Last Friday, a bunch of us Austin garden bloggers drove over to Hempstead for a private tour of Peckerwood Gardens, John Fairey’s botanical and artistic experiment-in-progress. It wasn’t what I was expecting– which was a sort of contemporary-looking xeriscape garden that would lend itself to putting my brand-new Canon PowerShot SD1100 through its paces– and this was not a bad thing.
We were met at the entrance to the garden by John Fairey himself, whom I liked immediately. There are certain people who seem to radiate intelligence, curiosity, and good humor, and he was one. After giving us a rundown on the history of the garden and the purpose of the land contouring for drainage and microclimate creation, we were introduced to Chris Camacho, one of the two gardeners who maintain the space, and he was our guide for the rest of the tour.
On this tour, I learned a boggling amount about trees. A large amount of space at Peckerwood is dedicated to trying out tree species from around the world to see how they’ll do in Central Texas. In particular, there were quite a few varieties of oak and magnolia. Chris explained that the largest variety of species is found in Mesoamerica, and since those species tend to be acclimated to extreme conditions, they do well in Central Texas. At this point, Chris was rattling off botanical names like a Valley Girl, like, says “like,” which was pretty awesome. I, er, may have kind of developed a geek crush on him. I blame that for not taking any pictures of the trees. I was kind of engrossed.
Eventually, we got to the part of the garden with the xeriscape plants, and my camera distracted me instead. And it disappointed me– it turns out that the Canon Powershot SD1100 display is completely useless in sunlight, even if you shade it with your hand. So for most of these pictures, I was just guessing where the macro was focusing. And since I like my macro options, this camera is going back to Circuit City. Which sucks even more when you consider that the color balance and clarity of these blind-focused pictures was really impressive compared to my old Nikon, and there wasn’t much I had to do in ImageReady other than resizing everything.
Eventually, the path through the xeriscape garden took us into the woods. One of the things I really liked about this section of the garden was how shady it was. I love the sculptural functions of cactus and agave in the garden, but I worry that my yard doesn’t get enough sun for them to do well. But here’s evidence that part-shade and cactus can work well together, as long as there’s good drainage.
A fountain I adored, a set of faces on each side of the wall setting off John’s house from the rest of the garden. I’ve always liked Green Man garden art, and these more abstract versions were really compelling.
And here I got a little obsessed with a pergola/trellis design that, along with the fountain wall, divided the public and private areas of the garden. I liked both how the lines worked with the geometry of the landscape and I liked how it looked like something that I, in a daydream of wielding weapons of mass construction, could build myself.
On a side note: Doesn’t this look like an excellent place to hang a hammock? I feel my garden won’t be complete until I have a good home for a hammock. (And here my inner 12-year-old is gleefully chanting, “Peckerwood, hammock, Peckerwood!” Why I feel the need to share this, I do not know.)
So yeah, I got punchy for a while at that point, which lasted until Chris finally broached a related subject on my mind– why would anyone name a garden “Peckerwood?” Sadly, I wasn’t really listening to the answer, which had something to do with a book, because I was looking around at all of the the big trees with bushes at the base and trying to keep a straight face (I warned you– 12!). But I did get a chance to ask Chris a burning question at the end of his Peckerwood etymology: Does it ever stop being funny?
“No!” he said, and laughed. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked a followup: How long did you have to practice in front of the mirror before you could say it in a serious voice? Ah, well. It’s not like I have a reputation for journalistic integrity to uphold here, or anything.
Anyway, I enjoyed how this place and its people had a sense of humor. Here’s some visual wit– check out how the fan shape of the sculpture echoes the palm fronds and the fan shape of the pine needles in the trees.
On a more serious note, one of the things this place got me thinking about was the passage of time. Gardeners in particular know that what they do entails a lot of waiting for things to grow and there’s no guarantee that they’ll do what you want them to do. It was amazing to me that most of the garden was leveled by a tornado in 1983, and most of what you see is from after that. It took an awful lot of waiting– most of the span of my lifetime, really– for the landscape to evolve into the mature trees and sense of permanence you get today in the heart of the garden. I tend to be impatient, waiting for my garden to look the way I see it in my mind’s eye, but that’s something I can work towards and look forward to, while also enjoying the process and the hard work, which have their own benefits.
In these days when it seems like people are constantly relocating, I envy John Fairey for being able to work so intensively at one site for such a sustained period of time. Many of us, I suspect, don’t get to see what a tree we planted looks like thirty years later. Oaks are generally long-lived trees, and there was one particular oak at Peckerwood that I took a liking to. I find myself wanting to get ambitious, mark dates on the calendar, maybe ten and thirty years from now, to return to the garden and see how that oak is doing. I find it absurdly comforting to think of it existing there, like Yeats’ golden bird, with the potential to outlive us all.
Many thanks to Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden for organizing this tour! I doubt I would have ever visited Peckerwood if I couldn’t do it in the company of fellow gardeners.