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.

Octopus’s garden patio at Cenote


I’d like to be under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade. And so we were, one recent Sunday morning, on the lovely patio of Cenote cafe in east Austin.


A fierce metal octopus by 20 Digit Design holds court near the door, tangled in a net-like strand of twinkle lights.


Picnic tables on an expansive decomposed-granite patio offer plenty of outdoor seating, but it’s really the lush screening of palm, bamboo, Italian cypress, bamboo muhly, and star jasmine that makes this space so appealing.


Along the sidewalk, planted along a beachy picket fence, palmettos, sunflowers, and grasses entice you in.


A steel-and-wire arbor smothered in fragrant star jasmine welcomes you and screens diners from the busy street just outside. What a great place to enjoy a beautiful spring day.

He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been, in his octopus’s garden in the shade. –The Beatles (of course)

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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.

Tropical cottage style in Diane and Tom Peace’s garden


Diane and Tom Peace of Lockhart, 30 miles south of Austin, live and garden in two very different regions: south-central Texas from winter through early spring, and Denver, Colorado, from late spring through fall. Tom, a grower and nurseryman, owns Texas Mountain Flora in Lockhart, operates a design business in Denver, and is author of the book Sunbelt Gardening. I’d seen his and Diane’s Lockhart garden on Central Texas Gardener, and so I jumped at the chance to visit after a mutual friend introduced us.


Although I’d seen it on CTG, I was still surprised, as I wandered the garden’s narrow limestone paths, by how tropical it feels with wine-red bromeliads (in containers), ferns, palms, and other bold-leaved plants, which mingle in cottage-garden exuberance with cool-season annuals, lush groundcovers, and flowering perennials.


Jungle fever! It looks a bit like Florida to me.


As their collection of shiny disco balls dangling from a tree makes clear, Tom and Diane are having fun with their garden, playfully experimenting with what can grow in our mild winters while still surviving summer’s heat and humidity.


Patio living is pretty great during the cooler months, when they’re in Texas.


Evergreen structural plants like nolina, palm, bamboo, and yucca keep the garden interesting even when frost has killed back the perennials. Potted tropicals on the patio and in garden beds make warm-season accents. (They have a greenhouse off the back of the house to protect these plants in winter.)


Several unique sculptural pieces accent the garden too, like this glass-block tower bringing light to a shady corner.


A gigantic rebar trellis erupts from the middle of a path…


…supporting a delicate, bell-flowered clematis.


So sweet


Looking at the rebar trellis from the other side


Their garden showcases an interesting juxtaposition of plants, like this aloe keeping company with violas and a little white daisy.


On one side the garden, a grass path cuts through a border of purple violas, oxalis, and other annuals, with wine-bottle edging or hose guards. At the end of the path, a colorful bent-metal post, folded like origami, beckons you forward.


Another view


Nearly black bromeliads and a squid agave grow along a gravel path…


…under the shade of an arching palm frond.


Palms and bamboo (a runner planted by a neighbor, Diane said, which they continually have to whack back) create a green screen along the fence line.


Echoing the rounded “head” and skinny trunk of a tall palm behind it, a Yucca rostrata was in spectacular bloom.


A spray of creamy white flowers rises above the strappy leaves.


Strappy foliage echoes


Diane couldn’t stay during the visit because of a family obligation, so I wasn’t able to ask about plant IDs. But I’m so glad for the chance to explore her and Tom’s unique garden and hope to see their Denver garden one day too — which she says is bigger and even more enjoyable for them because of the lower humidity and lack of mosquitoes, the banes of summer gardening in Central Texas. But for winter through spring gardening, well, Texas has Denver beat!


Thanks for the lovely garden visit, Diane!

P.S. My friend Diana joined me on this garden visit, so you might at some point find more pics on her blog, Sharing Nature’s Garden.

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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.

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