Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Peckerwood View

On Friday, seven of us Austin garden bloggers traveled to Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. Since I'd heard about the garden and YuccaDo Nursery, which is in the process of moving from next to the garden to Giddings, I'd always wanted to visit. Hempstead is not that far from my in-laws in Magnolia, but we'd never been able to combine a trip to visit family with the limited open days at the garden.

So when Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden arranged a tour, I was delighted. I was even happier that I didn't have to drive.

The garden, more like an estate, is huge. Libby at Aurora Primavera, Pam at Digging, MSS at Zanthan Gardens, and Diana have already offered their observations of the garden, along with more its history, origins, and philosophy. Cheryl at Conscious Gardening and Lori at The Gardener of Good and Evil have also added their thoughts.

What I'd like to focus on are the little things that caught my eye. So now I am sure you are wondering what's so little about the agave flower above? It's not the tall flower but the bent one coming toward you in the photo that's most interesting to me. Someone mentioned that it looks like a dragon. I wasn't quite able to capture that photo in the bright light, but trust me, it did.
The small mysteries began even before we entered the formal garden area. These seedpods are on a bottlebrush tree native to Australia. Normally, the pods would have dropped from the tree and spread, but being from Australia they need a brushfire to break open. Some of the Australian trees need only smoke, not fire, to germinate so the gardeners at Peckerwood sometimes wrap them in liquid-smoke soaked paper.
Most of the garden depends on plant structure and foliage, and not flowers, to give it form and variety.
If I remember correctly, this Queen Victoria agave is named after the queen because a specimen was taken back to her in the 1800s. (Not by John Fairey obviously.)
All of the different sharp-tipped plants, like this sharkskin agave, made me wish that I had a little more room in my garden to plant some of them without the risk of my dog gouging her eyes out.
But every once in a while, the garden belies John Fairey's, the garden's owner and creator, early Southern garden and his continuing love of azaleas and camellias.
Mr. Fairey met us at the entrance and then turned us over to Chris Camacho, one of the two people employed to care for the garden.
My husband, perhaps quite rightly, wondered why I took this particular photo, at this particular angle, of our guide. I think he believed me when I told him it was because the gloves and worn Felcos exemplified Chris's style of learning. (Pictures of Chris's face are available at the other bloggers' sites.)

All of Chris's horticultural knowledge comes from experience, not through classroom study. Based on his depth of knowledge and despite his youth, he has a lot of experience. He had previously worked for Gardens in Austin, and James David recommended him for the position. Chris's enthusiasm was contagious as he rattled off botanical names like they were the names of his sisters.
With my extremely limited knowledge (and recall) of botanical names and the fact that many of these plants don't have common names, I can't tell you what many of them are. I am hoping some of the other bloggers on the trip, maybe those that took notes (hint, hint), could help me out.

I love that the garden strives to keep the plants as natural as possible. The older leaves on these palms are not trimmed up because they aren't trimmed in nature. The older leaves protect the stem. You'll probably never find an untrimmed palm in a nursery, but the information to take away with you is that you don't need to trim.

Scratch unnecessary pruning off your to-do list!
With all that free time I just acquired for you, you might want to use it to turn your Texas pistache tree into a bush like this one behind the bench. Mr. Fairey pioneered this method of repeated shearing to turn a tree into a bush. He gave several trees this treatment. When Chris put his hand on it, the whole bush shook like a bowl full of jelly.
All of the elements in the garden showed Mr. Fairey's keen eye for detail. His background is in the fine arts and architecture.
Even the plant tags reveal the garden's attention to detail and conservation.

I'm fairly certain that by now I can hear you asking, "But what about the bugs?" Yes, of course, a garden with such diversity is teeming with wildlife: wild boars, coyotes, foxes (I think), cougars, flying squirrels, deer, and loads of insects, spiders, and amphibians.

Before we move on to the insects, let's warm up with some other animals.
I was quite taken by this cute tree frog snuggled up in this six-foot crinum. It is perhaps a good thing that I did not then know that these frogs make easy pets. Otherwise, it might have ended up in my pocket along with the acorns Chris said it was okay to take. (The acorns, not the frog.)
I found this guy on the wisteria arbor, the same place I found the carved rock at the top of this post. Being a Francophile, I was looking for the wisteria from Monet's garden in Givenchy. I didn't find it before the tour moved on, but I was still pretty happy to catch sight of this daddy long legs, which led me to discover that it's not a spider after all. It's an arachnid, Harvestman, oder Opiliones, but not a true spider. Wow, there went so many childhood tales of Granddaddy long leg spiders.

And now on to the insects. Here's a beautiful dragonfly.
Here's a closeup. I've scoured my NWF insect field guide but still haven't been able to identify it definitively.

I also spent way too much time yesterday trying to ID this damselfly. (I think it's a damselfly as opposed to the dragonfly because of the angle of the wings, but I don't have a better shot to clarify.) I do love the pink and purple color on the tail.
I am fairly certain that this insect is a black soldier fly.
The iridescence on the wings really caught my attention as we neared the end of the tour.
Near the very end of the tour, we found a sunflower patch. Gulf fritillaries, my new favorite butterfly, were enjoying the flower and the day.
And then, they, like us, had to leave.
If you get a chance to visit the garden, I would highly recommend it. I would even more highly recommend that you try to organize your own group tour, as opposed to visiting on an open day. You'll get far more information and really learn so much about this wonderful garden.


  1. Lovely, lovely photos. I'm so glad you got the one of the Texas pistache because I was quite inspired by Chris's explanation to try that myself.

    And I'm glad you have the photo of the bottlebrush tree seeds. I was very interested to learn it is a chemical in the smoke rather than the fire itself that triggers these seeds to sprout. But I'd already forgotten that detail until I saw your photo.

    I love the two butterfly photos that end your story. Very apropos.

  2. It's such fun to see and read everyone's take on Peckerwood. I'm glad you gave this shout out to the bugs b/c they were definitely a part of the garden's charm. Good to meet you Vertie!

  3. Reading the posts one after another has not only given me an inside look at Peckerwood, but has been a fascinating look at how a shared experience has so many facets that every Austin garden blogger saw something different.
    Vertie, you not only noticed wonderful details - loved the gloves and Felcos and the bottlebrush information - you made me want to try the repeat shearing to make a shrub trick myself! And I also wish for a sweet green tree frog.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. I love your photographs. Each subject demands your whole attention. It is quite amazing how everyone who has posted chose different subjects and aspects of the garden to highlight. Very nice.

  5. Very interesting, all the details. You did not disappoint with the insects! I also like the picture w/ the gloves and Felco's. 'Book learning' is good, but real experience tends to stick with us more.

    Thanks for sharing what you saw in the gardens!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  6. Hey Vertie, I love your photos of the critters! I was pretty impressed with Chris' digs, very
    practical and prepared...nice to meet you! Love your blog:)

  7. Oh, I wish I'd seen the tree frog too! How cute. You didn't mention the snakes that curl up on top of the bushes. That's the wildlife that stuck in my mind, after Chris told us about them. I love your top photo of the carved face. That's one more detail I missed, but I'm glad you didn't.

  8. I knew I would get to see bugs on your entry. But I love the closeups of the agaves. Gorgeous!

    Thanks for taking such good shots and allowing me to visit vicariously.

  9. I feel like I was there! I love the composition of your pictures. Great detail!

  10. Really? Tree frogs make good pets? SOLD! I love love love frogs of all kinds... although I must say that you should never tell your family that you like frogs. (You will not only get cool botanical frog stuff this way, but also cheesy bad frog stuff, sadly)

    Your photos are gorgeous, btw. And I love the explanation behind the seeds that need brush fires to open and spread... way cool.

    ps. The photo of Chris's toolbelt is awesome. And would be even if he wasn't as cute as he is!