the clump stand out compared with wood mulch or bare earth.

Don’t be put off by the common name “Snake Herb”, it does not attract snakes any better than other ground covers. In fact, I can’t readily find out why it has that common name. Other species elsewhere in the world, some of which form taller shrubs, have many cultural medicinal uses, and perhaps somewhere it has been used to treat snakebite. Quite possibly it is instead named for its long snakelike rhizomes which results in its ability to form a colony. Either way it is a valuable addition to any well-drained sunny landscape.

We currently have the needle-leaf form available in our nursery, but we are also rooting divisions of John’s elliptical-leaved form. Adam will be bringing a Florida collection of Dyschoriste oblongifolia to trial in Texas, and there are several other species native to the southern US to seek out in an attempt to broaden the palette of snake herb varieties that can be utilized for all their desirable qualities.

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June 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours
Calendar
What’s new in the nursery
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month

Regular events at Peckerwood not just seasonal anymore!

IMG_2324We have traditionally had a series of spring and fall open days along with a few other fundraising events during those two seasons, with little occurring during summer and winter. We at Peckerwood feel it is time to offer year-around opportunities for education and enjoyment of all the gardens has to offer. Our monthly Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours which debuted in early June are only the beginning. We are working on a schedule for open days every month starting this summer, with some modifications to these events for comfort due to weather extremes during those times. John’s garden in winter is arguably one of the most beautiful times of the year, though seldom enjoyed by most until now. Though summer can be hot, there is still much to enjoy here in the cooler shade areas. Please be watching for more information as we finalize a schedule for the upcoming months.

Another regular feature we will soon be implementing are monthly evening lectures conducted by knowledgeable Peckerwood staff and volunteers as well as local or visiting experts. Topics will include various aspects of horticulture, botany, garden design, plant collecting adventures, and many other possibilities of interest.

Please keep watching for updates to our events calendar and expect many exciting opportunities to begin in upcoming weeks.


Adam’s notes from the garden

The weather continues to be quite an issue in southeast Texas, with another round of flooding at Peckerwood that again reached near the record level experienced a month ago. Like last time, the water, fortunately rose and fell in a short period of time, resulting only in our mulch again being washed away and a few new plantings dislodged. Adolfo and crew recovered our mulch out of the shrubbery downstream for the second time, replacing it in the woodland garden with hopes this will be the last time we need to do this in the foreseeable future. The north dry garden was again under water for a period of time, and we will see if these inundations will have any slow-to-develop negative effects on these dry-loving plants in the upcoming weeks. We can only hope that the quick recession of the water did not cause any significant stress to these plants.

20160526_115256
Dr. Jason Smith observing our flowering Agave ovatifolia during his visit.

Unfortunately, it appears our friends down the road at Creekside Nursery weren’t as lucky. Aerial photos show the entire gigantic wholesale nursery engulfed by the swollen Brazos River with only the tips of the nursery stock rows sticking up out of the water. We can only hope the water recedes soon enough and all is not lost. Mercer

Arboretum and Botanic Gardens were able to open a portion of their property following April’s flood, but sadly, they flooded again and had to close. Let’s hope this devastating historic event doesn’t happen again in upcoming decades.

Quercus insignis
Quercus insignis

My old boss and fellow plant nerd Dr. Jason Smith, a forest pathologist at the University of Florida, visited during the inclement weather, and we both watched a tight circle of ominous green clouds spinning briskly directly above Peckerwood as tornado warning alerts came through on our phones. Fortunately, nothing touched down in the area, though tornados did cause significant damage to surrounding counties. Bethany got home for lunch before getting flooded in, and I couldn’t get home for a few days due to all routes north to my home in Brazos County being under water. Though these are clearly historic events, they still reinforce what everyone has told me, a Texas newbie, about the unpredictable nature of the weather here. Whenever I relay my experiences of the storms, everybody just smiles and says “welcome to Texas!”

Quercus tarahuara developing acorns
Quercus tarahuara developing acorns

After the flooding went down, I got to show Jason around the garden he had heard so much about, that lured his lab’s manager away from Florida. It was fun to tour the garden from the view of a keen pathologist and plantsman, noting things most would overlook. As we were admiring our largest Quercus insignis, he exclaimed

Quercus variabilis

“wow, look at this”.  Usually that means he found some obscure tiny specks of rust fungus, of which he has a strange fascination, on the underside of a leaf, which invariably leads to an in-depth explanation of its complex life cycle involving an alternate host plant. This time it wasn’t his beloved rust fungi, but instead juvenile acorns that caught his attention! This generated great excitement among both of us, as this might be the first fruiting of this amazing Mexican oak in US cultivation, which is famous for bearing the largest acorns of all oaks (practically tennis ball sized). It is still possible they might not develop fully on this young tree of about ten feet, received as a gift from Dallas area oak enthusiast David Richardson in 2009, but at least we know we don’t have to wait another decade or so for the first hints of those massive seeds.

Quercus-polymorpha
Quercus polymorpha

Many other oaks are already showing indications of developing a good crop of acorns that will mature this fall. The Asian Quercus variabilis is full of curious bristly-capped young acorns, while another bold Asian species, the Japanese emperor oak Quercus dentata, also appears to be loaded. I spotted a handful of young acorns near the top of our hand basin oak, Quercus tarahumara

– one of the most sought-after oaks among collectors. This will be exciting if we can finally propagate this species. Visitors to our final spring open days couldn’t miss the Quercus germana along the main tour route loaded with acorns, and though becoming

Zephyranthes katherinae 'Jacala Crimson'
Zephyranthes katherinae ‘Jacala Crimson’

slightly more available in recent years from better nurseries, it is one of those species that should be planted a lot more for its many wonderful attributes. On that note, it was interesting to see the highly adaptable Monterey Oak, Quercus polymorpha, being offered at a local Lowe’s recently. It wasn’t very long ago that this was a rarely-available collector oak, with Peckerwood being one of the few sources for seeds. Now here it is, a mainstream product line in a big-box store, all traced back to the early promotion by a handful of folks including the Peckerwood/Yucca-do Nursery team.

IMG_2774-BLJ-05-21-2015
Habranthus tubispathus

One group of plants that are enjoying the moist atmosphere are the many species and selections of Zephyranthes and Habranthus, collectively known as Rain Lilies. I have to admit I had become bored with these back in Florida, as all the different pink, yellow and white species tended to run together in my mind, but now that I’m immersed in the diverse collections of obscure species, most collected by John and Carl, I have a new-found respect for these indispensable garden plants. I even found that there are now more than three colors, including red. Though John says our group of tissue cultured Zephyranthes katherinae ‘Jacala Crimson’ have diluted coloration compared with the deep red of the original wild collection, it is still an enigma among the standard colors of rain lilies and of much interest for breeding work.

We’re having a great flowering season in the xeric woody lilies, namely various species of Dasylirion, Agave, Nolina, and Yucca. It therefore seemed a logical focus for our first Peckerwood Insiders’ tour along with the many other unexpected sights in the dry gardens.


Two successful events benefiting Peckerwood

The past weeks have been busy as we conclude our series of spring open days and scheduled group tours before summer heat sets in. One unique special event held

The Art Compound
The Art Compound

on April 30th was The Garden Conservancy’s Houston Open Day. Peckerwood partnered with The Garden Conservancy to showcase many wonderful Houston area, private gardens that generously opened their garden gates for the event. Peckerwood staff and volunteers also brought along a wealth of plants from our nursery to offer to those filled with inspiration after seeing a variety of creative garden design techniques. Despite some early rain, the weather cleared and it turned out to be a very successful day for all.

A selection of the items in the 2016 Spring Auction
A selection of the items in the 2016 Spring Auction

On May 21st, we held our annual “Friends of Peckerwood” day, a time to thank our members and volunteers for all they do to support Peckerwood’s advancement. In addition to wonderful refreshments and garden tours, featured events included the popular folk art silent auction, offering a diverse array of decorative cultural items from Mexico, Africa, and beyond. New this year was the addition of a rare plant silent auction, allowing attendees the chance to acquire exclusive introductions from Peckerwood’s collection. Heidi Sheesley from TreeSearch Farms, Inc. in Houston generously donated some exciting plants for the auction as well.

 


 Introducing our monthly “Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours”  

June 2016 Peckerwood Insiders' Tour
June 2016 Peckerwood Insiders’ Tour

We are proud to announce our new monthly tour program at Peckerwood, scheduled for the first Saturday morning of every month. Unlike our general “open day” tours, each of these specialized tours will focus on a different aspect of Peckerwood’s collections, garden design, or seasonal highlights. Depending on the topic, these tours will be conducted by Adam or another knowledgeable docent and will often take the visitor to see sections of the garden never covered on the general open day tour route.

Calliandra houstoniana

Our first tour was held on Saturday, June 4th, where Adam showcased our diverse collection of xeric plants in the dry garden, coinciding with the flowering of several “woody lilies” including a number of Agave, Yucca, and Dasylirion species. Various other dry garden plants, including cacti, desert trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs were discussed, with an emphasis on John’s unique Mexican collections. Xeric gardening techniques were covered and attendees were able to purchase a variety of dry-loving plants in Peckerwood’s nursery.

Tephrosia sp
Tephrosia sp

Our second Peckerwood Insiders’ Tour will be held on Saturday, July 2nd, and will be a much anticipated opportunity to see the treasures that lurk across the creek in the north dry garden and adjacent collections, which until now has been seen by few visitors. Differing significantly from the familiar south dry garden covered in the general tour route, the north dry garden includes much more than desert plants, including many rare and unique trees, shrubs and perennials. Bordering the dry garden is an interesting collection of less xeric trees, shrubs and shade-loving plants, so attendees will see quite an eclectic mix of plants that John has collected over the years. True plant collectors will really appreciate this area. Being a favorite area of many volunteers and staff, we hope to do a few seasonal tours per year of this section of the garden in upcoming Insiders’ Tours, and this is your chance to see the summer highlights.

Unless otherwise noted, all monthly tours consist of a single tour with one tour guide, generally limited to 15 attendees, and therefore reservations are necessary. Garden members attend tours for free, and admission for non-members is $10 per person. More information can be found on our website.


 Calendar

 


What’s new in the nursery? 

Cephalotaxus harringtoniana

Just because spring open days are drawing to a close doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to visit the nursery. We will continue to be open by appointment, Monday through Friday, and our inventory is only going to continue to increase. Our promotion of the various Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus spp.) and selections had resulted in us selling out a few months ago, but we are happy to announce that we have available again some nice 1 gallon plants in the spreading form of C. harringtoniana as well as some very full 3 gallon pots of Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Duke Gardens’. The latter has a different texture and turns into a more shrubby form due to the semi-erect, spreading branches compared with the former type, which is more of a horizontally oriented mounding

Bauhinia yunnanensis

groundcover form. We have a nice selection of peacock ginger (Kaempferia spp.) species and varieties freshly emerged from dormancy and starting to flower, perfect for shade and quite low-maintenance once established.  Another neat dwarf ginger is Curcuma involucrata, but it is so different from other larger growing “hidden ginger” species that it was formerly in its own genus, Stahlianthus. It forms a clump of 12” strap leaves that are mostly maroon in color and has small but interesting white flowers shortly after emerging in late spring/early summer. Orchid trees in the genus Bauhinia are always popular, and we have some 1 gallon plants of the white-flowered south Texas native Bauhinia lunaroides. Also available in limited quantities are nice full pots of the hardy orchid vine Bauhinia yunnanensis. This plant is amazing both in foliage and flower, and wonderfully hardy. Many other obscure things abound in the nursery, so make your appointment today to come purchase some exciting plants.


 Volunteer appreciation!

Craig Jackson after a days work.

As we wrap up our spring series of open days, it is a good time to reflect on how critical volunteers are in making these events happen, and otherwise help progress the garden into the future. For example, our tours simply wouldn’t happen without the dedicated and knowledgeable docents who volunteer their time to share their love of the gardens with our visitors. These

folks are more than tour guides – they are the face of the garden, conveying the beauty, diversity, and history of John’s creation with their own personalized touch. Docents attend many monthly training sessions to increase their knowledge in order to adapt new details to their tours.

Though every docent covers the critical details and current highlights for each garden section, they differ in how they relay their own personal enthusiasm for a particular plants’ merits or appreciation for John’s garden design strategies. Therefore, each docent will give their own unique tour which allows frequent visitors to see familiar areas of the garden in a new way. We thank our dedicated docents who have helped out tremendously through our spring open day tours as well as leading the many garden clubs that have visited:

By the Garden House
By the Garden House

Craig Jackson, Pam Romig, Steven Ramirez, Grace Pierce, John Lomax, Suzzanne Chapman, Burton Knight and Sarah Newbery. Some of these docent volunteers make several-hour treks from as far away as Austin and Dallas to help – now that’s dedication! We must also thank our several docents-in-training for continuing to build their confidence and skills in order to lead tours in the near future.

Beyond the docents, our open days would not function without further help from volunteers in other areas.

New Docent training is July 9th and 30th. (Brenda Wilson and Grace Pierce)

Frank and Cherie Lee have been an amazing team in the nursery almost every open day. We have a long list of volunteers who have helped with setup, manning the admissions and information tables, and takedown including Nancy Royal, Zach Lambright, Sherri Boehnke, Persephone Friend, Deb Cates, Arian Kaufman, Phyllis Pollard, Vicky Snyder, JoAnn Wolf, Caroline Schreiber, Pat Piper, Kathy Huber and John Roberson. Many other volunteers can’t help on a regular basis due to their schedules but have filled in here and there throughout the season and we can’t thank everyone enough.

IMG_3308
Watch the Calendar for more chances to visit Peckerwood Garden each month.

As initially mentioned last month, great strides continue to occur with reclaiming the planting beds around the buildings thanks to Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson, Ruth McDonald and Persephone Friend. Brenda has cleared a significant amount of weeds and pruned up the trees around the house in preparation for our Friends of Peckerwood Day. Craig cleared and planted up the corner bed just north of the office with some interesting treasures. IMG_2803Brenda and Ruth also spent a lot of time preparing the house and organizing the setup for the Friends of Peckerwood day, along with creating some exceptional treats enjoyed by all. Jill Whitten was also instrumental in organizing the Friends of Peckerwood Day as well as providing some prime real estate to set up our plant sale area during the Garden Conservancy’s Houston Open Day. We can’t thank our volunteers enough for their dedication and support.


 Plant of the month: Snake Herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

Dyschoriste linearis
Dyschoriste-thin-leaf-form-available-in-nursery
Dyschoriste linearis

Some might expect a “plant of the month” to be some exceptionally rare and boldly attractive plant. This month I wanted to focus on a groundcover that at first glance may seem quite humble in many ways, but is in fact incredibly versatile and has a unique charm of its own. I always liked Dyschoriste after growing a Florida native species prior to my move, but assumed others would never see its attractive qualities over the more flashy options. Shortly after starting at Peckerwood, I was surprised to find that one of our most reliable volunteers, Craig Jackson, shared my appreciation of the patch of Dyschoriste linearis that John has growing along the perennial border near the south entrance to the woodland garden. I then began to see that nurseries here in Texas actually carry this plant, and soon found that, when offered in our nursery, others were attracted to it and bought it, shattering my assumptions!

Snake Herb is an evergreen Texas native that is drought tolerant, cold hardy and low maintenance, with dense, weed-suppressing foliage that looks attractive year around. Dyschoriste linearis is a highly variable plant, with leaves that can be either thin and needle-like, or slightly more

20160602_190805
Dyschoriste linearis

broad and elliptical. John’s plant is the broad-leaf form, but the linear-leaved form seems to be more common in the nursery trade. Both are equally attractive and create a low, dense mat of 8” to 12” tall evergreen stems that gradually form a tight, tidy clump. Throughout the warmer months, purple flowers resembling smaller versions of the related Ruellia are readily visible.

Naturally growing in dry, sunny spots in sandy or gravelly open areas, this plant is amazingly tolerant of neglect following establishment, after which water should only be necessary following long dry spells. The dense mat it forms tends to be compact and tight, but occasionally an errant runner will result in a random patch or two forming a short distance away from the main plant. Some may prefer to remove any satellite clumps if you are keeping a more formal, organized landscape, but for naturalizing it is simply a matter of preference. It is in no way an aggressive spreader, so it will not become something you regret planting and removal of undesired shoots easy.

South entrance to the Woodland Garden

In addition to its xeric qualities, snake herb will also grow in fertile garden soil with regular irrigation,

Quercus-oblongifolia
Quercus oblongifolia

provided there is excellent drainage and at least a fair portion of the day in full sun. Design ideas utilizing this plant include planting around bold foliage, like around the base of thick, succulent Agave leaves, or as a foreground layer in front of or in-between taller specimen perennials or low shrubs. I think its color and texture goes well with silver colored foliage. Gravel mulch around the plant really helps make the clump stand out compared with wood mulch or bare earth.

Don’t be put off by the common name “Snake Herb”, it does not attract snakes any better than other ground covers. In fact, I can’t readily find out why it has that common name. Other species elsewhere in the world, some of which form taller shrubs, have many cultural medicinal uses, and perhaps somewhere it has been used to treat snakebite. Quite possibly it is instead named for its long snakelike rhizomes which results in its ability to form a colony. Either way it is a valuable addition to any well-drained sunny landscape.

We currently have the needle-leaf form available in our nursery, but we are also rooting divisions of John’s elliptical-leaved form. Adam will be bringing a Florida collection of Dyschoriste oblongifolia to trial in Texas, and there are several other species native to the southern US to seek out in an attempt to broaden the palette of snake herb varieties that can be utilized for all their desirable qualities.


West Perennial bed
Monthly training classes continue with Shrubs. The next session is June 18th at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now

 

Craig Jackson leading a tour.
From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event here.
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Friends of Peckerwood Day: Folk Art and Rare Plant Silent Auction

November 17, 2018 @ 3:00 pm5:00 pm

Visitors enjoy 1-hour guided tours of the garden led by knowledgeable docents, and a special celebration for John Fairey.

There will be an art auction and rare plant sale, mariachi, food, tequila, and fun in the garden. Entry is free to all supporters of the garden: if you have donated or attended any event in 2017 or 2018, please join us.

Please register ahead here: Register for free

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Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours

Join us and experience Peckerwood Garden in a new way!

One tour will be held the morning of the first Saturday of each month.

Guests Purchase tickets here: https://mkt.com/peckerwood-garden-conservation-foundation

Member’s register here:eventregistration@peckerwoodgarden.org

About the tours.

Unlike our general Open Day tours, Director of Horticulture Adam Black or a knowledgeable docent will highlight a more focused subject each month, ranging from Peckerwood’s specific plant groups, garden design strategies, seasonal interest and more. Attendees will often get the rare opportunity to see sections of the garden never visited during the general tours.  The goal is to deepen your understanding and appreciation of Peckerwood’s unique collections and their use in the landscape to spark inspiration for your own garden.

 

NOTE: This tour will take place mostly in the sun, so please dress appropriately with adequate sun protection. Bottled water will be available or you may bring your own.


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Pre-register for your special visit to Peckerwood Garden.

Tours are approximately 1 ½ hours long. Most tours are limited to 15 people (unless otherwise specified) so pre-registration is required.

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.

Guests please call 979-826-3232 or email eventregistration@peckerwoodgarden.org for reservations.

Unfortunately, baby strollers, and pets are not allowed in the garden due to the delicate and sharp plants and small uneven pathways. Service animals, with identification, are allowed. Garden entry is by guided tour only.


Tours are $15 per person, space available. Members are free. Pre-registration is required.

Contact Bethany Jordan with questions at bethany@peckerwoodgarden.org or at 979-826-3232.

Visit the Calendar for the current Peckerwood Garden Events

Directions

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April 2016 Newsletter

Exciting News and Awards!

John Fairey
John Fairey

As further proof of the national significance of Peckerwood Garden, founder John G. Fairey has received two prominent, national gardening honors this Spring.

He is the 2016 recipient of The American Horticultural Society’s most prestigious award, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award, one of the Great American Gardeners Awards that the AHS presents annually to individuals, organizations, and businesses that represent the best in American horticulture. The Society recognized John’s lifetime contributions to American horticulture across numerous fields, from teaching and research to the nursery industry. John will be honored in June at the Great American Gardeners Awards Ceremony and Banquet at the Society’s headquarters at River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia.

John was also awarded the 2016 Place Maker Award from the New York City-based Foundation for Landscape Studies. This annual award is given to “a person who has used design imagination and horticultural skill to create a garden or park of exceptional beauty.” The foundation noted, “John Fairey’s contributions to the science and art of horticulture are everywhere evident at Peckerwood, the garden he has been continually creating since the early 1970s in Hempstead, Texas, on the outskirts of Houston. A plant explorer, botanical researcher, teacher, and distributer of rare specimens though Yucca Do Nursery, he is also an artist whose landscape design skills take gardening beyond the realm of simple plant display. In addition, Fairey directs Peckerwood’s collaboration with several research institutions on plant conservation and the effects of climate change on gardens in Texas and elsewhere.” The Foundation for Landscape Studies will honor John at their awards luncheon at the Boat House in Central Park in May.

Over the course of his career, John has received many awards, including the prestigious Scott Medal from the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 2013, and the Commercial Award from the American Horticultural Society in 1996 for his work with Yucca Do.


Adam’s notes from the garden…FLOOD UPDATE

IMG_1737As work began on this newsletter, the waters were receding after the severe flooding that affected southeastern Texas the previous night (April 17-18). I had heard of the periodic floods Peckerwood experiences when Dry Creek, which runs east-west through the garden, submerges a significant portion of the garden under many feet of water. Upon arrival at the gardens I proceeded toward the creek, first passing through the South “Dry” Garden which was more like an archipelago of gravel islands emerged from a muddy sea, though unlike the standard single palm tree in the cliché “desert” islands, these instead bore a single agave, cactus, or other xeric plant marooned at the highest point – John’s attempt to keep their roots as dry as possible based on past experience. The adjacent rain lily berm, high above the surrounding puddles, was blanketed with white flowering species of Zephyranthes perfectly happy with the weather,  though the accompanying blue inflorescences of larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) were not as enthused, being beaten to the ground by the night’s rain.

 

20160418_115657Proceeding into the woodland garden I could clearly see in the distance the swollen creek had flooded into the “hallway” area – the long strip of lawn paralleling the creek that John created to provide wonderful vistas of the garden along its length. As I got closer, I realized the water had already receded quite a bit. A planting of young Brahea moorei and dwarf Cryptomeria japonica ‘Gyo Kuryu’ next to me were cocked in a 45 degree angle westward, with accumulations of leaves, twigs, and other debris carried by the flowing waters until it became trapped on the foliage. Then I noticed all the mulch is completely washed away. Further analysis revealed the water had been six feet higher than what I was currently observing at some point in the night, coming quite close to the corner of John’s art gallery and well into the north dry garden and into the neighbor’s property to the north, resulting in the fence being bent over from all the organic material it collected. Seeing a metal plant stake lying on the bare ground, I pick it up to see which plant it goes with, only to find it belongs to a plant about 50 feet further east! I then see a 5’ boxwood uprooted and laying on its side, and then muddy craters where a few recently planted Camellias once existed, hopefully to be found somewhere further downstream.

IMG_9352Despite being one of the worst flooding events in Peckerwood’s history, it soon became apparent that this is a very resilient garden, and things would be back to normal very soon. Peckerwood is a garden of extremes – weathering the toughest bouts of heat, cold, humidity, drought and even deluges – and we learn from a lot about various plants’ tolerances (or intolerances) of these events  in order to find those iron-clad options for the harshest landscapes. Within two days it was amazing to see how much things have improved, thanks to head gardener Adolfo Silva, and gardener, Ricardo Bautista who also brought his son to help in the recovery effort. Mulch which accumulated in shrubbery downstream was collected and replaced in the beds, some of the plants that had washed away were recovered a few hundred feet downstream, and surprisingly things were nearly back to normal by our scheduled open day that following Saturday, with our thoughts now focused more on our few volunteers and friends who did suffer significant loss when their homes got flooded. Unfortunately we also learned of the significant damage that our friends at Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens sustained, resulting in their closing for quite some time while they clean up and assess the damage.

 On a more positive note, spring has remained in the air beyond this deviation in the otherwise beautiful weather we’ve been having. We continue to have a procession of new foliage on various trees and shrubs, often emerging beautiful shades of red, pink, amber, silver, purple or bronze before fading to a fresh green. Though last IMG_9584month oaks were the stars for colorful flushes, this month it is the members of the laurel family (Lauraceae). Several hardy cinnamon trees, including Cinnamomum wilsonii and C. chekiangense, have beautiful bright red new foliage that initially hangs straight downward from the branches, often looking like it is wilted, but this is completely normal. When backlit by the low evening sun, the color is intensified to a molten extreme. Neolitsea sericea has new leaves that emerge with a metallic golden fuzz, transitioning to a less fuzzy silver to pink to finally green. Machilus thunbergii and Phoebe chekiangensis both have amber to bronze colored glossy leaves that almost look like they are made of plastic, which emerge from a thick bud accentuated with neatly organized scales that create an ornate scrimshaw-like pattern. Lindera aggregata emerges with a fuzzy golden indumentum that contrasts sharply with the dark green leaves from the previous season, further accentuated with golden flowers.

Machilus thunbergii

Various flowering trees are also demanding attention. There has been a succession of blooms among our many members of the silverbell family (Styracaceae). The first to flower were the eastern US native Halesia diptera and two species in the Asian genus Sinojackia, S. rehderiana and S. xylocarpa.  Following them was an interesting unknown Asian Styrax species originally received as S. tonkinensis. Next in line is one obtained as S. serrulatum, but this identification needs to be confirmed as the leaf margins are not at all serrulate as the name implies. Different selections of Styrax japonicus, including ‘Emerald Pagoda’ became the highlights on our most recent tours. Not seen by many due to its location north of the creek is the very distinctive Texas native Styrax platanifolius ssp. platanifolius, with its unusually broad, rounded to slightly sycamore-shaped leaves with contrastingly light undersides, complemented with the typical white flowers of the family. Nearby, but still small and not yet flowering, is another rare native subspecies S. platanifolius ssp. youngae.

IMG_9584Above, below and in between all the native and exotic silverbells are various other odds and ends showing off. Several of John’s Mexican collections of Bauhinia are in full flower, including the royal purple B. bartlettii and smaller-statured B. ramosissima. I was quite struck with another one of John’s Mexican collectons, Mimosa martindelcampoi, which has interesting clusters of pink pom-poms along with highly distinctive pinnate leaves, the terminal leaflet closely resembling the bilobed leaf typical of Bauhinia.  In the understory, several Asian jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema spp.) are displaying their alien inflorescences. A. kiushianum inflorescences give the impression of a 3” high black and white swirly-striped owl with a 12” long whip like structure protruding from its “mouth”. The nearby A. heterophylla has much taller cobra-like inflorescence held above the strange foliage. Many cacti continue to flower, along with a few Yucca species. A few Agave spp., including one of the large Agave ovatifolia, are sending up flower spikes. The arboretum meadow is a sea of light purple flowers of the native Prairie Nymph Herbertia lahue, punctuated here and there with the purple poppy mallow flowers.


Calendar

  • Saturday April 23 Peckerwood Garden Open day
  • Saturday April 30 Houston Garden Conservancy Garden Tours & Peckerwood Garden Plant Sale (located in Houston)
  • Sunday May 8 (Mother’s day) Peckerwood Garden Open day
  • Saturday May 14 Monthly focused training: Perennials and Groundcover
  • Saturday May 21 Friends of Peckerwood Day
  • Friday June 17 Monthly focused training
  • Saturday July 16 Monthly focused training
  • Friday August 19 Monthly focused training

What’s new in the nursery?

Pyrrosia-lingua-Ogon-NishikiDiplazium-proliferum-e1388722754363Plant sales have been quite swift but we are working to have more things in the pipeline. There are a few leftovers I originally saved for the Gulf Coast Fern Society to have first crack at during their visit, including some tropical species that should do okay in the warmer microclimates of Houston, or as houseplants. Diplazium proliferum is a rarely seen large growing fern with fronds to about 5’ long held on a short 12” high trunk – almost like a squat tree fern. The interesting thing about this species is it is one of the “mother fern” types, producing plantlets along the oldest fronds, which themselves grow to about 2” long before they can be detached and planted.  Other ferns include the interesting hybrid Asplenium x kenzoi which produces plantlets on the tips of the fronds, and rooted cuttings of the epiphytic clubmoss Huperzia squarrosa. We still have a few of the zone 8 hardy variegated tongue fern, Pyrrosia lingua ‘Ogon Nishiki’ as well as the xeric native fern Astrolepis sinuatus.

Hardy orchid trees are always a favorite, and we have some nice gallon sized Bauhinia forficata about 3’ high begging to be planted in the ground. If you live in colder areas (zone 8 or even zone 7b) now is the time to plant this adaptable species so it has a well-established root system to sustain it should an exceptionally cold winter hit seven months from now. Though slightly thorny compared with other orchid trees (but less vicious than the average rose), the large slender-petaled white flowers will make up for any slight scratches you may sustain.

20160419_133217

Sabal Uresana

For the tropical look, we have plenty of the hardy Heliconia schiedeana. Yes, you read that correctly – a hardy “lobster claw” in an otherwise highly tropical genus. In zone 9 of Houston and similar areas where it doesn’t get too exceptionally frosty, this will remain evergreen provided it has overhead protection of evergreen trees. It will freeze back if temperatures reach the mid 20’s, but will vigorously return if the root system is established (plant now!). It will only flower if it has at least two consecutive years where it doesn’t die back, but even if it does, it makes a wonderfully bold foliage plant while you patiently wait for a few mild winters.

We continue to have a good selection of hardy palms, including the beautiful Sonoran Blue Palmetto – Sabal uresana, which really needs to be grown more. A few choice conifers remain including Taxus chinensis, Cephalotaxus harringtoniana (upright and spreading forms), the very rare Cephalotaxus oliveri, Keteleeria davidii, and Pseudolarix amabilis (wow!)

Of course we always maintain a great selection of Agaves, Yuccas, Dyckias, Sotol, Aloes, Cacti, and other plants for xeriscaping. Natives, especially the perennials, have really been popular but we still have a variety of things left. Attention Collectors: You never know what obscure things I might decide to part with from my personal collection I’ve been relocating from Florida, new things appear all the time. In upcoming weeks expect the addition of some tropicals, including some rare Ficus, uncommon Begonia spp., obscure types of Peperomia, Piper, Gesneriads, and who knows what else I’ll dig up!

The nursery continues to be open by appointment on weekdays, so feel free to call and schedule your next plant shopping excursion. Availability changes rapidly so please check in advance if you are interested in anything in particular.


Volunteers hard at work!

Recent visitors to Peckerwood have noticed the big changes to the area around the office buildings. Craig Jackson, Brenda Wilson and Ruth McDonald have been chipping away at turning this former weed patch into the interesting display garden it used to be back when Yucca-do Nursery owned the property. We’ve been focusing on xeric/rock garden type plants utilizing the existing rockwork in place. There is much more to do but it is nice to see so much progress being made. We plan to continue to recover the area behind the office wrapping around to the north, where many plantings like buried under tall grass and weeds waiting to be exposed. This is an area people can enjoy during open days while waiting for the next tour and see examples of plants we offer for sale utilized in the landscape. Thanks Craig, Brenda and Ruth!Pam Romig and Nancy Royal have been regularly assisting with a variety of things including nursery inventory management, garden signage, and countless other administrative duties that help Bethany out tremendously. During the recent open days, Bob and Cherie Lee have been invaluable in the nursery helping with plant sale. John Lomax, Pam Romig and Craig Jackson are always knowledgeable docents leading tours with their own personalized enthusiasm. Many others contributed in so many ways, and we could not move forward without everyone’s help, so thank you all!


Please join us as a member of the Friends of Peckerwood. Members receive free admission on Open Days, notices of special events, discounts on plant purchases at the garden and at participating nurseries.
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Plant of the month: Quercus glauca

With this regular feature, I aim to highlight a signature Peckerwood plant with great ornamental features and adaptability to the tough climate of southeastern Texas. The plants I’ve promoted in the recent newsletters generated great interest but unfortunately were not available in the nursery just yet, resulting in frustration. Therefore I decided to make sure to put a plant in the spotlight that IS available in the nursery, at least while supplies last.

Peckerwood is known for its extensive oak collection, especially those from John’s Mexican collections, but we do have a variety of Asian oaks as well. A few decades ago, John imported seeds of Quercus glauca, also known as the Japanese Blue Oak or Ring-Cupped Oak. They germinated well and were offered through Yucca-do Nursery locally and via mail order, but according to John none sold, presumably due to being just too unfamiliar to collectors at that time. After sitting around for a while, they were eventually planted around the Peckerwood and Yucca-do properties. As they attained significant size, people finally began to notice what attractive evergreen trees they had become, with spreading branching structure, multiple trunks and smooth polychrome bark in shades of silver, white, light green and grey. Many did not immediately recognized these trees as oaks, being the thick, stiff glossy leaves with dark green tops and chalky blue undersides didn’t look remotely like any familiar North American oak. The spreading branching structure was especially appealing, combined with the naturally dense crown. These trees began producing seed –recognizable as a standard oak acorn, but with concentric rings encircling the cap, hence one of the common names (Ring-Cupped Oak). With mature trees to behold in the garden, and now offspring, there were now customers lined up for the opportunity to finally grow this tree that had to earn its admiration over time in the Peckerwood landscape.

Quercus Glauca
Quercus Glauca

20160421_151443I have been fortunate to see Q. glauca in Taiwan where it is native. It occurs in low elevation tropical forests that are rather dry, yet when grown in colder areas it is quite tolerant of hard freezes it would not otherwise see naturally. It does get some damage in zone 7 but excels in zone 8 to 10. It seems adaptable to any location with well-drained soil and full sun to light shade. I think the best specimens are attained in full exposure, starting out as a compact tree with a fairly upright habit, and eventually producing additional trunks that spread gracefully outward. If grown in shadier conditions, it will grow more vertical, less spreading, as it reaches for the light. Examples of both forms growing in these different conditions can be observed at Peckerwood, and both have their merits.

In March, the new growth emerges a purple-bronze color that is quite attractive, and when the tree is a little older this growth will be accompanied by hanging catkins of flowers.  Of particular note are the trees on the west side of the nursery property, as they did not receive any supplemental water in the most recent prolonged drought, yet they really never missed a beat. Taiwan was in a severe drought when I visited in early 2015, and many adjacent natives were clearly wilted and suffering while Q. glauca looked flawless.

We are currently offering small seedlings of this species propagated off Peckerwood’s magnificent trees– the perfect size for planting.


From the Propagation bench:

Podocarpus nakaii

I finally brought with me from my old nursery in FL the remaining cuttings that were in the process of rooting on my mist bench. I have many things establishing in pots that will be available in a few months. Especially well-represented are warm-climate conifers, including the amazing Podocarpus nakaii from Taiwan, with long leaves and scarlet red new growth. One of the most spectacular Podocarpus – P. smithiana, has rippled leaves and hot pink new growth. How about a Podocarpus with 15” long leaves?  Podocarpus rumphii is one of the most distinctive species in that regard. Our first batch of Thujopsis dolobrata sold out quickly– one of those conifers everyone seems drawn to – and I have another nice batch of both the variegated and normal green form that will be ready to offer soon. Another highly underutilized but truly beautiful and adaptable conifer is Calocedrus formosana – one that I have a limited amount coming along but should get more propagated.

Acer fabri

A new rarely grown simple-leaved evergreen maple from my own Taiwanese collection – Acer

albopurpurascens – are nicely rooted but I’d like them to put on some new growth first before offering. Ditto on another great warm climate maple – Acer oblongum. Until then we still have some of its close relatives available – Acer fabri and A. coriaceifolium. On the subject of maples, John’s nice Acer discolor is producing hopefully fertile seeds for the first time, but I should be able to root cuttings of that species in case the seeds prove to be duds. Our visitor from Lyon Botanical Garden in France brought us many seeds including two subspecies of Acer obtusifolium. From a friend in China I received seeds of Acer cordatum. I still need to separate my group pot of Acer kawakamii seedlings from my October Taiwan collection, of which we will definitely have plenty to share later this year. Our maple collection is growing fast, and we’ll make sure yours does too!

It’s Mahonia fruiting season and I’m trying to stay one step ahead of the Cedar Waxwings before they beat me to the ripe fruits on John’s various Mexican species that need to be grown more. I could go on and on about the many additional exciting things in the works – this is just the beginning so be expecting wonderful things to be showing up in the nursery in upcoming months!


 

Monthly training classes are open with Perennials and Ground-cover. The next session is May 14th at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now

 

From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event here.

Garden society visits:

20160416_113453We had several visits from garden clubs and plant societies this month. Another group – the Lakeway Garden Club situated in the hills just west of Austin- was hoping to visit but there were some issues with travel arrangements. Therefore they did the next best thing and invited me to present on Peckerwood. This great group of enthusiastic folks were a pleasure to visit with in such a beautiful community integrated into the Hill Country. I should have taken more plants to sell as most went fast! A variety of other regional garden clubs toured the gardens over the past month, and unfortunately a few had to reschedule due to the inclement weather and flooding. Fortunately the weather was beautiful when the Texas Gulf Coast Fern Society visited Peckerwood. I gave them a special tour of the ferns here, going places we don’t normally see on the more general tours to highlight some of John’s special collections. This was another really fun group of very knowledgeable fern collectors, many of whom were very helpful in clearing up some identification issues. I brought out some special ferns from my own collection to offer, many of which were snatched up by those who arrived early. We go out of our way to cater to the focuses of specialty plant societies, so please consider a visit if you are involved with one of the many varied botanical organizations in the region.

 


Hill Country Botanizing Expedition

 

20160412_180046[1]A few weeks ago we had a visitor from Jardin Botanique de Lyon (Lyon Botanical Garden) in Lyon, France. Botanist Hervé Mureau wears many hats at this garden though his primary responsibilities are as collection manager. He has a great interest in woody plants, particularly oaks, so a visit to Peckerwood was his first stop on a long botanical odyssey thorough the southwestern US on his way to Los Angeles. We had a great day and a half exploring on and off the beaten paths at Peckerwood plus the adjacent plantings Carl and Wade had planted south of the nursery, and he brought with him some gifts, including Quercus alnifolia with interesting round concave leaves with shocking yellow undersides and Cornus oblonga, his own collection of a rarely grown dogwood from northern Thailand, along with a variety of seeds. We of course reciprocated with seeds of various things in the garden, including some of John’s Mexican Mahonia collections, which are still quite unknown in European collections. Hervé had wanted to explore the interesting flora of the Hill Country west of here, and asked for locations to go. Coincidentally new Peckerwood volunteer Caroline Schreiber had recently invited me to see her 1000 acre ranch of pristine Edward’s Plateau flora in Uvalde County. On short noticed I contacted Caroline about a French-American botanical expedition to her property, and she eagerly agreed to take us.

The Hill Country endemic variety of red buckeye with yellow flowers (Aesculus pavia var. flavescens)

We met Hervé in San Antonio and he followed us to Caroline’s ranch. Very unfamiliar with this terrain beyond what I had seen along I-10 in the past, I was excited to finally see this unique area firsthand. As the geology changed on our westward drive, the roadside flora became more and more interesting, and things only got better the further we progressed down the private ranch road toward her property. I kept wanting to stop but Caroline assured me we would see plenty more on her property, and she was right. Once we arrived the view was stunning, and the wildflowers were spectacular. We wasted no time and hopped on her Ranger off-road vehicle with her two dogs and headed off to see her recommended highlights. First we stopped at a crystal clear flowing creek incised down into the white limestone, reminding me of the spring runs back in Florida. Maidenhair ferns, likely Adiantum capillus-veneris and the Edward’s Plateau endemic Lindheimer’s Marsh Fern, (Thelypteris ovata var. lindheimeri)   cropped up around a spot where a natural spring gushed out of the vertical bank. The stream was lined with some of the westernmost populations of sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) that appeared quite dwarf and small leaved compared with the eastern versions. All around us in the open areas were Mealy Sage, Salvia farinacea – a plant that has become ubiquitous as a bedding plant in nurseries but nice to actually see in its native habitat.

The-Mexican-Flowering-Fern-(Anemia-mexicana)-is-adapted-to-dry-rocky-slopes
The-Mexican-Flowering-Fern-(Anemia-mexicana)-is-adapted-to-dry-rocky-slopes

Caroline took us a short distance upstream to a spot above the creek that was more heavily wooded. It was here I got my first view of wild Lacey Oak (Quercus laceyi) with its nice freshly-emerged blue-green foliage, along with escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis). A target species both Hervé and I wanted to see was the yellow-flowering variant of red buckeye, Aesculus pavia var. flavescens, and fortunately they were everywhere here, and in full flower. I’m not sure who was more excited, us or the hummingbirds that frequented them. The typical form of this species is found throughout the southeastern US but is normally red, but the westernmost population that grows in the hill country is yellow flowered, but also has quite distinct foliage. At a spot of sentimental value in Caroline’s family history, I found a nicely variegated seedling of this species, which was collected and will be appropriately named after Caroline’s grandfather.

A nearby tree briefly perplexed Hervé and I as we tried to identify it. After eliminating a few possibilities we then found some flowers and it dawned on us that this was a small leaved mulberry – Morus microphylla, a tree I had read about and hoped to see.

One-of-the-many-spring-fed-streams-on-Caroline's-property
One of the many spring fed streams on Caroline’s property

Off to another location deep in a lush wooded valley, we followed a dry streambed to a back corner of Caroline’s property, where another spring was slowly percolating water out of the ground, again with maidenhair ferns and Lindheimer’s marsh ferns restricted to the moist rocky margins. Lining the streambed were so many buckeyes that we almost got tired of them, and mixed in with these were the somewhat related “Mexican Buckeyes” Ugnadia speciosa flowering with their pink blooms. Overhead among the oaks were beautiful old walnuts – but which species I don’t quite know yet, as Juglans microcarpa, J. major, and J. nigra are all recorded from the general vicinity. In the understory I found a Verbesina species that had nice variegation – what is presumably the Hill Country endemic Verbesina lindheimeri, but need to verify with no flowers currently present. Hopefully the bold variegation will be stable. We then stumbled upon the sky-blue flowers of the shrubby bush sage – Salvia ballotiflora which was quite nice to see.

Yucca rupicola with its beautiful red inflorescences emerging
Yucca rupicola with its beautiful red inflorescences emerging

Off again to another location, we stopped on an exposed slope to study the wildflowers and other plants. Clonal colonies of Twisted Leaf Yucca, Yucca rupicola, were scattered among the flowers, some with quite twisted leaves, and others without any twist to them. All were putting up nice red inflorescences, which deer clearly like to eat, as many had been snipped off. Also on the slope were the leatherstem Jatropha (Jatropha dioica), something I was familiar with from Big Bend region but didn’t expect to see here.

Hervé had mentioned wanting to see Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) on this trip, so Caroline sprang into action and took us to her neighbor’s ranch to see the only known individual in the area. Upon arriving we were quite impressed at the size of this plant. I have seen many in the Chisos Mountains but few approaching the size of this one. Sadly this old tree, with a hollowed out trunk, was clearly declining fast, with much of the canopy dead and other portions dropping green leaves as we watched. The remaining healthy portion was flowering, but with no known additional trees of similar age in the extensive area other than this one old specimen, it makes you wonder what that means as far as the local conditions in this southeastern-most range of the species.

Penstemon-triflorus-growing-among-agarita
Penstemon-triflorus-growing-among-agarita

With light waning, we moved on to the opposite end of Caroline’s property, where she stopped at a cliff covered with shocking reddish purple flower spikes of the Hill Country endemic Penstemon triflorus emerging from a dense groundcover of blue-grey Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) shrubs – a very beautiful combination. As darkness settled, we clambered in the Ranger up a very steep rocky incline through

dense Ashe’s Junipers to the top of one of the highest hills. Among the cobble were numerous Echinocereus reichenbachii, the lace hedgehog cactus, with white spines so dense they appeared nicely camouflaged against the surrounding chalky rocks. Unable to see anymore, we descended down the steep hill and back to the building to grill steaks and get some sleep.

The-only-known-madrone-(Arbutus-xalapensis)-in-the-region
The-only-known-madrone-(Arbutus-xalapensis)-in-the-region

The following morning were off to Caroline’s mom’s ranch nearby, which had a very different landscape – more flat and with very different plants. Wildflowers, many different from yesterday’s site, carpeted the open areas among desert shrubs, cacti and yucca. Caroline told us of a cave we needed to see. In an otherwise flat, low shrubby area, she stopped the car and we walked a short distance into the brush until the ground gave way to a gaping pit lined with interesting plants. At the bottom was the yawning mouth of the cave, curving downward into the depths of the earth. All along the walls of this cool moist oasis were xeric ferns adapted to regular drying – Cheilanthes, Pellaea, Anemia mexicana plus a single individual of Asplenium resilians was found. A few gigantic Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) trees were rooted in the lower portion of the pit before the cave entrance, their crowns just emerging above the rim. Climbing down into the pit, their beautifully exfoliating bark could be better appreciated – a linear patchwork of silver, grey, lavender and white.

Trunk-of-the-lone-madrone
Trunk-of-the-lone-madrone

Continuing on, we reach a stretch of the Frio River that runs through the property. Portions of the river go underground and only fill above-ground stretches during times of high water. This section was one of those dry runs composed of rounded white limestone river rock, the monotony broken here and there with a few perennials that had gained a foothold since the last time it flowed with water. Salvia coccinea, Salvia farinacea, Datura, and various composites appeared very out of place in the barren landscape. On the vegetated shores grew masses of Anisacanthus quadrifidus, though too early for their orange tubular flowers. With them grew Chilopsis linearis – the desert willow that is of no relation to true willows.

Arriving at Caroline’s mom’s residence, we walked behind the house to an overlook of a different section of the Frio River, this one with crystal clear running water and an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding hills – one of those sweeping views you could sit and enjoy for hours with the sound of the rushing water in the background. On the ground around the boardwalk were masses of Blackfoot Daisy Melampodium leucanthum.  One last look before leaving the view, and something caught my eye on the opposite bank of the river that looked completely out of place. It looked like a small bald cypress Taxodium disticum.   I asked Caroline if that was what I was seeing, and if it was planted. She said bigger once were all over the place further upstream where we were going to try and get a late lunch. Wow- I never knew bald cypress got this far west, and they looked so out of place compared with the typical habitat I’m used to further east.

Scutellaria-wrightii-in-the-Hill-Country
Scutellaria wrightii in the Hill Country

Hungry but still reluctant to leave this fascinating area, we headed up to get something to eat in the town of Concan to the north. On another beautiful stretch of the Frio River, this vacation town attracts summer visitors who go tubing on the river, but was a ghost town this time of year, with no restaurants open. All hunger was lost though when we spotted the gigantic cypresses lining the pristine river. What a complete surprise to see these so far west in such an alien environment! What instantly struck me is how they were dead ringers for the Mexican Cypress, Taxodium mucronatum, with wide-spreading crowns with different branching architecture, lack of “knees”, lighter bark, and different appearance of the developing female cones. All the range maps for T. distichum show this area to be the westernmost extent, but there is no reason to think that this can’t also be a northern population of T. mucronatum, or at least a population sharing genetics between the two species. It is known that the pre-Columbian Aztecs and later the Spanish had cultivated T. mucronatum in various areas for ceremonial or ornamental reasons. Caroline-and-Herve-examining-the-fascinating-floraThere is even a mysterious population in New Mexico that is thought to be either descendants of ancient cultivated trees, or simply relict populations that became stranded when climates shifted during the ice ages. Perhaps the unusual appearance is simply the result of the atypical habitat. I hope one day molecular studies can elucidate the genetics of this intriguing population of cypresses. Doing further research, I now see that others have questioned the identification of these Frio River cypresses, and they have been offered by a few nurseries promoting them for their tolerance to alkaline conditions unlike the acid-loving bald cypresses further east.

It was time to part ways with Hervé and Caroline generously got him a room in Concan for the night. He was off to explore Big Bend National Park the following day, but unfortunately I needed to get back to work and set up the many interesting collections we will trial at Peckerwood. It was a wonderful two day introduction to the flora of the hill country with perfect spring weather, an exceptional year for wildflowers, and simply a great opportunity for solidifying new friendships and botanical collaboration. Caroline has fortunately has the land protected under a conservation easement and is managing it well. A preliminary inventory of dominant flora and fauna had been prepared during the conservation process, but I plan to make a more thorough floral listing after this and future trips. I have a feeling her property has many more surprises to offer with more detailed exploration.


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Nannorrhops ritchiana – The Mazari Palm

A true oddity, Nannorrhops adds color, texture and interest to any garden.

With a native range extending from Yemen to Pakistan, Nannorrhops ritchiana inhabits among the most hostile environments of any palm. Summer brings temperatures above 100F while winters can dip well below freezing. Rainfall is seasonal leaving the palm well adapted to extended drought.

Despite these harsh origins, the Mazari palm is a hardy, adaptable species growing successfully in South Texas, California and Florida. Its deeply split palmate leaves range in color from gray-green to pale blue with a virtually unarmed petiole making it safe for planting along paths and walkways. It will sucker from the base and each stem is covered with a thick rust colored tomentum.
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Rare for palms, Nannorrhops exhibits above ground (dichotomous) branching, growing multiple heads from the main stem. Once a stem flowers, it will die back to the main stem, which continues to grow and branch further.

In Peckerwood Garden you can see the Nannorrhops in the South Dry Garden above the “Tall Drifter” sculpture by Peter Reginato.

Zone: 8 and higher
Soil: Adaptable to most soils given good drainage and is salt and limestone tolerant
Exposure: Part to full sun
Tolerates extreme drought but grows faster with regular irrigation and fertilizer
10ft or higher but trunks often recline with age

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New Plant Tags in the Garden

Existing Accessioning tags

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.

New labels for easy viewing and coordination with existing Accessioning tags.

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!

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Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’

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. Korean-GoldOnly 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. Korean-Gold-(2)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.

 

-Adam Black

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Senecio aschenbornianus

Senecio aschenborneanus

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.

— Adam Black