I was invited to speak to the River Oaks Garden Club in Houston last week and while I was there the garden club took me on a tour of some wonderful public and private gardens. I had no idea that there was such a rich and varied sub tropical collection of plants.
One of the highlights of the tour was the famous Peckerwood Garden. And it was a treat to be taken through this magical creation by John G. Fairey, the very man who made it. I was bowled over by the bold texture of the yuccas, cactus and the artful layering of plants. Peckerwood Garden is in Hempstead, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston and is the setting for an ever expanding collection of rare plants native to a wide region of the southern United States, Mexico as well as many Asian species. Fairey explained, that he had made about 80 trips to Mexico, collecting seed from a variety of plants. The trees now 30-50’ feet tall were grown from seed and he mixes palms, Mexican oaks, evergreen magnolias and loblolly pines in the new parts of the garden.
We moved through ‘dry gardens’ planted near his modern two-story, corrugated steel-sided house, into woodland gardens and an arboretum of many oak trees and magnolias. An artist and professor of design at Texas A&M, Fairey bought seven acres near Hempstead, in 1971 as a country retreat. This magnificent garden is now comprised of about 39 acres and 3,000 species of rare and endangered plants.
The garden has been laid out with an artist’s eye. Walls divide areas or rooms, meandering walkways, lead you under a dense canopy of shaded woodland, providing a cool retreat from the strong Texas sun. Fairey’s love of strong shapes can be seen in his use of cool silver colored agave and the large fan shaped palms that slice into the blue sky overhead.
It was fascinating to see the way he mounded cactus and other ‘dry loving plants’ on mounds of gravel to protect them from excessive rains and pooling.
His garden has inspired me, and I will definitely be returning to see it again. This is one of the great American Gardens and should not be missed. I will be featuring some other public and private gardens of Houston in the coming days.
Your photos give a sense of what the garden was about — and it looks intriguing. Whattopic were you speaking about?
The topic of my talk was ‘Designing a Garden with Rooms.’ I go into the history of the well established garden design idea and trace it from the first garden rooms up until the present where I show lots of before & after after shots of how I laid my garden out with rooms and walks. The Peckerwood garden was very inspiring to me. I think seeing such a different array of plants and how John Fairey laid out his garden has inspired me to find some more bold plants for our northeast climate.
Sounds like a fascinating talk. Best to you, too!
Don’s presentation was extremely well received, full of useful information and beautiful slides on how to create a Garden With Rooms. He demonstrated the value of patience, good planning, observation, and experimentation in gardening. He is truly an exceptional gardener and we cannot wait to host him in Texas again.
I believe that the palm is Caryota urens, or Sago Palm. They grow quite large and used in a space that can accommodate their size, can be sculptural. As Don stated, Peckerwood Gardens are truly magical and leave one with a desire to create beautiful, thoughtful spaces in nature. Don did the same for his audience in Houston and we left with an energy to create in our own gardens.
Thank you Kackie.
I can’t wait to come back to Texas and I am working on several new talks. There are some wonderful gardens in Houston and passionate gardeners. Thanks for the plant identification.