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John Fairey: plantsman extraordinaire

A visionary garden creator and plant explorer, John Fairey has had a significant influence on the plant palette and design aesthetic of southern gardens.

Over the course of his long career, John Fairey has created a significant legacy in plant exploration, conservation, new plant introduction, and garden design.

IT’S HARD TO pigeonhole John Gaston Fairey. He’s probably best known for Peckerwood Garden, the internationally acclaimed oasis he created over the last 40 years on an old farmstead in Hempstead, Texas, some 50 miles northwest of Houston. But over the course of a diverse career, the 84-year-old Fairey has also made a name for himself as an artist, college professor, conservationist, nursery founder, and plant explorer with a particular interest in Mexico’s flora. Through the unique array of trees, shrubs, woody lilies, and perennials from Texas and Mexico trialed at Peckerwood and distributed through public gardens and Yucca Do Nursery—a specialty mail-order nursery Fairey co-founded in the 1980s—Fairey has expanded the palette of plants available to gardeners throughout the American South. “John has truly been a pioneer in finding and popularizing plants from Mexico,” says Tony Avent, proprietor of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina. “While John certainly wasn’t the first American to botanize Mexico, his broad interest in plants other than cacti, the sheer number of trips, and his mail-order nursery outlet allowed a huge array of John’s finds to be distributed far and wide—something that many prior collectors failed to do.” Acknowledgment of Fairey’s accomplishments has come in the form of numerous awards, most recently with the Scott Medal and Award from the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 2013. He has also been recognized for his teaching, earning a National Teacher’s Award from the American Institute of Architects. Fairey and his former partner at Yucca Do Nursery, Carl Schoenfeld, received the American Horticultural Society’s Commercial Award in 1996 for their work.

An extended porch roof shades the veranda of Fairey’s house in Hempstead, Texas, above, and provides a restful place to listen to the rustling of palm fronds and view the sculptural forms of agaves and related plants in Peckerwood’s dry garden, top.


Fairey’s straightforward explanation for his passion is, “I garden because I want someplace wonderful to live.” He grew up gardening on his family’s farm in rural South Carolina and recalls weeding his mother’s garden in the mornings. Visits to Brookgreen Gardens near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, as a youngster, along with exposure to a lively community of gardeners set him on a course that eventually found its greatest expression in Peckerwood Garden, one of the most ambitious and beautiful gardens and arboreta in Texas. As a young adult, Fairey moved to Philadelphia to study painting and pursue a career as an artist. Eventually he made his way to central Texas to teach design to architecture students at Texas A&M University in College Station. It was while exploring the byways of this section of southeast Texas that Fairey’s career took a radically different route.

Azaleas and ground-covering herbaceous perennials thrive in the shade of Peckerwood’s woodland garden.


No one who witnessed Peckerwood’s humble beginnings in 1971 could have predicted that the garden would have a far-reaching influence on gardeners and garden designers in Texas and beyond. A realtor showed Fairey the property surrounding a neglected farmhouse in rural Hempstead and he in the novel Auntie Mame, as well as for the many resident woodpeckers. In 1983, a tornado destroyed or badly damaged many of the pines that shielded the garden from the Texas sun. Overnight, the garden’s aspect changed from protected and shaded to open and sun-drenched. With the character of the garden radically altered, Fairey was forced to adjust his approach. Needing plants that tolerate the intense heat, he began to seek out regionally native plants, aided by a 25-year friendship with Texas native plant pioneer Lynn Lowrey. According to Fairey, joining Lowrey on a 1988 botanizing trip to northern Mexico was a life-altering experience, opening up a whole new realm of plants and an appreciation for the country’s botanical, ecological, and cultural riches.

During nearly 100 plant-hunting expeditions to Mexico, Fairey collected cuttings and seeds from many promising garden plants, including Chihuahuan orchid tree (Bauhinia macranthera), top, blooming at high altitude in the mountains.


Over the next 25 years, Fairey made nearly 100 trips to Mexico, often teaming up with horticulturists and botanists from universities, public gardens, and nurseries. During these experiences, he learned how plants adapted to their specific ecological conditions in scrublands, pine–oak forests, rainforests, and alpine meadows. He observed how magnolias could thrive beneath the high canopy of pine–oak forest in one location as well as how agaves could benefit by protection from the hot western sun on the other side of the mountain. Traveling in isolated mountain areas required a sense of adventure and the ability to overcome obstacles such as broken-down vehicles, hazardous terrain, and unexpected health issues. Despite these challenges, Fairey relished each trip. Naturally, the knowledge acquired on these expeditions, along with the plants collected on them, found their way into the newly emerging garden at Peckerwood. As Fairey explained in an article published in Pacific Horticulture several years ago, “Because the garden is on the edge of three bio-geographic regions, the piney woods, the coastal plains, and the post–oak savannah, geography provides as much variety as weather does for growing conditions. Vital to our mission is a trial garden for

In the evenings, Fairey and fellow travelers such as Mark Bronstad of Doremus Wholesale Nursery in Warren, Texas, took inventory of each day’s finds and bagged them for later propagation.

plants from areas that share similarly demanding conditions.” Plants and seeds from the expeditions also were shared with a wide array of public gardens, including the University of California–Berkeley, Harvard University and Smith College in Massachusetts, North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, the University of California–Santa Cruz, the Chollipo Arboretum Foundation in Korea, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the United Kingdom. In the early 1990s, NCSU horticulturist J.C. Raulston distributed more than 7,000 plants grown from seed collected on Fairey’s Mexico expeditions. Marco Stufano, former director of horticulture for Wave Hill in New York recalls the “golden years” of these distributions to public gardens. “We at Wave Hill were fortunate to receive many of his introductions through the legendary generosity of the late J.C. Raulston, who accompanied John on many of his expeditions,” says Stufano. “Those were heady moments when we unpacked John’s latest finds.” Fairey put his plant-hunting skills to work for the American Cancer Society (ACS) in 1991, when he and Schoenfeld were asked to lead a Harvard University expedition to locate Taxus globosa, a rare form of yew native to Mexico. The ACS was interested in extracting a compound called taxol from the plant to test it for effectiveness in treatment of ovarian cancer. In 1987, Fairey founded Yucca Do Nursery in partnership with Schoenfeld, a former Texas A&M student who had helped with the restoration of Peckerwood following the tornado. The mail-order nursery, originally located next to Peckerwood, served as a means to propagate and share some of the more promising discoveries from the trips (for more on plant introductions, see sidebar, page 26) with gardeners. Schoenfeld later became sole owner of Yucca Do and has since moved the nursery to Giddings, Texas.


JOHN FAIREY’S PLANT INTRODUCTIONS Among Fairey’s tree finds is an unusual and rather tender magnolia called Magnolia tamaulipana ‘Bronze Sentinel’ (Zones 8–9, 9–7) that grows to 30 or 40 feet tall and bears creamy-white flowers in spring. Its new foliage has a purple-bronze hue that matures to deep green. Peckerwood has instituted a seed distribution program to ensure that the rare and worthy plants growing in the garden continue to be available to researchers and gardeners. Plants are also sold at the garden’s onsite nursery.  —B.N.

Peckerwood has been likened to painting and to sculpture. Fairey approaches the making of the garden with equal parts intuition and practicality. “The constant pursuit of new plants for the garden design has kept us aware of the need to evolve the garden continuously. With each addition and change, new problems arise to be solved, resulting in the evolution of the garden both visually and conceptually.” Along the way, Fairey observed that some plants from northern Mexico were actually better suited to cultivation in Texas gardens than their native Texas relatives. For instance, in a planting of sycamores that were subjected to a deep freeze, only the one from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon survived. Fairey also developed specific planting techniques to cultivate plants capable of withstanding the assaults of excessive moisture, drought, heat, cold, and rapid swings in temperature, all of which are characteristic of the continental Texas climate. A good example of this is his dry gardens, which are mounded and mulched with gravel—a trick Fairey learned from Lowrey—to get the plants above the difficult native soil and to provide excellent drainage. Agaves, beschornerias, dasylirions, yuccas, palms, and other plants from arid regions thrive in these beds, which also provide protection from the region’s temperature extremes. These techniques have informed gardeners in similar situations throughout the South. Fairey tells his art students that light “is a free commodity and should be used all the time,” and he has adapted that advice for his placement of plants in the landscape. In northern Mexico, he observed agaves and other woody lilies thriving under oaks, so at Peckerwood, accordingly, direct light is filtered through the highest canopy of oaks and pines to become dappled light playing off horizontal branches and vertical shafts of the understory trees and shrubs such as magnolias and summer-sweets (Clethra spp.). Light ricochets off the swirling fronds of palms and spherical spikes of yuccas and agaves before finally being absorbed by the more saturated colors of perennial foliage and flowers near ground level. Many shades of blue pervade the garden, in its palms, agaves, yuccas, nolinas, and dasylirions, providing a cooling respite in sunny dry areas as well as in the woodland. Fairey reminds his visitors that blue is psychologically cooling and that the movement of leaves is equally soothing to the soul. Fairey also pays particular attention to space, placing plants so they form a series of intimate areas, some created with undulating forms, others with abstracted divides, each a part of a series of experiences. Plants are shaped to frame a vista or left protruding beyond the frame, requiring the visitor to slow down and gently pull the branches apart in order to proceed. “I think of gardening as an aesthetic experience involving all the senses,” says Fairey. “You are forced in this garden to touch and feel and smell, whether you want to or not.” Visitors also note the contrasting areas of the garden, with the north side of the house wooded and dark and the south side dry and sparse, with a minimum of easy-to-maintain plants. Three Nolina nelsonii are lined up by the pump house with their slender spiky leaves playing off the vertical ribbing on the Galvalume siding, inspired by vernacular buildings fast disappearing from the rural Texas landscape. The house, designed by architect Gerald Maffei, one of Fairey’s colleagues at Texas A&M, faces south to catch the winter sun and features a deep porch roof that shields the house and veranda in the summer. The view from the veranda features palms constantly in motion from the prevailing Gulf breezes, the rustle of their leaves, helping to screen the house and garden from the sounds of the nearby road.

JOHN FAIREY’S PLANT INTRODUCTIONS John Fairey’s expeditions to Mexico have yielded scores of plants that over time have become garden standards in the South and beyond. Many were originally released through Yucca Do Nursery, but others have been selected, trialed, and introduced through public gardens and other nurseries. Among them are many agaves and related plants such as yuccas, dasylirions, Mexican lilies (Beschorneria spp.), and hesperaloes. Fairey’s introductions include Beschorneria septentrionalis (USDA Hardiness Zones 7–10, AHS Heat Zones 10–7), which bears drooping clusters of pinkish-red flowers with green tips on a four-foot flower spike, and Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’, a four-foot-tall agave named for the sharktoothlike spines on its leaves. Fairey has a soft spot for rain lilies (Zephyranthes spp.), a genus of bulbous plants with grasslike evergreen foliage that bloom in response to seasonal rainfall. He has collected and grown dozens of selections, but a pink-and-white-flowered one with variable patterning, called LaBufa Rosa Group, is probably the most prominent of these introductions. —B.N.


The original seven-acre property has grown to 19 acres and the nonprofit Peckerwood Garden Foundation, which Fairey established in 1999, has acquired another 20 acres that was formerly the site of the nursery. The added acreage will be crucial to the garden’s future for a number of reasons, including as the site of an arboretum for its expanding collection of oaks. Mexico is the epicenter for oak distribution in the world and about half of the 230 oaks in the garden are Mexican species. The garden’s staff has grown along with the garden, rising to four full-time employees and aided by scores of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers. One of Fairey’s goals with Peckerwood is to provide a cultural bridge between Mexico and the United States and to raise awareness on both sides of the border about the richness of the flora of northeastern Mexico. He also wants to draw attention to overgrazing and other economic pressures that are threatening the already fragile ecosystems. Fairey’s horticultural legacy encompasses plant exploration, conservation, garden design, and the introduction of a new palette of plants for American gardeners, yet for him the culmination of all these activities are reflected in his vision for Peckerwood. It is the art and science, as much as the beauty and conservation value of Peckerwood that has encouraged organizations like the Garden Conservancy to take an interest in the garden’s long-term preservation. The Peckerwood Garden Foundation is helping plan for a future that will not only share Fairey’s artistic vision but develop research and education programs to introduce plants that can enrich gardens and public landscapes in the region as a changing climate and diminishing resources intensify the challenges for people and plants. “Peckerwood is a laboratory garden testing a wide range of ‘new’ plants,” says Fairey. “It is a garden with a mission to encourage other gardeners to see a beauty in landscape that is consistent with our plants and climate. It is a garden that looks to the future, not to the past.”


ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL NOBLE: This article was published in the September/October 2015 issue of The American Gardener, the magazine of the American Horticultural Society ( Used with permission.

Formerly director of preservation with the nonprofit Garden Conservancy, Bill Noble is a garden designer, consultant, and freelance writer based in Norwich, Vermont.


Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC. (919) 772-4794.
Woodlanders, Inc., Aiken, SC. (803), 648-7522.
Yucca Do Nursery,Giddings, TX. (979), 542-8811.

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Garden Documentation Project Underway

A page from John Fairey's plant journal
A page from John Fairey’s plant journal.

Peckerwood Garden founder John Fairey kept meticulous records of his numerous collecting expeditions to Mexico. He recorded the date, time, and weather at each stop along winding mountain roads where he found specimens of the hundreds of plants he brought back to grow at Peckerwood Garden.

Each plant in the garden sports a metal tag referencing these coordinates; and the date of its planting in the garden. For many years, these tags have been the only reference point for identifying plants in the garden and their place of origin.

That is changing now, thanks to a generous gift from Laura Fain in honor of plantsman Will Fleming. The gift is providing seed money for an ambitious initiative to capture our plant records in a new and dynamic database tied to a GIS (Global Information System). This sophisticated mapping program will allow staff and researchers to not only learn the history of any plant, but also locate it growing in the garden today.

With more than 3000 species of plants, Peckerwood Garden is a cornucopia of botanical riches, with origins in diverse climatic zones and conditions, most grown from seed. The array of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs is representative of growing areas from Louisiana to the mountains of northern Mexico. The range of cacti and succulents, for which Peckerwood is perhaps best known, come from desert areas stretching from Texas into southern Mexico.

These plants have been tested for garden-worthiness for nearly 30 years and the information gathered about their horticultural values is as important as the botanical data represented in John’s records.

Leading our plant collections initiative is Sue Howard, a horticulturist based in Vermont who has taken up residence in the nursery house at Peckerwood Garden for the winter months. She is working closely with garden consultant Bill Noble, former preservation director at the Garden Conservancy, who has tapped into the Alliance for Public Gardens to enroll Peckerwood Garden in a pilot project using the ESRI GIS software. This program is making it possible for a select group of public gardens to use this sophisticated software at virtually no cost.

Documenting the Mexican Oaks at Peckerwood Garden

Sue is spending her days walking the garden with John, transcribing stories of the individual plants and their history, then poring over the collection journals and stacks of note cards to pull together the data behind each plant in the garden. Her first efforts have been focused on the Mexican oaks, which were documented and mapped in 2007. It was no surprise to learn that a dozen additional species had found their way into the garden since then!

Each tree is measured to determine the current caliper size, and its specific location identified for the new site map. Botanical photos of leaf, bark, flower, and seed will also be part of the database record, all shareable with botanical institutions and, one day, with the general public.

We will be updating you on this complex effort as it goes along, and hope you will join us for a presentation about the project by Sue Howard at the garden on Saturday, March 28th, in conjunction with our Open Day.

Documenting Peckerwood Garden’s plant collections through participation in ArcGIS for public gardens is an essential first step towards participating in national plant conservation programs. This step will also lead us towards making Peckerwood’s plants available for research and horticultural purposes. Documenting and sharing Peckerwood’s outstanding resources with researchers and other public gardens is an essential part of our vision for the future of the Garden.

— Bill Noble

I have been here at Peckerwood since early January and am thrilled to be part of such an interesting project in such a splendid and notable garden. Working alongside John is a pleasure, he is a wealth of information, interjected with stories of travels and beams with the pure joy of doing what he loves.

We have been updating the previously catalogued oaks, adding additions, taking leaf samples, measuring caliper, photographing each individual tree and cross referencing each with the coinciding collection trips to Mexico. The oaks are interspersed throughout the garden so every venture brings with it glimpses of spring unfolding – the Prunus mume in full bloom, Magnolias just starting and the sweet scent of Mahonia chochoca wafting through the air.

Our ArcGIS software has arrived and once up and running we begin mapping. There is a great team of people here both staff and dedicated volunteers who love this garden, I am honored to be a part of that mix.

— Sue Howard

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Beschorneria septentrionalis

In March of 1991, Martin Grantham, horticulturist in charge of the Mezo-American Garden at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley; Eduardo Estrata Castillon, student at the College of Forestry Science at the State University of Nuevo Leon, Linares, Mexico; and Carl Schoenfeld of Yucca Do Nursery, accompanied me on a botanizing expedition to northeastern Mexico to observe Magnolia tamaulipana at its northern location in the Sierra Madre Oriental, approximately seventy miles north of Ciudad Victoria. It was much to our surprise and delight that while driving through a pine oak forest, we first saw the Beschorneria in flower. It had bright red and green cylindrical bell-shaped blooms held on glossy scarlet four-foot-tall stalks that were exceptionally exotic. The stalks emanated from a base of dark green, strap-like, evergreen foliage. Although this agave-relative had been identified and named in literature in 1987, it represented a rare find to be shared with the world of horticulture.

Two plants were collected: one was planted at Peckerwood Garden and has thrived under shaded conditions with some moisture; the other was sent to the Botanical Garden at Berkley for testing and hybridization. In August of the same year, I returned to the same site to collect seeds that were shared with the late Dr. J. C. Raulston (North Carolina State University Arboretum) and Yucca Do Nursery. These plants have proven cold hardy to -4°F, flowered healthy blooms, and produced viable seeds. In the mid 1990’s Martin Grantham made crosses between B. septentrionalis and B. yuccoides, and many of these sturdy hybrids are being tested at Peckerwood Garden. Their foliage is rich green, washed with silver frosting. We have not experienced a typical winter “blue norther” for several years; therefore we can not report on cold hardiness. In early May, 2000, three of these plants that are being tested in a sunny location flowered. The blossoms were showy and very similar to the B. yuccoides parent.

— John G. Fairey

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The Mystery Magnolia

Searching for plants in the mysterious and magical mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico is an arduous and challenging experience, but it is also exhilarating and exciting. It is a layering of time — past, present, and future. The patchwork of people, places, plants and events form an integral composition that has become a way of life.

The mountains of northeast Mexico are rich in natural beauty — spaces that are awesome and breathtaking — and the dramatic environmental changes which occur on the eastern side of this range have produced a variety of amazingly diverse habitats that are rich in numbers of plant species. It is not unusual to find dogwoods growing in a moist canyon on the northeast side of the mountain and walk only a few feet to see agaves and yuccas thriving on a hot and dry western slope. These phenomenal changes also occur when climbing in altitude. The myriad forms, colors, and textures of this exotic array of plants unfold into an unbelievably beautiful landscape that is indeed an intense experience.

Being at the right place at the right time is an important factor in searching for plants. We have rarely returned from one of our numerous expeditions without being able to report the discovery of a new plant with potential use. Frequently it was found in an area that we had explored time and time again, but it was another season and a different time of day. Natural light effects our lives in a multitude of wonderful ways.

Learning how to listen is also of utmost importance on a botanizing expedition. Just a few words about a place or a plant family from someone you meet along the way or a traveling companion can open a whole new field of interest. During the past six years, we have made the opportunity to travel with many wonderful persons from various areas of this country and abroad — some very young; others old, wise and experienced; and some even more eccentric than we. All have been very knowledgeable and anxious to share. Through this complex layering process, we have gleaned much botanical, horticultural, geological, and cultural information, but above all else, each of these personalities has had an important impact on our lives. What a great way to learn.

In January of 1990, on the recommendation of Mark Kane (at that time associate editor of Fine Gardening), a research team sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University contacted us regarding a proposed expedition to the Sierra Madre Oriental. The purpose of this expedition was to collect samples of Taxus globosa to be used in a cancer research project sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. Their previous venture into the area to locate taxus had ended in failure; therefore, to insure that this expedition would be a success, during the summer of 1990, we purchased maps that had been compiled and printed by the Mexican government during the 1970’s. Several of these maps proved most informative because they recorded vegetation with reference to specific areas. By plant family name association, we were able to locate several new colonies of Taxus globosa. To our surprise we noted that Magnolia grandiflora is listed in this plant inventory. Could this information possibly be correct, or is it just another botanical error? This mystery magnolia stimulated much excitement and haunted our thoughts, but many months and events passed before there was time to look further into this intriguing information.

The College of Forestry Science at the State University of Nuevo Leon, in Linares, arranged for Eduardo Estrada-C., a biology student, to accompany us on this expedition to collect Taxus globosa. In mid-October of 1990 we were joined by Lalo, as Eduardo is called by his friends, and headed off on this memorable quest. We had spent long hours studying maps and untold days in late summer locating and maneuvering through uncharted networks of narrow, rocky roads and paths that lead to higher elevations where taxus grow. As a result we were able to quickly lead the research team to large stands of healthy trees. We located five colonies of this potentially important small tree and the researchers collected foliage and branch samples from over fifty trees for testing. We have never been privy to the information concerning exact figures on the taxol content of these samples, whatever happened to the rooted cuttings made from some of these collections, or just who is to benefit from this project. It is hoped that in the future it will be Mexico.

At 8:45 a.m. on a balmy day in mid-December 1990, accompanied again by Lalo, we leave the town of Linares and head south to search for a road that will lead us into a rugged mountain range where Magnolia grandiflora is reported to grow.

These high altitude mountains that we are so eager to investigate are approximately 75 miles northwest of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. If indeed there are magnolias here, this location would be approximately 125 miles north of the evergreen magnolias found at Rancho del Cielo Biosphere Reserve at Gomez Farfas, Tamaulipas. This mountain range is positioned so that the peaks and valleys form windows and doors with direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. The coastal breezes sweep into these areas and produce heavy fog during the dry months and an abundance of rain in late summer and early fall. On numerous occasions we have observed these distant mountains shrouded in clouds. The question is, how does one get into these remote areas that are possibly supporting cloud forest with great potential for new species? Our antiquated maps show what could be a small road or a trail in the lowlands, but at higher elevations it is impossible to separate road and trail from contours. One way or another, we are determined to explore the mystery of this magnolia.

Around 10:00 a.m. we turn off one of the major highways leading south and slowly make our way over a one lane dirt road that leads to a small village at the edge of a river. Here our map indicates that this road will cross the river and begin climbing into the mountains.

The previous summer had been unusually dry; therefore, the endless scrub and thorny brush that surround and arch over both sides of the road are heavy with gray-brown dust. The surface of the road is very bumpy, and often we are forced to drive so slowly that the wind carries the dust made by our tires ahead of the vehicle. Like the trees and shrubs, every inch of the truck, its contents, and all occupants are quickly covered in talcum-like dust. There are few incentives to linger in the parched lowlands because we are excited by the prospect of making our way into the cool and green mountains.

The road enters the village where we slow to a crawl to get our bearings and to admire the beautifully crafted dwellings. There are ten or so families living in this communal ejido which is perched high on a mesa overlooking a clear, swift-flowing river and the distant mountains. When we reach the far end of the village, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no river crossing here. The remains of what had been a road are visible on both sides of the river, but floods have eroded the banks and cut deep holes in the river bed. There is an abrupt ten foot drop between the old road and the river’s edge. Not even our four wheel drive vehicle with its heavy duty tires could maneuver this. Everyone in the village comes out to greet us, question our needs, and assist with information on where and how to get to the other side of the river. Needless to say, Lalo receives numerous conflicting directions.

Lalo does a great job of interpreting the bits and pieces of information and, after several wrong turns, we reach another nearby village. Here we ask directions from only one person, and within minutes we drive down to the edge of the cold, crystal clear river. Ancient Mexican cypresses (Taxodium mucronatum) with massive trunks and far spreading branches line the river bank. We safely ford the river with water lapping at our car doors, foolishly thinking that the worst is behind us and that it will soon be possible to begin our ascent to higher elevations. As soon as we leave the river bed and its far bank, we encounter three forks in the road, each well worn to the same degree. We choose the one to the right, because it seems to head toward the mountains. It is the wrong choice, and as the day progresses, we make many other wrong decisions. We give a man who has been milking his herd of goats a short ride. Oh, how good that still warm milk smelled to us all, and for a short time he had us headed in the right direction. For miles the narrow road leads through a dense and impenetrable jungle of small trees, shrubs, and vines that obscure the mountains and make it visually impossible to determine our orientation.

Occasionally we see small trees that have pushed their branches above the thicket, and these umbrella-like canopies are laden with winged seed pods that are brilliant wine-red. Contrasted with the glossy dark green foliage they make a dazzling show in the morning light. We recognize these trees as Wimmeria concolor and note the approximate location in our journal.

“We had no idea that this outstanding ornamental is found this far north, and this information alone would have made the expedition worthwhile.”

All are about ready to give up, when suddenly the road surface changes from powdery dry dust to bouncy pebbles. Abruptly we begin our climb and there is a dramatic change in vegetation. The trees are taller and there are spaces between them. Mighty stone formations rise into view. Someone notes a Quercus polymorpha, the handsome and tenacious oak which has blue green foliage and grows from Guatemala to Texas. It is well past noon, we have traveled approximately 11 miles beyond the river and have reached 1,400 feet altitude. At long last, the air is fresher and cooler, and there are views into distant canyons and mountains. On the high ridges above, growing from within crevices in the stone, there are hundreds of palms (Brahea edulis) piercing the skyline.

We stop briefly to examine the glossy, dark green leaves of an orchid tree (Bauhinia sp.). Legumes are one of Lalo’s major interests and this small tree is of special concern because he thinks that it could be a new species. He took a herbarium pressing of the leaves, but, at last report, this plant is still unnamed. At this location we see Clethra pringlei, a small evergreen tree that in mid-summer flowers spectacular racemes of white, urn-shaped flowers with fragrance reminiscent of cinnamon and honey followed by deep pink fruit that slowly turns brown with maturity. The tree is familiar because we have seen it at Rancho del Cielo Biosphere Reserve. We had no idea that this outstanding ornamental is found this far north, and this information alone would have made the expedition worthwhile.

We climb to 2,000 feet and enter a dense forest of Loquat Leaf Oaks (Quercus rysophylla). Growing in the deep shade of these giant, old evergreens are thousands of palms (Sabal Mexican) which vary in size from grass-like seedlings to stately specimens up to 30 feet tall. Every once in a while, this lower canopy of dark, blue-green foliage is punctuated by the bright, acid-green leaves of a lone Brahea edulis palm that has made its way down from its usual habitat on the high ridges above.

We slowly creep higher and higher —  sometimes the tires barely make it from boulder to boulder. Often the door panels of the vehicle are only inches from solid stone on both sides. At 2:00 p.m. we have traveled 15.7 miles since crossing the river in the lowlands and have reached an altitude of 3,600 feet. We are traveling on a secondary ridge overlooking a breathtaking view that faces southeast. Through tall oaks, pines, and trunkless palms (yet another species) there are vistas of miles and miles of mountains fading into the distance. On all sides, tall rock formations thrust out of the grassy meadows. These monolithic stones, etched with intricate patterns of yellow, red, and orange lichens, are surrounded by pines with outstretched branches that sweep toward the earth. This combination of forms in a setting of gauze-like layers of mountains and valleys bring to mind recollections of early Chinese watercolors.

Since we had no idea of the time involved in finding our way into these mountains, we failed to bring a tent or sleeping bags. There are only a few hours of daylight remaining to look for the magnolia, but despite this urgency, we know that it is necessary to eat and rest for a few moments. We are famished and exhausted from anxiety and the constant jostling of the vehicle bouncing from rock to rock. So why not stop here in the midst of a beautiful space? And just as important as food for the body, we would afford ourselves a moment to examine and admire the pines (Pinus nubicola) and palms (Brahea moorei).

Shortly after lunch we reach a stretch of road that has been crudely blasted out of the side of the mountain — barely wide and tall enough for the truck to squeeze through. Just inches from the wheels on the driver’s side there is an abrupt drop of a thousand or more feet. The view is dramatic, but there is a sigh of relief from all as the road slowly turns west and widens. Although the sheer stone walls are unnerving, they make an ideal habitat for a showy display of maroon, green, and silver hechtias — some are even combinations of these colors. The older plants have reached three to four feet across and their spiky, heavily serrated leaves swirl outward to form spectacular pinwheels flattened against gray stone.

Around 4:00 p.m., we reach the west side of another saddle between two mountains. The altimeter reads 4,000 feet. Growing between massive plates of smooth, gray limestone, mature oaks (Quercus canbyii) dot the landscape. This tough and uniquely beautiful tree is almost always found on dry and exposed sites. Strong winds sweep these rock surfaces clean, and only the toughest and most adaptable plants survive in areas like this. Agaves and dasylirions compete for soil on the rocky ledge above the road. In the deep crevices we see cactus (Mammillaria rubrograndis), two species of zephyranthes and numerous echeveria, their fleshy, blue-green, pink and mauve leaves pulled tight for protection against winter cold and drought. Huge boulders line the lower side. These are entwined with thick mounds of butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera). The lacy, bright yellow flowers have long fallen, but they have been followed by clusters of rusty brown seed pods that resemble butterflies in flight.

The xerophytic make-up of this stark limestone uplift gives no indication that magnolias could be growing anywhere in the vicinity, but suddenly the road makes a sharp turn and we veer east. There is a simultaneous question from all, “liquidambar?” In a distant valley, beneath a high northeast facing ridge, we see scores of trees with vibrant orange, yellow, and scarlet foliage (in Mexico, sweetgums [Liquidambar styracitlua] color up in late autumn and do not defoliate until January and February). The old plant inventory maps group Liquidambar styraciflua and Magnolia grandiflora growing together at the same location. If these distant, colorful trees are indeed liquidambar, there is a glimmer of hope. All are in agreement and confident that these are Mexican sweetgums and there is a feeling of excitement and anticipation.

Within moments we enter a whole new world of flora and fauna. The stone lined road gives way to gentle, rolling earth. Giant pines, oaks, and hickories are the dominant trees. We are flanked by mountains that are 8,000 to 9,000 feet, and the slopes are thick with sweetgums, their fall color intensified by the late afternoon sun and the contrasting evergreens. The towering peaks act as rain magnets during the summer and provide shade and fog during the dry season. This, combined with deep and fertile red clay soil, has produced a forest of incredibly large trees. The dominant oak is Quercus satorii, many reaching a height of over 100 feet. We had seen this exceptionally handsome oak at Rancho del Cielo Biosphere Reserve, and it was growing with magnolias. Everything is beginning to fall into place. But where are the magnolias?

Driving out of the tall trees, we move onto a cleared meadow with grass sod that is kept mowed by grazing animals, and in front of us there is a magnificent view into a deep and heavily forested valley. The other sides of this pasture are lined with dense mounds of Senecio aschenborianus which are covered with large cymes of deep yellow flowers. It is 5:00 p.m. and the open space gives a false sense of remaining light, and the low winter sun on the senecio flowers creates a strange and dramatic setting. The road leads us into another pine-oak forest, and only a few hundred feet ahead we are in the midst of a thicket of young liquidambar trees. The road forks, and the right turn appears to lead to higher elevations and the left turns sharply northeast. Our better judgment tells us that northeast will be cool and damp; fortunately, this time we are correct.

At 4,000 feet, the woods become dense, and under the canopy of foliage the remaining light is dim. We are in the midst of an extraordinary array of life. This gentle north slope creates a perfect setting for deciduous and evergreen quercus, pinus, carpinus, nyssa, carya, and persea. The understory is thick with Taxus globose, vacciniums, and Cornus florida subsp. urbiniana. Gelsemium, mitchella, salvias, aquilegia, zephyranthes, beschorneria, and all sizes of ferns and mosses crowd the forest floor. Only a few feet into this magical space and we turn into a deep arroyo that is moist from seeping water. We know that at long last we are in the right place. “Here they are!” There are magnolia branches everywhere” above us and below. Some trees are thin and stately, reaching toward the sky. Several have been pushed over by rock slides and are growing prostrate along the incline, and others have air layered under the damp and thick mat of decaying leaves that gather between boulders. Trees whose trunks have been buried in broken stones are surviving and sending up new leaders from exposed branches.

There are no flowers, and we are much too late for seed, but we carefully examine the rich green foliage and feel confident that this is not Magnolia grandiflora. But what is it? It must be the same magnolia as those found at Rancho del Cielo Biosphere Reserve, but the leaf structure and color appear to be noticeably different. Even among the ten to twelve trees at this location there are many variations.

We collect five air layered cuttings from fallen trees, making sure that there are two from a tree that has very dark, exceptionally long and narrow green leaves. The one or two delicate white roots are carefully wrapped in damp paper, placed in a plastic bag, and then stored in an empty cooler. We quickly record our mileage (21.45 miles), elevation (4,100 feet), and give the cuttings a collection number (T28M-8p-121790).

It is now dark and only glimpses of light pierce through the dense foliage. At this location there is no space to turn the vehicle around, so it is necessary to continue for another mile before finding a safe place to make this maneuver. In deep darkness and silence, we slowly retrace the day’s journey back to Linares for a few hours of rest before heading out on another adventure. We are exhausted from tension and every bone is reacting to the constant joggling. But all are happy and excited within — we have found our way into a paradise-like setting with overwhelming diversity of flora and fauna and have located the mystery magnolia.

— John G. Fairey

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Pictures of Antiquity

Cycads are woody plants that superficially resemble palms and tree ferns. They are found around the world in both hemispheres in tropical and subtropical zones. There are 11 genera of Cycads, some of which are Zamia and Dioon. In the mainland United States we have one species of Cycad – Zamia floridana.

Dioon on hill in Mexico
Dioon on hill in Mexico

It is a native of Florida and extends into southern Georgia and is referred to as Cootie. It is used widely in Florida as a drought tolerant landscape accent. Here at Peckerwood the Florida Coontie was the first Cycad tried; it has proliferated, setting enormous fruit bearing cones with bounties of fertile seed. That led the way for others.

In 1988 John Fairey and I collected seed of Chamal (Dioon edule var. angustifolia) in northeastern Mexico. These germinated and after twelve years are about 16 inches tall and have about eight leaves atop a small swollen stem (caudex). Cycads are extremely slow growing to our eyes but we must understand that they have been around for over 200 million years. Notice their distinctive character which reflects their antiquity.

Photos show them in habitat with close-ups of the flowering or reproductive structures in both sexes. A detail of the fertile cone with maturing seed reiterates their simplicity. The last image is a detail of the rigid leaf, which is retained for some number of years.

Female Dioon plant
Female Dioon plant

Dioons are ancient woody plants and some very large specimens could possibly be several hundred years old. They inhabit steep hillsides where the soils are skeletal and poor. In areas were the decomposed shale is deep they proliferate and create an unreal prehistoric setting, dominating the environment. Chamal can also be found in more hospitable soils and shelter, but there they are small and scattered. Interestingly, Dioon edule specifically has the ability to contract its stem underground as it grows — thus maintaining relativity in the amount of trunk exposed. One suggested explanation for this strange (unplant-like) activity is to reduce its exposure to environmental stress and predation — remember these plants were around during the time of dinosaurs. Also, they may go through prolonged periods of rest, revealed as narrowing in the diameter of the trunk. Some feel that these plants are not regenerating at this time. Are they possibly endangered or just taking a rest that will wait out our short impatient lifetimes? The greatest danger to their existence is ignorance and apathy. They truly are unequalled and intriguing living organisms that count the eons of time while we count the seconds.

— Carl Schoenfeld

Male Dioon Plant
Male Dioon Plant
Seeds found near Dioon plant
Seeds found near Dioon plant
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Expedition to the Edges

We have made a very long day’s drive from Peckerwood Garden and are in the state of Tamaulipas. It is very early, barely light, when we finish a substantial breakfast, energized by the comforts and hospitality of our country inn, Hacienda Santa Engracia.

We pass through and sometimes stop to visit small villages very different from towns of equivalent size back across the northern border. Without city planners or neighborhood building codes, these communities are much more visually integrated into their surrounding landscape. Building materials are for the most part made of the landscape: adobe, wood, weathered stucco and plaster, thatch of nolina, palm, and dasylirion, with a minimum of glass, smooth metal, or factory-produced bricks.

A few houses have metal roofs, and we realize that as modern materials make an appearance here, building supplies like the nolina thatch will be less desirable, and those plants will become less appreciated and open to abuse. Fence posts, instead of being made from machine finished lumber, are tree branches. A fence builder may use a machete to sharpen these poles to very sharp points for deflecting the rain, and often the points are topped with red paint (Sangre de Christo, “Blood of Christ”).

Building colors in earth hues contrast with deeply pigmented shades that we recognize from wild morning glories or on a flowering shrub we had seen on a mountain. Living in such visual harmony with the natural world is of course often explained by economic constraints; if it is true that wealth and industry and high populations bring careless growth and a commercially determined aesthetic, then sad lessons are to be learned. Spanish moss clinging to the power lines will not be tolerated in most cities, and a hand-painted sign, number, or name on a door may take too much valuable time, when a lit billboard could bring so many more customers. For now, we can only be entranced by the elegant juxtaposition of colors on two adjacent walls, and be moved by the visual surprise of finding hand-carved crosses in the village cemetery.

We drive for many miles seeing little other road traffic, telephone lines, or city limits. Farmers here may be organized into ejidos (farming co-ops) which give a sense of community as well as economic solidarity to widely distanced neighbors. The intense physicality of this space is felt even at 100 kilometers per hour.

The dioon hill, all shale and thorny scrub acacia, rises above cultivated corn fields and a winding path of a country road. We see the fluttering fronds of these great and ancient plants, Dioon edulae var. angustifolia, as we approach, smoothly dark on top, light grey-green on the underside, alive in the breeze. As we drag our heavy cameras up the hills, we see that cattle have also climbed here, grazing on the hill. The dioon are fewer than when we last visited. We fear for the future of this plant, seeing only a few regenerating plants.

We find it impossible to care where this unpaved road might lead, as it crosses back and forth a green and rushing creek, because every few feet we see new color of morning glory or some rare plant demanding a photograph and John’s explanation of its growing habit. We stop to photograph a pale sycamore, Plantanus mexicana, and are hypnotized by eddying green water, the occasional bird call, all else silent.

We have hot showers and city excitement in Monterrey and a visit with the charming and knowledgable Porfirio Sosa Jimenez at his gallery and shop Carapán, where we explore a carefully selected collection of folk art from all of Mexico.

Agave montanaAgave lophanthaWe cross a pass south of Ciudad Victoria and drive through desert areas in the rain shadow, up to a high plateau (5000 feet). Driving demands focus, as there are sheer drops just inches from our vehicle. We must back up when the road is too narrow, as trucks have the right-of-way. Up now to 7000 feet and into fog, we see our first Pinus rutis, Agave montana, Arbutus xalapensis, and a tree Nolina. Our view over the valley is vast, little villages dotting the landscape far below. We have noticed white caleche, sandstone rubble, by the roadside, but higher up we find solid limestone, host to the tenacious Agave lophantha.

Violet mountains seem far away as we make our way across vast landscapes with marching armies of gesturing Yucca filifera. By the time we reach the foothills, the mountain tops come and go in the clouds that nourish and sustain much of the vegetation in the highest places. When we have driven as high as possible, even with four wheel drive, we leave our vehicle and continue on foot.

We climb rocky cliffs, careful not to disturb colonies of ferns, Sedum palmeri, and pinguicula which cling tenuously to the granite walls. An intensely green carpet of high country grasses is dotted with minute violet, red, and yellow wildflowers, and then even higher, where mammoth granite boulders create a home for giant mountain spirits. Hearing bells, we meet horses and cattle in groups of three or four, gentle reminders that we are not the only ones interested in what grows up here, and we fear that this diverse vegetation is on their menu. The palette of the land at this altitude is the darkest green of the pines, the deep blues and violets of cloud-filled skies, and rose and pale gray stone. Raindrops send us down to avoid an approaching storm, and our last color memory of the mountain is the soft white of enveloping clouds and the wet blackness of rain on stone.

— Julia Lanthrop

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Peckerwood References

jhagave3_0Complete Annotated Bibliography of Articles Written about (and Photographs Taken of) Peckerwood Garden


Druse, Ken. “South of the Border” in The Collector’s Garden: Designing With Extraordinary Plants. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1996, pp. 32-37.
Druse introduces the reader to John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld, modern-day plant hunters whose Mexican discoveries are grown and observed in Fairey’s garden, Peckerwood, and have led to the offering of these plants to the public through Yucca Do Nursery.  Druse also explains that the desire of the two plantsmen to preserve these species from possible extinction in their home environment has led them to donate seeds and cuttings to numerous botanical gardens in the U.S. and abroad.
Ogden, Lauren Springer and Scott. “Out in the Sun” in Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit. Portland: Timber Timber Press, Inc., 2008, pp.134, 236-237.

The very nature of Peckerwood Garden makes it a must-have for this book on plants, place and spirit.  Several pictures of the garden exemplify “out in the sun”.

Ryan, Julie. “An Artist’s Garden” in Perennial Gardens for Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998, pp. 42-47.

As its name implies, the primary interest of Ryan’s book is perennials, but her discussion of John Fairey’s garden is wide-ranging.  She notes the extensive collections in the garden, but also its artistry (“His artist’s eye holds Fairey’s collector’s urge in check” (p. 47) and attempts to explain how various features of that artistry are achieved (shrub planting that provides a unifying “backbone” through the garden, for example [p. 45]).  Ryan also contributes information on the garden’s natural soil and growing conditions and Fairey’s horticultural practices.  A very useful and informative article with photographs that witness to the evolution of the garden since these pictures were taken.

Verey, Rosemary, ed. “The Garden of John Gaston Fairey” by John G. Fairey in The American Man’s Garden. Boston, Toronto, and London: Bullfinch Press, an imprint and trademark of Little, Brown and Co., Inc., 1990, pp. 89-93.

In this thoughtful and carefully written contribution to Verey’s book, John Fairy recounts some of the influences on his garden making: his youth in South Carolina; the kinship he felt with the site he first viewed in 1971; the 1983 tornado that took down the big trees that had directed his first planting (“For the first time I felt free to be in control of the design” [p. 90]; friends and collaborators such as Carl Schoenfeld and Lynn Lowrey. Fairy strives to explain what he seeks to achieve in his garden-making and how his search for suitable plant form, texture, color, and scent has led him to experiment with Texas and southwestern natives, Asian counterparts, and, most notably, Mexican varieties.

Ward, Bobby J. The Plant Hunters Garden: The New Explorers and Their Discoveries. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.

Profiles 32 of today’s more prolific plant hunters, from the Czech Republic to the Rocky Mountains, including John G. Fairey, founder of Peckerwood Garden. Offers insight into John’s chosen highlights from collecting.


Atherton, Lorraine. Photographs by Keith Carter. “A Gardener’s World,” Domain: The Lifestyle Magazine of Texas Monthly, fall 1988, pp. 30-35.
An article on the early garden (and very early nursery, begun in 1987).  Stresses John Fairey’s determination to seek out plants for his part of Texas.  Valuable photos, especially of the early nursery operation and of the undeveloped area on the north side of the creek.

Avent, Tony. “On the Trail for Mexican Flora,” The Trillium: Newsletter of the Piedmont Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society 5, no. 3 (March 1995): 1, 3-6.

Spirited account of plant hunting in Mexico with John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld, Thanksgiving, 1994.

Bender, Steve. “Yahoo! It’s Yucca Do,” Southern Living 29, no.1 (January 1994): 58-59.

Principally about the efforts of John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld to trial and propagate species collected in Mexico, with an emphasis on preservation of Mexican species.

Bonnin, Julie. “Worldly Roots: At Peckerwood Garden, an artist cultivates a canvas of rare species.” The Austin American Statesman, March 20th, 2004. Section E6, front page (continued).

A comprehensive summary of the garden and its creator, John G. Fairey, his views and methods. Recounts stories from expeditions to Mexico as well as some highlights of commissions and exchanges with major world horticultural institutions. Photography by Amber Novak.

Clarke, Ethne. Photographs by author. “A Visit to Houston: Peckerwood Garden,” The American Gardener: The Magazine of the American Horticultural Society 79, no. 1 (January-February 2000): 43-46.

Informative article which mentions the author’s visit to Mexico with John Fairey.  Also speaks of the twofold influence on Fairey of Ruth Bancroft’s garden in Walnut Creek, CA: 1) plant form in garden design and 2) preservation through the Garden Conservancy.  Mentions, too, art in the garden and Fairey’s collection of Mexican folk art as well as plant collections: Zephyranthes, Polianthes, and others.

Photographs by author and Elsie Kirsten. “Open for Viewing: Peckerwood Garden,” Pacific Horticulture 60, no. 4 (winter 1999): 24- 29.

Gives short history of Peckerwood Garden and Yucca Do Nursery.  Discusses Mexican trips and interest in conservation, plus desire to expand plant palette for TX and elsewhere.  A discussion of garden design: “bold plants, bold design.” Also mentions Peckerwood collections of oaks, magnolias, Styrax.

Compton, James. “Salvias From the High Sierras,” The Garden: Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 118, part 11 (November 1993): 499-501.

Highly informative account of British Salvia collectors in Mexico with John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld, Oct. 1991.  Especially valuable for insight into ecosystems of the high sierras of northeastern Mexico and for explanation of certain Spanish terms such as arroyo (stream cutting) and barranca (gorge).

Cummings, Mary. “Passion for Plants Informs Latest Landscape Pleasures,” The Southampton (NY) Press, 13 June 2002, sec. B, pp. 1,9.

Alerting Southampton residents to an upcoming talk by John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld on plant collecting and its influence on garden design.  Interesting interviews with both men.

Curtis, Jane Alexander. Photographs by Paul Hester. “Fairey’s Garden: A Botanical Wonder Takes Root Between Houston and College Station,” Cite: The Architecture and Design Review of Houston 47 (spring 2000): 29-33.

Insightful writing with very fine, architectural, black and white photographs.  A sample quote: “From the moment you turn into a narrow gravel lane that leads to the garden, you are taken away from the world you expect to see and understand and set free to wander among surprising shapes, textures, color, fragrances, and sounds” (p. 32, annotator’s emphasis).

Davis, Todd. “Mexican Harvest: Yucca Do Nursery Looks South to Find Hardy, Drought-Resistant Plants,” Nursery Management & Production 11, no. 1 (January 1995): 45-48.

Article includes list and photos of Mexican plants that looked especially promising in 1995.  There are also great photos provided by Fairey and Schoenfeld of Mexican mountain landscapes taken during plant hunting expeditions.

Fairey, John. “Telling Details,” Fine Gardening, no. 5 (January-February 1989): 66-67.

This short article is embedded within Mark Kane’s larger article, “A Special Place” (see below). In this, Fairey explains in simple, concrete terms the design and purpose of several structural features of his garden.  Lends insight into the why’s and how’s of Fairey’s garden-making.

“Peckerwood Garden: A Collector’s Texas Treasure,” The Newsletter of The Garden Conservancy, winter 1998, pp. 1, 4-5.

This article was written at the time of Peckerwood’s joining the Garden Conservancy.  It describes the garden and its aims as well as the new relationship between the garden and the Conservancy.

Fairey, John G. and Carl M. Schoenfeld. Photographs by authors. “Mexican Dogwoods,” Pacific Horticulture 55, no. 3 (fall 1994): 42-46.

Remarkable adventure story about finding Mexican dogwoods (Cornus florida subsp urbiniana) in the Sierra Madre Oriental, including information about their growing environment.  Relates also the find of two exceptional dogwoods subsequently named ‘Pringle’s White’ and ‘Pringle’s Blush’.  Nice photos of the dogwoods.

“An Account of Three Dogwoods Found in Northeast Mexico,” original ms. that was adapted as “Mexican Dogwoods” and published in Pacific Horticulture (fall 1994). Archives of Peckerwood Garden.

The first paragraph of this article was not used in the Pacific Horticulture publication and relates interesting material about Lynn Lowrey.  (The first paragraph of this article is currently [fall 2002] posted at under “Expeditions.”)

Photographs by authors. “Mexican Magic,” American Nurseryman 178, no. 12 (15 December 1993): 55-79.

Showcases Mexican plants.  Describes complex ecosystems in northeastern Mexico.  Lists promising introductions of 1993, including Clethra pringlei ‘White Water’.

“Excerpts from ‘Mexican Magic’ [used by permission from American Nurseryman],” Journal of the International Oak Society, no. 4 (spring 1994): 11-16.

The excerpts taken from “Mexican Magic” are those that describe various Mexican oaks.  The Fairey-Schoenfeld article is followed by nine marvelous black and white photos of Mexican oaks shot by Guy and Edith Sternberg.

Photographs by authors. “The Mystery Magnolia: On the Trail of Magnolia tamaulipana in Mexico,” Magnolia: Journal of the Magnolia Society 30, no. 1, issue 57 (winter 1995): 6-21.

Exciting account of finding Magnolia  tamaulipana growing at 4,100 ft. in the Sierra Madre Oriental and the mystery surrounding its name.

Fischer, Thomas. Photographs by Charles Mann. “Border Crossing: In South Texas, Two Collectors Are Pioneering the Use of Mexican Plants,” Horticulture 74, no. 10 (December 1996): 38-43.

Author points up real rarities in the garden and includes “John Fairey’s top ten plants.”  Good photos of two dry gardens.

Huber, Kathy. Photographs by John Everett. “Garden Design: A Stroll in a Fairey Garden,” Texas: Houston Chronicle Magazine, 16 June 1991, pp. 12-14.

Valuable photographs of the garden in 1991.  Good examples of “functional aesthetics,” e.g., cedar water fence, windbreak of beeches.  Discussion of some of John Fairey’s favorite plants, such as Cephalotaxus and Halesia.

Photographs by John Everett. “Texas Treasure: From Azaleas to Agave, It’s a Horticultural Wonder,” Houston Chronicle, 14 March 1998, sec.D, pp. 1,4.

A short history of the garden including its new relationship with the Garden Conservancy.  Discussion of Mexican plants including salvia, agave, clethra, and styrax.  Mention also of art in the garden.

Hynes, Erin. “Treasures of the Sierra Madre,” American Horticulturist 72, no. 12 (December 1993): 33-37.

This article is more about Yucca Do Nursery than about Peckerwood Garden, although there are remarks about the garden.  Interesting to read of schemes developed to fund plant-hunting expeditions.  Fantastic picture of Fairey collecting in the mists of Mexican mountains (taken by Guy and Edith Sternberg).  Some 1993 offerings from Yucca Do catalog.

Johnson, Patricia C.  “His Garden Grows Flora and Folk Art.” The Houston Chronicle, June 13, 2007: Section E, 1,6.

This front-page of the Arts section article includes large showy photographs and an enticing description of the Folk Art Gallery.  Also includes biographical data about John Fairey and brings the reader up to date on the garden.

Kane, Mark. “A Special Place: A Gardener’s Vision and Hard Work Create an Inspiring Landscape,” Fine Gardening, no. 5 (January-February 1989): 64-69.

Excellent article about Peckerwood Garden in its early years.  Includes a watercolor diagram of the early garden.  Esp. valuable because it contains discussion by John Fairey of the design and purpose of flood fence, concrete treads, iron-ore paths, stepping stones (see above, Fairey, “Telling Details”) as well as Fairey’s design philosophy in general.

McDonald, Elvin. Photographs by author and Jay Rusovich. “Out of the Shadows: Shrubs Are Strong, Self-Reliant, and Good for the Environment,” Houston Life, October 16 -November 19, 1994, pp. 72- 77.

Good, concise article about shrubs.  The photos were taken at Peckerwood and article includes a discussion of how at Peckerwood, in addition to true shrubs, grasses, woody lilies, and salvias are used as shrubs.  On page 103 in the same magazine issue, there are instructions for how to build a planting mound for shrubs.

Mitschang, Trudie. “Texas Transplant, Cultivation of a Rare Vision,” Luxe, Summer Edition 2007: 126-127.

The “Luxe Life” section features the “movers-and-shakers” of Texas.  It includes a brief but succinct telling of John Fairey’s vision for Peckerwood Garden.

Nevins, Deborah. “Peckerwood: His Secret Garden,” Departures, no. 90 (March/April 2004): 111-114.

A useful overall view of the site, collection, and art contained within. Discusses past collecting trips to Mexico as well as highlights from the garden, design considerations, and quotes from John G. Fairey. Photography by Julia Hoerner.

Nicholson, Rob. “Death and Taxus,” Natural History 101, no. 9 (September 1992): 20-23.

Recounts an expedition of scientists guided by Fairey and Schoenfeld to stands of Taxus globosa, the Mexican yew, promising as a cancer treatment.

Nonemaker, Zoe. “‘Dry Creek’ Nourishes Horticultural Delight Near Hempstead,” The Waller County (Texas) News Citizen, 8 April 1999, pp. 1-2.

Interesting and informative article by a local observer.

Roach, Margaret. Photographs by Evan Sklar. “Forbidden Texas,” Martha Stewart Living, no. 54 (November 1997): 136-144.

Excellent article with good photos.  Compares forms in Peckerwood Garden to curves and angles in a Georges Braque painting.  Points to movement in the garden’s history: first what was familiar to a SC native, then southwestern plants, then Asian counterparts (J.C. Raulston), then Mexican plants (Lynn Lowrey).

Robinson, Barbara Paul, Photographs by Rocky Kneten. “Plant Explorer: John Fairey,” Horticulture, February 2006: 48-49.

The storey of John Fairey including his history and that of the garden.  Includes an excellent full-page photograph of John.

Ryker, Lori, Photographs by Hester Hardaway.  “Texas Treasure,” Western Interiors, September-October 2006: 47-53.

Folk art, furniture, house and garden are all represented with very good color photographs.  Botanical collection, art and architecture are all addressed.

Schoenfeld, Carl. Photographs by author. “Finding Sabal sp. ‘Tamaulipas’ in Northeastern Mexico,” Rhapidophylum: Journal of the Southeastern Palm and Exotic Plant Society (Fall 2001): 8-11.

Relates the discovery of Sabal sp. ‘Tamaulipas’ at two different sites in the Sierra Madre Oriental and also discusses the native environment of these palms and their growth habit.

Shemluck, Estrada, Nicholson and Brobst. “A Preliminary Study of the Taxae Chemistry and Natural History of the Mexican Yew, Taxus globosa Schltdl.,” Botánica Económica y Ethnobotánica 72: (2003): 119-127.

Smith, Brenda Beust. “John Fairey’s Garden: Hardy, Unusual, Exciting,” Texas Gardener 10, no. 5 (July-August 1991): 32-35.

Description of various unusual plants at Peckerwood, including the Satsuki azaleas.  There is also a list of plants that Fairey and Schoenfeld were particularly excited about in 1991.

Uhrbrock, Mary. “Natural Beauties: A Stroll Through John Fairey’s Flowering Laboratory,” Houston Home & Garden, 12, no. 7 (April 1986): pp. 82-91.

Focuses on Fairey’s growing enthusiasm for and trial of native plants.  Valuable photos of the garden and house in 1986.

Weathers, Linda Askey. “In Search of Botanical Treasure,” Southern Accents 16, no. 2 (March-April 1993): 164B-164F.

Focuses on new introductions from Mexico.  Good photos of Mexican mockorange, Mexican dogwood, Oenothera coryi, and others. Enlightening discussion of John Fairey’s efforts to insure survival of Mexican species by putting them into gardens and botanical institutions worldwide.

— Peckerwood Staff