As a child, John Fairey was always encouraged to develop his green thumb -- his parents and grandparents were all avid gardeners -- but art, not gardening, was his first love. Fairey studied painting and then went on to teach architecture at Texas A&M University. In 1971, he bought a nineteen-acre stretch of land in Hempstead, Texas, located halfway between the university and his art studio, as a sort of refuge -- "a place in the woods," as he calls it. Over time, Fairey discovered the love for gardening that his family shared, and cultivating his property turned into his passion; now, it occupies almost all his time. Today, seven of the acres form an oasis of rare and newly discovered plants known as Peckerwood Garden, named for the woodpeckers that inhabit it and for the plantation in the film Auntie Mame.

What separates Peckerwood Garden from other gardens are the thousands of endangered plant species it contains, many of which are native to Mexico, such as Philadelphus, Manfreda undulata, and Arisaema macrospathus. Fairey collects the seeds for these plants and others on his frequent botanical expeditions to Mexico; then, he cultivates the plants in his gardens so they will be preserved for years to come. Because of the strong Texas heat, he looks for unusual plants that can weather the severe conditions, often trading seeds with warm-climate-zone arboreta in North Carolina, California, and Korea. The garden's sectional design is remarkable as well, integrating curved and angular beds positioned for a range of light requirements, from full sun to full shade.

Despite his background as a painter, Fairey believes gardening may be the highest art form because it involves all the senses. He hopes that the work he has started in his garden will continue long after he is gone; to ensure that it does, he has turned Peckerwood Garden into a foundation supported by the Garden Conservancy, a group that is dedicated to preserving American gardens.



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