Garden Dialogues with John Fairey at Peckerwood


Heading east through pine country toward Hempstead, Texas, I arrived after a couple of hours on the road at Peckerwood Garden last Saturday. The draw, aside from a chance to see this beautiful 45-year-old garden again, was to hear its creator, John Fairey, talk about it in conversation with Houston landscape architect Keiji Asakura.

Part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Garden Dialogues series, this was my second Garden Dialogues (and third CLF event), and I find them valuable for a chance to hear about design directly from garden creators including landscape architects, designers, artists, and self-taught master gardeners like John Fairey.


As I took my seat (wow, what a stunning location for a garden talk, right?) and read the brochure for the event, I was startled and pleased to see that I was quoted in it — anonymously, but still! The quote came from my 2012 article about John Fairey for Garden Design magazine:

“John has expanded the palette of plants for gardeners in the South, Southeast, and Texas,” says [Bill Noble, director of The Garden Conservancy]. “His garden has a lot to teach.” After a lifetime of teaching, Fairey remains himself an eager learner, continually experimenting with plants and treating his garden as an artist’s canvas on which he paints with light, foliage, and even the wind.

How about that!


The garden that afternoon was indeed painted with light.


And although there wasn’t much wind, a congregation of filament-foliaged Mexican grass trees (Dasylirion longissimum) gently shimmied as air currents caressed them.


Painting with wind and foliage


Sarah Newbery, Peckerwood’s foundation board president, introduced Mr. Fairey and his interviewer, Mr. Asakura.


For the next hour or so, they conversed about how the garden came to be, the plant collections, lessons learned, and Mr. Fairey’s plant-hunting expeditions. I’d heard some of the stories before, but others were new, and it was wonderful to be part of an intimate group of keenly interested garden lovers from Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, and other cities who’d come to listen and learn and pay homage to a man who’s done so much to advance our knowledge about rare plants and gardening in Texas.


I took a few notes on my phone:

Mahonia is Mr. Fairey’s favorite plant collection. He’d like a better collection of cycads.

The light, mystery, magic of the garden — that’s what he wants visitors to appreciate.

His number-one design advice: start with your inside views and design outward from that. Number two: consider positive and negative space when planting trees and shrubs in order to create rooms and define spaces within the garden.

Visit Edward James’s garden Las Pozas in Xilitla, Mexico. It’s all about space. Also, go visit the ethnobotanical garden in Oaxaca, Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca — “one of the great gardens of the world.”


After the conversation and questions from the audience, we were invited to walk through the garden. Sarah Newbery pointed out plants and features and gave us more of the history of the garden.


As I strolled along I struck up conversations with other attendees and met such interesting people as Carolyn Kelley, one of the landscape architects who designed the plaza and gardens at Austin City Hall (for my post about the City Hall gardens, click and scroll halfway down). I also met designer Richard Hartman of The Plant People in Fort Worth and Adam Black, Peckerwood’s lion-maned director of horticulture.


A gate constructed out of plow discs, with a wood-and-wire trellis fence and arbor screening John Fairey’s private residence from the larger garden


The dry garden near Mr. Fairey’s house is one of my favorite areas, with a kaleidoscope of bold form and texture. The vertical pleats of the tall cacti (and who knew these would grow in southeast Texas?!) echo the vertical lines of the home’s steel siding.


Abstract sculptures reside in the garden too, like this wedge-shaped vertical piece holding its own amid bold-leaved palms and agaves.


One more look


Thanks for another great visit, Peckerwood, and for another interesting garden discussion from The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society is organizing a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Wildflower fields abloom at Wildseed Farms


A wildflower photo safari is my springtime ritual, and I especially like to drive out to the Texas Hill Country to photograph wildflowers against the rugged hills, rocks, and prickly pear. This spring, thanks to a mild winter, Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) are carpeting roadsides a few weeks early, so there was no time to lose if I wanted to see our state flower in its blue splendor.


Here’s what a field of bluebonnets looks like — sparkling blue heaven.


Unfortunately, while I saw plenty of bluebonnets along the roadsides from Spicewood to Llano, there was nowhere to safely pull over to photograph them, and I didn’t see any fields in bloom. Even scenic Willow City Loop off Highway 16 was downright sparse.


Happily, there’s always Wildseed Farms just east of Fredericksburg, where you can view farm fields of wildflowers, which they grow for their seed-selling operation. (Here’s my obligatory annual pickup truck-and-wildflowers picture.)


Right now Wildseed Farms has fields of bluebonnets and corn poppies in full flower.


Yesterday’s high winds made photographing the long-stemmed poppies challenging.


I always like spotting a few pink poppies amid the red ones.


I’ll leave you with a view of Enchanted Rock, which always deserves a detour if you’re driving Highway 16 north of Fredericksburg.

For my previous wildflower safaris, check out these blog posts:
Wildflower drive through the Texas Hill Country, March 2016
An Easter wildflower safari, April 2015
Wildflower safari in the Hill Country, April 2010
Texas wildflower Bloom Day, April 2010

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Book Review Week: Texas gardening and Hill Country photography books

Texas gardeners and shutterbugs who enjoy photographing the beautiful Texas Hill Country will appreciate today’s book picks: Texas Month-by-Month Gardening by Robert “Skip” Richter and Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country by Laurence Parent.

Let’s start with Texas gardening. Author Skip Richter is a beloved figure in Texas gardening circles. Formerly the extension service horticulturist and head of the Master Gardeners in Travis County and a regular on KLRU’s Central Texas Gardener, Skip now resides in Houston, but he’s gardened and taught gardening all across our climatically diverse state. (Texas encompasses hardiness zones 6 through 10, and annual rainfall varies from 56 inches in the southeastern corner to 8 inches in far western Texas!) That makes him well qualified to write a general gardening book for the Lone Star State.

Texas Month-by-Month Gardening: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year (2014, Cool Springs Press) is Skip’s first book, and it’s part of the Cool Springs Press regional gardening series. (Look online for a Month-by-Month Gardening book for your region.) This is a practical how-to book for beginners or new-to-Texas gardeners. As many a newbie has learned the hard way, our seasons in Texas can seem upside-down from what’s considered normal in more-temperate parts of the country. It can be useful to have an experienced gardening coach like Skip tell you that January, for example, is when you should “start transplants of warm-season vegetables for the spring garden…in zones 8 and 9.” Of June, Skip points out that in our blistering climate, “flowers that are called ‘heat-tolerant’ in milder climates often either die or stop blooming….[W]e need to shift strategies and look to plants with colorful foliage to paint our landscapes with color.”

Skip says to think of the book as an owner’s manual: “Each month is divided into the major tasks involved in establishing and maintaining a healthy, attractive, and productive garden and landscape. This includes the basics of gardening: planning, planting, plant care, watering, fertilizing, and problem-solving.” Skip’s writing is accessible and friendly, and in addition to the solid info, it’s generously illustrated with nice color photos of plant combos and people actively gardening. I could find no mention of the photographer, so I assume the images are Skip’s, as his bio mentions that he’s an avid photographer. The only incongruous image is, ironically, on the cover: a shot of James David and Gary Peese’s Austin garden, a beautifully crafted and horticulturally experimental showpiece — i.e., not the kind of garden that most beginner gardeners would aspire to emulate. Also, many of the photos appear to be of gardens in central, south, and east Texas, so west Texas desert gardeners may feel overlooked.

Considering the vastness of our state, however, the book does a great job of covering the basics. I wish I’d had a book like this when I started gardening in Texas 23 years ago.

As lovers of the outdoors, gardeners often enjoy photographing natural vistas and wildflowers, and Central Texans are lucky to have the gorgeous Hill Country at their doorstep. Each spring, if we’re having a good bluebonnet or Indian paintbrush season, I go on a wildflower photo safari through the Hill Country, looking for the most colorful views. I also enjoy photographing sights around Austin. So when I spotted Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them (2012, The Countryman Press) at Book People, I couldn’t resist buying a copy.

Author Laurence Parent, a resident of Wimberley, has photographed covers for Texas Highways and other publications, and he’s scouted hundreds of great locations throughout Central Texas. Dividing the region into four areas — western Hill Country, eastern Hill Country, Austin, and San Antonio — he lists between 10 and 23 locations for each area, describing each with details of the scenery, how to access good photography spots, the best time of year to shoot, and even what sort of weather conditions to look for to get an extra special shot. Rural locations include state parks, caverns, rivers, likely wildflower-peeping routes, and canyons. Urban locations include city skylines, botanical gardens and parks, historic districts, cathedrals and missions, universities, and bridges.

Parent’s gorgeous photographs tantalize throughout the book, tempting you to visit his locations to see if you can duplicate these moments or capture an original one of your own. This is both a travel book and a photography instruction manual I’ll refer to again and again.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Book Review Week is happening all this week right here at Digging! Do you have an Amazon gift card from the holidays burning a hole in your pocket? Need a good gardening book to get you through winter? Come here first for my recommendations.

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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