A Peek at Peckerwood

After years of benign neglect, several of Houston’s major public parks and gardens are being transformed. The Memorial Park Master Plan, for example, is a complete revamp of the city’s most-used and largest (nearly 1500 acres) urban-center park. The plans were approved by Houston City Council in April 2015, and work has already been underway for nearly a year.


The Hermann Park Conservancy managed to raise nearly $100 million in public and private funds to give Hermann Park a facelift in time for its centennial in 2014. Among the improvements and additions were the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens.

The future Houston Botanic Garden, which finally has land and a plan and is in the process of raising funds, will be created on a 120-acre site located on Sims Bayou in the Glenbrook area of Houston. It will be near the Broadway/Park Place exit to Hobby Airport. Organizers hope to be open and ready for visitors in 2020.

Even tiny Mandell Park located near the Menil Collection on Richmond Avenue at Mandell, has been recently made into an inventive space that includes a community garden and native plants to attract butterflies, bees and birds.

Now another garden is in the process of being more fully redeveloped and promises to be a draw for gardeners, botanists and horticulturalists: Peckerwood Garden.


Located in the countryside near Hempstead about 40 miles from Houston, Peckerwood Garden was founded by artist and plant collector John Fairey in 1971. It’s said to take its name from the Georgia plantation in Auntie Mame, as well as the many woodpeckers in the area. Fairey is also widely celebrated in the plant world for Yucca Do, a plant nursery that until recently sold rare plant specimens. (Alas, Yucca Do closed last spring.)

A few weeks ago we joined the local chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) for a Saturday morning guided tour of Peckerwood Garden. We learned that the garden has had many challenges over the years – but, then, what garden hasn’t? – including a tornado in 1983 that uprooted many mature trees, changing a shady landscape into a sunny landscape. But Fairey adapted and experimented. He brought in hundreds of plants, many of them little seen here, mostly from Mexico. Many turned out to be well suited to the sunny conditions. More recently the deluge that we experienced in Houston in 2015 and 2016 caused widespread flooding of the garden.


Today Peckerwood Garden is a public garden in process. Fairey still has a house on the grounds, but the garden has been quietly open to the public (by appointment mostly) since 1998. That year, Peckerwood Garden partnered with the Garden Conservancy, a national organization “devoted to preserving America’s exceptional gardens for the public’s education and enjoyment.” Locally, the non-profit Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation was established to preserve the garden for the future. The aim is to make Peckerwood a place for relaxation, contemplation, education and conservation. The garden administrators happily welcome donations and volunteers.


Peckerwood Garden is open to the public on the fourth Saturday of each month. In addition, you may arrange a private guided group tour, as we did. There are also occasional plant sales. See the website to learn more and follow Peckerwood Garden’s progress.