300 Years of Plants on the Move in Texas, Cochineal, East Texas, Opuntia cactus, Pineywood, Pineywoods, SFA Gardens, SFA Pineywoods Native Plant Center, SFA plant sale, Southern Garden History Society, Sweet Olive, The Fredonia Hotel
Our 1st road trip last autumn was to Nacogdoches in beautiful east Texas. It is the home of SFA, Stephan F. Austin State University. Nacogdoches began as a Caddo Indian village. In the early 1700 it became a Spanish village and mission. As more Europeans came to Texas it grew in to a thriving town and is considered the “Oldest Town in Texas.” It was a pleasant 3-hour drive from Houston through what is known as the Pineywoods, named for its thick pine tree forest. The Piney Woods Region is also where the Texas Oil Boom began.
The event was put on by The Southern Garden History Society. An organization we have belonged to for several years. The website explains, “SGHS is an organization that raises awareness and promotes scholarship of historic gardens, cultural landscapes and horticultural history across the U.S. South. They welcome individuals, families, historic sites, public gardens or organizations interested in southern gardens and landscapes.” Below is the flyer they sent out.
We drove up Friday morning arriving at the beautifully newly renovated Fredonia Hotel and Convention Center where we stayed and attended talks. The Fredonia is located in the historic part of Nacogdoches. The tall brick building, originally built in 1955, reminded us of an office building. It was said to be “as modern as an atomic submarine”. when first promoted. Its contemporary architectural style is mid-century with French Creole accents in its decorative ironwork. The attention to detail in its restoration is very aesthetically pleasing. The use of contemporary art and furniture is fun and interesting. Once inside the lobby all the walls are glass and look out onto a large kidney-shaped pool surround by cabana rooms. There are big oaks and plenty of room to dine outside or just lounge by the pool. There are a variety of places to eat within the hotel, also.
Learning more about the history of Texas and the various ethnic groups that settled here and left their mark with plants and gardening styles was very interesting. We started with a talk by SGHS board member Jeff Abt on “Images from the Past-Lumber Town Landscapes and What They Tell Us.” Jeff showed us many slides where he has used a microscope to see landscape details. Fascinating black and white photographs of lumber towns. The lumber industry came to the area where Kilgore TX is now in 1844 with the migration of Benjamin Franklin Thompson and his two sons. They purchased 10,000 acres. An excellent article for more on the history of logging check out Texas Beyond History article on Logging in the Pineywoods.
Forest workers rest beside the fruits of their labor: yards of cut and stacked logs, ready to be transported to the sawmill. Photo courtesy of Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, East Texas Collection (DI_01282).
Our next speaker was the plantsman, plant finder and author (link to YouTube video) >Greg Grant. His talk was “From Arcadia to Arcadia: Crannies, Kissing Cousins, and Narcissus. We have heard him talk numerous times and he always has something new to share. This time Greg shared stories about his long-lost distant cousin Celia Jones and their mutual love of heirloom Narcissus. And an actual plant connection from Arcadia, Texas to Arcadia, Louisiana. I chased down a narcissus he mentioned when we went to Bulb and Plant Mart this year. I keep photos of plants we plant in our garden in a folder on my computer. I break them down by season and year. I was able to track this one down quickly so very pleased my method worked. We are seeing the green stems on these already and should have flowers in February. Next up was Dr. Dave Creech, Regent’s Professor and Professor Emeritus, at Stephen F. Austin State University. He is a horticulturist and director of SFA Gardens, David Creech. His talk was “Plants with Stories and Other Tall Tales.” We have heard about Dr. Creech for years and were delighted to hear his stories about the past, present, and future of SFA Gardens. It is the first botanical garden at a university in Texas. He told of his many plant finding trips like one to China where he saw this very large Sweet Olive (link to his blog here). He brings back seeds and cutting to try and propagate new and interesting plants. After dinner we listened to our Keynote speaker Bill Welch. Dr. William C. Welch, honorary board member and past president of the Southern Garden History Society. He is a Professor and Texas AgriLife Extension Services Landscape Horticulturalist in Department of Horticultural Sciences at TAMU. He spoke on “The Spanish Influences in Our Gardens-Celebrating 300 Years.” Dr. Welch is author of numerous gardening books including Heirloom Gardening in the South and The Rose Rustlers, along with Greg Grant. We know him from Landscape Design Study Courses we take up in College Station. In Texas and the Southwest, you see a great deal of Spanish influences below is a summary. I loved this slide of an Opuntia cactus. I believe it is a photograph from Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus. It depicts people harvesting Cochineal, a scale insect, which is used to make a natural dye. The insect lives on cacti, getting water and nutrients from it. “The carmine dye was used in North America in the 15th century for coloring fabrics and became an important export good during the colonial period.” – Wikipedia.
The night was wrapped up with wine and nibbles and conversation with friends and new acquaintances. The next morning, we headed to SFA Pineywoods Native Plant Center, to shop at SFA Gardens’ annual Fall plant sale. They featured heirloom, hardy, and hard to find plants for Texas and the South. All grown by volunteers, staff, and student workers. The proceeds of the sale support SFA Gardens’ development, maintenance, and educational programming. The pollinator got word of it and were out in full force. Of course, we had to help the cause.
Before leaving SFA we took a walk over to the arboretum. We saw some of the plants Dr. Creech spoke about. One I would really love to grow is this Sweet olive with orange flowers. I think it may be Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus. It is easy to walk thru the arboretum and we saw many other wonderful plants. We will see about getting back this spring. On the way back to the car we saw Dr. Jared Barns, SFA professor of horticulture, students herb and vegetable garden. It was looking very healthy. You can find him on IG. Then is was time for a leisurely drive home through the woods of East Texas.Happy Gardening!