Hempstead’s Fairey Garden flowers with new possibilities

In the crisp, early fall air last Tuesday, sunlight gleamed through the sculptural agaves, cacti and palms in the arid beds of the John Fairey Garden about an hour northwest of Houston. Dappled shade lit up the green understory near the spring-fed creek of the property’s woodland.

But the brightest thing around that morning seemed to be the future of the garden itself.

Founder John Fairey started his magnum opus, originally called Peckerwood, nearly 50 years ago as his private retreat; eventually building a collection focused on the conservation of about 3,000 rare or unusual plants from Mexico, Texas and Asia, all suited to our region’s climate. By the time Fairey died last March, at the age of 89, the garden had grown to 39 acres, including a nursery.

Although close to the Waller County Fairgrounds, the place remains a bit of a hidden gem, relatively unknown to millions of people who live within 70 miles yet legendary among plant people as one of the great outdoor environments of the world.

That may be changing. The nonprofit garden’s board recently hired an executive director, its first in several years. They had set out to replace a horticulture director who departed last year, then decided to stabilize the organization first. The group’s president, Houston artist and marketing consultant Randy Twaddle, got the job.

The John Fairey Garden

When: Open Day tours 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Oct. 10, 17, 24 and Nov. 7, 14, 21; tours by appointment 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; nursery open after Open Day tours and weekdays by appointment.

Where: 20559 FM 359, Hempstead

Details: Tours $10-$15; memberships $25-$70; 979-826-3232; jfgarden.org

“I don’t think there’s any other public garden in the country where I’m qualified to be the executive director. It remains to be seen if I’m qualified to do it here,” Twaddle said, matter-of-factly. “But because John was an artist, I’m comfortable from that perspective.”

Marketing a masterpiece

Hiring a horticulture director remains a priority for next year, but marketing experience was what the garden needed most first. “We needed somebody who’s just thinking about the place every day,” Twaddle said, shivering in a linen jacket as we sat on the porch of the founder’s home, where he now lives.

Followers of the garden’s Instagram account already can see how the garden is inspiring Twaddle creatively. His abstract art has been fueled in the past by images of tangled urban power lines. Now he’s seeing organic lines everywhere he looks, in the magnificent plants and the shadows they cast on colorful stucco walls. Not that he’s there to make visual art.

Newly energized since he took the reins in May, the organization has grown its memberships by 65 percent, launched a new website that’s attracting more visitors and organized an annual fundraiser that looks like it will exceed its goal, offering donors a film about Fairey that premieres Oct. 20. The John Fairey Garden now produces a monthly newsletter, tracks the numbers of visitors and

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