Botanical bonanza at Peckerwood Garden

For new visitors, the name Peckerwood tends to elicit raised eyebrows because of the word’s history as a racial slur in the South. But touring Peckerwood Garden itself — it was named, explains the owner, after the plantation in Auntie Mame — induces amazement, both because of the owner’s extensive collection of rare plants and because he’s been at it for more than 40 years, utterly transforming his Hempstead, Texas, property from farmland to an artistically designed collector’s garden, which is now guided by the Garden Conservancy as it transitions to a public entity.

On April 19, I made the two-hour drive east along with a few friends (that’s Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil pictured at top), and we took a guided tour. While it offers ticketed open-day visits, Peckerwood is still very much the personal garden and home of artist John Fairey, a plant explorer and collector of rare specimens from northern Mexico and Asia and a recently retired professor of architecture at Texas A&M University. His house is the corrugated metal building screened from public view by layers of trellis, wall, and fence.

I wrote about Peckerwood for Garden Design magazine a couple of years ago, and the article is available online if you’d like to know more about the garden and its soft-spoken owner. For this post, though, I’ll just show you some of my favorite scenes from the tour, like this terracotta-colored wall with five faces spouting water into a rectangular pool, which flows under the wall to be enjoyed on both sides.

Whimsical faces

The dry garden is the most dynamic space, with shimmering, spiny plants of monumental size clamoring for your attention, like these Mexican grass trees, or toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum). I like how their lines echo the lines of the metal structure behind them.

A metal sculpture is reminiscent of the shape of palm fans.

A long pergola offers shade, which was welcome on this warm, humid day.

Fun details abound, like this variegated octopus agave.

And these Dr. Seussian characters, tagged as Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’, although they look pretty different from the one I’m growing (aka Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy’).

I’ve visited ceramist Marcia Donahue’s garden in Berkeley, California, which makes it even more fun to run across her art in other gardens. These phallic, bamboo-like poles are instantly recognizable as her work.

Jazz hands

In the woodland garden, sunbeams illuminate plants for a brief period around noon, as light filters through tall trees, each one planted by Fairey decades ago.

Across a woodland stream you get a tantalizing glimpse of a blue wall and a prehistoric-looking garden of palms and Yucca rostrata. I’ve longed to see this part of the garden for years, but after three visits to Peckerwood this is as close as I’ve gotten. Apparently the garden needs funds to construct a safe bridge for visitors to cross the creek and see this area. Until then, this part of the garden is always closed to visitors. Sigh –so close and yet so far!

Weeping boxwood — this is cool.

Vertically laid stone for edging a small change in level

Lovely white flowers on a shrub I neglected to get an ID for. Update: it’s likely mock orange. Thanks, readers!

More silvery blue palms

And more Marcia Donahue art, perhaps? I saw carved skulls like these in her garden.

This sunlit rondel is lovely. Our guide told us a little about the trees and shrubs here, but my memory for plant names is terrible — perhaps because I’m always walking away from tour guides to take pictures. It would be wonderful if Peckerwood’s website had descriptions of each of its gardens, but such things always take money and volunteer hours, of course.

Most of the plants are planted atop berms for drainage, which allows for greater diversity than what could be grown in sometimes soggy clay.

The arboretum, where a vast collection of Mexican oaks has been grown from seed gathered on plant-hunting expeditions. This place really is a plant nut’s mecca.

Amid the majestic oaks, prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue), a native wildflower, was blooming in the lawn, showing that even the most common and lowly plants offer plenty of beauty as well.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

An Easter wildflower safari

The fields and roadsides of Texas are as brightly colored as a basket of Easter eggs. On Friday my mom, daughter, and I went on a wildflower safari southwest of San Antonio, cruising the country roads around Somerset. While the bluebonnets that far south had already peaked, we did see a few fields of blue, not to mention red, white, and yellow. Come along with me for a virtual Sunday drive, and enjoy the show.

What’s a safari without animals?

We stopped to admire this picturesque scene of a horse and pony grazing in a pasture spangled with wildflowers, mainly Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

Along one road we spotted Texas vervain (Verbena halei), a lovely wildflower I hadn’t encountered before.

Fields of Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), our state flower, are the holy grail of wildflower sightings, and this was the best one we saw, complete with an oil pump and tin-roofed farm buildings — a very Texas scene. The white flowers dotting the field like drifts of snow are…

…white prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora), my mom’s favorite.

They reminded her of fields of cotton.

My favorite combo is the red and blue of Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets.

Barbed wire fences add to the Texas scene, and it’s important not to cross them when viewing wildflowers, as the fields are generally located on private property.

But you can get nice views by shooting between the wire strands, especially if you use a telephoto lens.

The Indian paintbrush was simply spectacular everywhere we went.

Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus), against a field of red paintbrush

Along one dirt road, we found majestically spreading live oaks, with patchwork quilts of wildflowers spread around them.

More white prickly poppy, with Indian paintbrush and a few bluebonnets

Ah, my favorite combo

Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush

Paintbrush mingling with Texas dandelion


And more!

This paintbrush field (pictured above as well) surpassed any I’ve ever seen. Paintbrush as far as the eye could see.

Along with horses and cows, goats are a common sight in Texas fields. This one was curious and willing to pose for a picture.

What a floppy-eared cutie!

Happy Easter, kids!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Treasure hunting at Adkins Architectural in Houston

Since last summer’s visit to once-upon-a-dream-like Bella Madrona in Portland — a garden in which junk and architectural relics are transformed into mysterious, magical art — I’ve been on the hunt. For what? For ways to add a spark of discovery to my garden, and in particular for cast-iron earthquake stars. I already had a few and decided to collect a dozen more to set in the gravel path of my front garden — an homage to Bella Madrona, which had a star-studded path that I adored.

Earthquake stars are star-shaped bolts traditionally used on tie rods that run through buildings to hold them together. They’re commonly seen on Civil War-era buildings in South Carolina, where I grew up. Today you can find old stars and, more often, reproductions in antique and junk shops and farm-supply stores — or at least you can in the Lone Star State, where stars are beloved as a decorating motif. Callahan’s General Store in Austin carries them, but I found them priced lower at Adkins Architectural Antiques & Treasures in Houston. I was there last weekend, and so we stopped at Adkins to check it out.

What a treasure-hunter’s lair the place turned out to be, with so much more than just earthquake stars. Architectural remnants and reproductions were stacked head-high in the patios around the shop, which is located in a rambling, old house sheltered by a massive live oak.

We poked around in the yard, finding everything from Victorian-style furnishings, containers, and fencing pieces…

…to whimsically goofy statuary. What is this guy — a fur trader wearing a rabbit-eared hat?

And doesn’t everyone need a griffin to grace their garden? No, me neither, but it was fun to imagine.

Inside we discovered a warren of rooms packed with a hoarder’s assortment of architectural doodads, perfect for giving your home a bit of vintage charm or for repurposing into something totally new. Everything was neatly organized, and the salespeople were friendly and helpful.

I found bins of earthquake stars, including some 6- to 7-inch stars marked down to $3 each.

These aren’t antiques, but they will do the job.

“The streets of town were paved with stars,” sang Frank Sinatra, and now so is my garden path. It’ll remind me of Bella Madrona every time I walk it.

I’d love to have your vote in the Better Homes and Gardens 2015 Blogger Awards. Skip through to the Gardening category, select Digging, and then skip to the last page for your vote to be counted. You can vote as much as you like. Thanks for your support!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.