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June 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours
What’s new in the nursery
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month

Regular events at Peckerwood not just seasonal anymore!

IMG_2324We have traditionally had a series of spring and fall open days along with a few other fundraising events during those two seasons, with little occurring during summer and winter. We at Peckerwood feel it is time to offer year-around opportunities for education and enjoyment of all the gardens has to offer. Our monthly Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours which debuted in early June are only the beginning. We are working on a schedule for open days every month starting this summer, with some modifications to these events for comfort due to weather extremes during those times. John’s garden in winter is arguably one of the most beautiful times of the year, though seldom enjoyed by most until now. Though summer can be hot, there is still much to enjoy here in the cooler shade areas. Please be watching for more information as we finalize a schedule for the upcoming months.

Another regular feature we will soon be implementing are monthly evening lectures conducted by knowledgeable Peckerwood staff and volunteers as well as local or visiting experts. Topics will include various aspects of horticulture, botany, garden design, plant collecting adventures, and many other possibilities of interest.

Please keep watching for updates to our events calendar and expect many exciting opportunities to begin in upcoming weeks.

Adam’s notes from the garden

The weather continues to be quite an issue in southeast Texas, with another round of flooding at Peckerwood that again reached near the record level experienced a month ago. Like last time, the water, fortunately rose and fell in a short period of time, resulting only in our mulch again being washed away and a few new plantings dislodged. Adolfo and crew recovered our mulch out of the shrubbery downstream for the second time, replacing it in the woodland garden with hopes this will be the last time we need to do this in the foreseeable future. The north dry garden was again under water for a period of time, and we will see if these inundations will have any slow-to-develop negative effects on these dry-loving plants in the upcoming weeks. We can only hope that the quick recession of the water did not cause any significant stress to these plants.

Dr. Jason Smith observing our flowering Agave ovatifolia during his visit.

Unfortunately, it appears our friends down the road at Creekside Nursery weren’t as lucky. Aerial photos show the entire gigantic wholesale nursery engulfed by the swollen Brazos River with only the tips of the nursery stock rows sticking up out of the water. We can only hope the water recedes soon enough and all is not lost. Mercer

Arboretum and Botanic Gardens were able to open a portion of their property following April’s flood, but sadly, they flooded again and had to close. Let’s hope this devastating historic event doesn’t happen again in upcoming decades.

Quercus insignis
Quercus insignis

My old boss and fellow plant nerd Dr. Jason Smith, a forest pathologist at the University of Florida, visited during the inclement weather, and we both watched a tight circle of ominous green clouds spinning briskly directly above Peckerwood as tornado warning alerts came through on our phones. Fortunately, nothing touched down in the area, though tornados did cause significant damage to surrounding counties. Bethany got home for lunch before getting flooded in, and I couldn’t get home for a few days due to all routes north to my home in Brazos County being under water. Though these are clearly historic events, they still reinforce what everyone has told me, a Texas newbie, about the unpredictable nature of the weather here. Whenever I relay my experiences of the storms, everybody just smiles and says “welcome to Texas!”

Quercus tarahuara developing acorns
Quercus tarahuara developing acorns

After the flooding went down, I got to show Jason around the garden he had heard so much about, that lured his lab’s manager away from Florida. It was fun to tour the garden from the view of a keen pathologist and plantsman, noting things most would overlook. As we were admiring our largest Quercus insignis, he exclaimed

Quercus variabilis

“wow, look at this”.  Usually that means he found some obscure tiny specks of rust fungus, of which he has a strange fascination, on the underside of a leaf, which invariably leads to an in-depth explanation of its complex life cycle involving an alternate host plant. This time it wasn’t his beloved rust fungi, but instead juvenile acorns that caught his attention! This generated great excitement among both of us, as this might be the first fruiting of this amazing Mexican oak in US cultivation, which is famous for bearing the largest acorns of all oaks (practically tennis ball sized). It is still possible they might not develop fully on this young tree of about ten feet, received as a gift from Dallas area oak enthusiast David Richardson in 2009, but at least we know we don’t have to wait another decade or so for the first hints of those massive seeds.

Quercus polymorpha

Many other oaks are already showing indications of developing a good crop of acorns that will mature this fall. The Asian Quercus variabilis is full of curious bristly-capped young acorns, while another bold Asian species, the Japanese emperor oak Quercus dentata, also appears to be loaded. I spotted a handful of young acorns near the top of our hand basin oak, Quercus tarahumara

– one of the most sought-after oaks among collectors. This will be exciting if we can finally propagate this species. Visitors to our final spring open days couldn’t miss the Quercus germana along the main tour route loaded with acorns, and though becoming

Zephyranthes katherinae 'Jacala Crimson'
Zephyranthes katherinae ‘Jacala Crimson’

slightly more available in recent years from better nurseries, it is one of those species that should be planted a lot more for its many wonderful attributes. On that note, it was interesting to see the highly adaptable Monterey Oak, Quercus polymorpha, being offered at a local Lowe’s recently. It wasn’t very long ago that this was a rarely-available collector oak, with Peckerwood being one of the few sources for seeds. Now here it is, a mainstream product line in a big-box store, all traced back to the early promotion by a handful of folks including the Peckerwood/Yucca-do Nursery team.

Habranthus tubispathus

One group of plants that are enjoying the moist atmosphere are the many species and selections of Zephyranthes and Habranthus, collectively known as Rain Lilies. I have to admit I had become bored with these back in Florida, as all the different pink, yellow and white species tended to run together in my mind, but now that I’m immersed in the diverse collections of obscure species, most collected by John and Carl, I have a new-found respect for these indispensable garden plants. I even found that there are now more than three colors, including red. Though John says our group of tissue cultured Zephyranthes katherinae ‘Jacala Crimson’ have diluted coloration compared with the deep red of the original wild collection, it is still an enigma among the standard colors of rain lilies and of much interest for breeding work.

We’re having a great flowering season in the xeric woody lilies, namely various species of Dasylirion, Agave, Nolina, and Yucca. It therefore seemed a logical focus for our first Peckerwood Insiders’ tour along with the many other unexpected sights in the dry gardens.

Two successful events benefiting Peckerwood

The past weeks have been busy as we conclude our series of spring open days and scheduled group tours before summer heat sets in. One unique special event held

The Art Compound
The Art Compound

on April 30th was The Garden Conservancy’s Houston Open Day. Peckerwood partnered with The Garden Conservancy to showcase many wonderful Houston area, private gardens that generously opened their garden gates for the event. Peckerwood staff and volunteers also brought along a wealth of plants from our nursery to offer to those filled with inspiration after seeing a variety of creative garden design techniques. Despite some early rain, the weather cleared and it turned out to be a very successful day for all.

A selection of the items in the 2016 Spring Auction
A selection of the items in the 2016 Spring Auction

On May 21st, we held our annual “Friends of Peckerwood” day, a time to thank our members and volunteers for all they do to support Peckerwood’s advancement. In addition to wonderful refreshments and garden tours, featured events included the popular folk art silent auction, offering a diverse array of decorative cultural items from Mexico, Africa, and beyond. New this year was the addition of a rare plant silent auction, allowing attendees the chance to acquire exclusive introductions from Peckerwood’s collection. Heidi Sheesley from TreeSearch Farms, Inc. in Houston generously donated some exciting plants for the auction as well.


 Introducing our monthly “Peckerwood Insiders’ Tours”  

June 2016 Peckerwood Insiders' Tour
June 2016 Peckerwood Insiders’ Tour

We are proud to announce our new monthly tour program at Peckerwood, scheduled for the first Saturday morning of every month. Unlike our general “open day” tours, each of these specialized tours will focus on a different aspect of Peckerwood’s collections, garden design, or seasonal highlights. Depending on the topic, these tours will be conducted by Adam or another knowledgeable docent and will often take the visitor to see sections of the garden never covered on the general open day tour route.

Calliandra houstoniana

Our first tour was held on Saturday, June 4th, where Adam showcased our diverse collection of xeric plants in the dry garden, coinciding with the flowering of several “woody lilies” including a number of Agave, Yucca, and Dasylirion species. Various other dry garden plants, including cacti, desert trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs were discussed, with an emphasis on John’s unique Mexican collections. Xeric gardening techniques were covered and attendees were able to purchase a variety of dry-loving plants in Peckerwood’s nursery.

Tephrosia sp
Tephrosia sp

Our second Peckerwood Insiders’ Tour will be held on Saturday, July 2nd, and will be a much anticipated opportunity to see the treasures that lurk across the creek in the north dry garden and adjacent collections, which until now has been seen by few visitors. Differing significantly from the familiar south dry garden covered in the general tour route, the north dry garden includes much more than desert plants, including many rare and unique trees, shrubs and perennials. Bordering the dry garden is an interesting collection of less xeric trees, shrubs and shade-loving plants, so attendees will see quite an eclectic mix of plants that John has collected over the years. True plant collectors will really appreciate this area. Being a favorite area of many volunteers and staff, we hope to do a few seasonal tours per year of this section of the garden in upcoming Insiders’ Tours, and this is your chance to see the summer highlights.

Unless otherwise noted, all monthly tours consist of a single tour with one tour guide, generally limited to 15 attendees, and therefore reservations are necessary. Garden members attend tours for free, and admission for non-members is $10 per person. More information can be found on our website.



What’s new in the nursery? 

Cephalotaxus harringtoniana

Just because spring open days are drawing to a close doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to visit the nursery. We will continue to be open by appointment, Monday through Friday, and our inventory is only going to continue to increase. Our promotion of the various Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus spp.) and selections had resulted in us selling out a few months ago, but we are happy to announce that we have available again some nice 1 gallon plants in the spreading form of C. harringtoniana as well as some very full 3 gallon pots of Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Duke Gardens’. The latter has a different texture and turns into a more shrubby form due to the semi-erect, spreading branches compared with the former type, which is more of a horizontally oriented mounding

Bauhinia yunnanensis

groundcover form. We have a nice selection of peacock ginger (Kaempferia spp.) species and varieties freshly emerged from dormancy and starting to flower, perfect for shade and quite low-maintenance once established.  Another neat dwarf ginger is Curcuma involucrata, but it is so different from other larger growing “hidden ginger” species that it was formerly in its own genus, Stahlianthus. It forms a clump of 12” strap leaves that are mostly maroon in color and has small but interesting white flowers shortly after emerging in late spring/early summer. Orchid trees in the genus Bauhinia are always popular, and we have some 1 gallon plants of the white-flowered south Texas native Bauhinia lunaroides. Also available in limited quantities are nice full pots of the hardy orchid vine Bauhinia yunnanensis. This plant is amazing both in foliage and flower, and wonderfully hardy. Many other obscure things abound in the nursery, so make your appointment today to come purchase some exciting plants.

 Volunteer appreciation!

Craig Jackson after a days work.

As we wrap up our spring series of open days, it is a good time to reflect on how critical volunteers are in making these events happen, and otherwise help progress the garden into the future. For example, our tours simply wouldn’t happen without the dedicated and knowledgeable docents who volunteer their time to share their love of the gardens with our visitors. These

folks are more than tour guides – they are the face of the garden, conveying the beauty, diversity, and history of John’s creation with their own personalized touch. Docents attend many monthly training sessions to increase their knowledge in order to adapt new details to their tours.

Though every docent covers the critical details and current highlights for each garden section, they differ in how they relay their own personal enthusiasm for a particular plants’ merits or appreciation for John’s garden design strategies. Therefore, each docent will give their own unique tour which allows frequent visitors to see familiar areas of the garden in a new way. We thank our dedicated docents who have helped out tremendously through our spring open day tours as well as leading the many garden clubs that have visited:

By the Garden House
By the Garden House

Craig Jackson, Pam Romig, Steven Ramirez, Grace Pierce, John Lomax, Suzzanne Chapman, Burton Knight and Sarah Newbery. Some of these docent volunteers make several-hour treks from as far away as Austin and Dallas to help – now that’s dedication! We must also thank our several docents-in-training for continuing to build their confidence and skills in order to lead tours in the near future.

Beyond the docents, our open days would not function without further help from volunteers in other areas.

New Docent training is July 9th and 30th. (Brenda Wilson and Grace Pierce)

Frank and Cherie Lee have been an amazing team in the nursery almost every open day. We have a long list of volunteers who have helped with setup, manning the admissions and information tables, and takedown including Nancy Royal, Zach Lambright, Sherri Boehnke, Persephone Friend, Deb Cates, Arian Kaufman, Phyllis Pollard, Vicky Snyder, JoAnn Wolf, Caroline Schreiber, Pat Piper, Kathy Huber and John Roberson. Many other volunteers can’t help on a regular basis due to their schedules but have filled in here and there throughout the season and we can’t thank everyone enough.

Watch the Calendar for more chances to visit Peckerwood Garden each month.

As initially mentioned last month, great strides continue to occur with reclaiming the planting beds around the buildings thanks to Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson, Ruth McDonald and Persephone Friend. Brenda has cleared a significant amount of weeds and pruned up the trees around the house in preparation for our Friends of Peckerwood Day. Craig cleared and planted up the corner bed just north of the office with some interesting treasures. IMG_2803Brenda and Ruth also spent a lot of time preparing the house and organizing the setup for the Friends of Peckerwood day, along with creating some exceptional treats enjoyed by all. Jill Whitten was also instrumental in organizing the Friends of Peckerwood Day as well as providing some prime real estate to set up our plant sale area during the Garden Conservancy’s Houston Open Day. We can’t thank our volunteers enough for their dedication and support.

 Plant of the month: Snake Herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

Dyschoriste linearis
Dyschoriste linearis

Some might expect a “plant of the month” to be some exceptionally rare and boldly attractive plant. This month I wanted to focus on a groundcover that at first glance may seem quite humble in many ways, but is in fact incredibly versatile and has a unique charm of its own. I always liked Dyschoriste after growing a Florida native species prior to my move, but assumed others would never see its attractive qualities over the more flashy options. Shortly after starting at Peckerwood, I was surprised to find that one of our most reliable volunteers, Craig Jackson, shared my appreciation of the patch of Dyschoriste linearis that John has growing along the perennial border near the south entrance to the woodland garden. I then began to see that nurseries here in Texas actually carry this plant, and soon found that, when offered in our nursery, others were attracted to it and bought it, shattering my assumptions!

Snake Herb is an evergreen Texas native that is drought tolerant, cold hardy and low maintenance, with dense, weed-suppressing foliage that looks attractive year around. Dyschoriste linearis is a highly variable plant, with leaves that can be either thin and needle-like, or slightly more

Dyschoriste linearis

broad and elliptical. John’s plant is the broad-leaf form, but the linear-leaved form seems to be more common in the nursery trade. Both are equally attractive and create a low, dense mat of 8” to 12” tall evergreen stems that gradually form a tight, tidy clump. Throughout the warmer months, purple flowers resembling smaller versions of the related Ruellia are readily visible.

Naturally growing in dry, sunny spots in sandy or gravelly open areas, this plant is amazingly tolerant of neglect following establishment, after which water should only be necessary following long dry spells. The dense mat it forms tends to be compact and tight, but occasionally an errant runner will result in a random patch or two forming a short distance away from the main plant. Some may prefer to remove any satellite clumps if you are keeping a more formal, organized landscape, but for naturalizing it is simply a matter of preference. It is in no way an aggressive spreader, so it will not become something you regret planting and removal of undesired shoots easy.

South entrance to the Woodland Garden

In addition to its xeric qualities, snake herb will also grow in fertile garden soil with regular irrigation,

Quercus oblongifolia

provided there is excellent drainage and at least a fair portion of the day in full sun. Design ideas utilizing this plant include planting around bold foliage, like around the base of thick, succulent Agave leaves, or as a foreground layer in front of or in-between taller specimen perennials or low shrubs. I think its color and texture goes well with silver colored foliage. Gravel mulch around the plant really helps make the clump stand out compared with wood mulch or bare earth.

Don’t be put off by the common name “Snake Herb”, it does not attract snakes any better than other ground covers. In fact, I can’t readily find out why it has that common name. Other species elsewhere in the world, some of which form taller shrubs, have many cultural medicinal uses, and perhaps somewhere it has been used to treat snakebite. Quite possibly it is instead named for its long snakelike rhizomes which results in its ability to form a colony. Either way it is a valuable addition to any well-drained sunny landscape.

We currently have the needle-leaf form available in our nursery, but we are also rooting divisions of John’s elliptical-leaved form. Adam will be bringing a Florida collection of Dyschoriste oblongifolia to trial in Texas, and there are several other species native to the southern US to seek out in an attempt to broaden the palette of snake herb varieties that can be utilized for all their desirable qualities.

West Perennial bed
Monthly training classes continue with Shrubs. The next session is June 18th at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


Craig Jackson leading a tour.
From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event here.