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Peckerwood Garden

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I woke up Saturday morning with no particular plans. Spent a bit of quiet time, Bob brought me some coffee, and the phone started to ring. A few anxious moments later, I knew two things: too many friends remembered I was born on Cinco de Mayo and a friend who had battled cancer for 16 years had died. 

The first caller made a suggestion, “You should take a little trip to Peckerwood Gardens today.” 


I had a lot of things to do, most of them having nothing to do with taking a drive. Bob didn’t want to go and I really didn’t want to spend the time it would take to get to Hempstead. But for some reason, I closed my computer, packed a couple of bottles of water, asked Mother to go with me and gave Bob release from wife’s-birthday duty.  The blustery day buffeted the car, high clouds buffeted the hawks and we headed out west. 

Strange thing I knew when I finally found Peckerwood Gardens although I had never been there before. I had noticed this place on other drives. 

Just a bit past a small creek, a small elegant sign states “Peckerwood Foundation” almost hidden in a wall of greenery. Teasing glimpses of pleasing architecture and towering, swaying trees are all that evidences the place from the road. A small tent was set up at the entrance of the garden and we walked up and into the beginning of a tour. I noticed a tall, lean, and lanky gentleman. He had the stance of a man of the earth, a certain measure of patience and stillness, a waiting posture. The gentleman wore a straw hat that fit nicely on his head, the brim dancing to the gusts of wind but never lifting off his head. I liked his face. It was smooth for his age and when he smiled, which was often, he looked directly into your eyes. 

“Are you ready”, he said, and off the small group of garden enthusiasts tromped, trailing behind him. 

“My name is John”, he said and he began to talk about the trees. 

His voice was soft, and earnest and passionate even when the words were lost in the wind. The garden was beautiful. Oaks, evergreen, many lovingly discovered in Mexico, graced rolling hills. Magnolias planted next to giant cypress, their knees popping up along the creek path.  Pebbled and dry gardens flowed into grass and the juxtaposition of desert plants with water trees seemed peaceful and harmonious. I realized that this garden was the handiwork of John’s heart. It was crafted from a truly gifted hands. Without even knowing him, I knew John was an artist, because the garden was his pallet and canvas. Using texture and shades of greens, and plant blues, silvers and purple leaf, John had spent the last 30 years creating this garden of rare native plants and found Mexican transplants. 

Stopping by his metal home and a beautiful fine needled yucca John said, “In the heat of the summer, when this place is hotter than you can imagine, this yucca’s fine leaves will move with the slightest breeze, a movement that makes the garden seem cooler.” 

I thought about that. 

This garden was not just about color and texture, but it was about movement. Many times I have appreciated the sway of an oak as its leaves and limb twisted in a wind; never had I considered the movement of desert plant in the stillness of summer heat. Often I couldn’t hear John, his voice so quiet, but the desire to soak up what he might be saying was replaced by the growing realization that this garden was special. With that ever present smile, John walked us over to the last stop on our tour. John had already told us about certain plants and trees in the garden that have chemicals used to combat breast and lung cancers. He quietly gathered the group in a low spot at the end of a meadow and asked us to look up the hill towards an old live oak. With the familiar heavy limbs close enough that they make you want to climb, the oak was majestic, as perfect a rendering of a perfect tree that you could ever want. In concentric circles with an open path to the oak, row after row of trees that naturally harbor the cancer-fighting chemical framed the tree. I don’t know if John hoped we would each feel what his artists hands had wrought, but I know what I felt. On the walk back, John always asking if we had questions, was asked the obvious one, “How much time do you spend here?!” “Not as much as I used to”, John says, “I still teach two days a week at A&M.”. “Really”, the woman said, you teach botany?” “No, I am an architect, I teach environmental design.”

In 98, a young freshman Aggie, a corp guy, having spent a semester finding out that engineering wasn’t meant to be, considered architecture and took a class from a soft-spoken professor and sent out a happy money that started with…….Well here is today’s quote, my environmental design teacher said this….” when you look at a tree don’t just look at the branches, look at the sky between them”. I know some of ya’ll will think that is just plain weird but I think it makes a lot sense if you think about it.

There are a handful of decisions I could have made that day that would not have taken me down those garden paths. Only God can suspend time for a moment, to let a heart heal in a Texas Garden, if you are willing to look beyond the branches and consider that Heaven may be more generous than you could ever imagine. 

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