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Preserving the past.


Mary Anne Pickens' fondest memory is of sitting in a rocking chair on her grandmother's porch on the family's homestead near Columbus, Texas. She remembers eating watermelon and watching the hummingbirds and butterflies hovering over the flowers in the garden.

On both sides of the porch were flower beds of assorted shapes and sizes, with colorful bulb plants scattered throughout. Her grandmother also grew poppies, red salvia, larkspurs, lantanas, crinums, phlox and bridle wreath. From a huge clump of pampas grass, Grandmother Leyendecker would cut tall plumes and display them in a carnival-glass vase. Sometimes she and the young Mary Anne would walk through the red, blue and yellow wildflowers that blanketed the meadows around the house.

To Pickens, no place could have been more beautiful. So when she inherited 146 acres from her grandparents, she set out to duplicate her grandmother's home and gardens--right down to transplanting and grafting plants and trees from the original homestead.

Pickens is proud of her ancestry. In 1845, her great-great-great-grandfather acquired a grant for 2,000 acres, now located outside Columbus. The property was handed down from generation to generation and used by families for livestock and other enterprises.

In 1876, J.F. Leyendecker started Pearfield Nursery and moved into the old home that his parents had built when they settled in Texas. The nursery, was responsible for introducing a number of new fruits to Colorado County, including Japanese persimmons, Asian pears, peaches, plums, citrus fruits and grapes, as well as many ornamental shrubs and trees. Descendants continued the nursery until the 1950s.

When Pickens and her husband, Bob, decided to retire in 1992, they moved to Columbus, 70 miles from Houston. Mary, Anne Pickens had taught school and Bob Pickens had worked for a large energy corporation. Their first grandchild was on the way, and Mary Anne Pickens said at the time, "I want to create a yard that will be as memorable for our grandchildren as Grandmother's was for me."

Although the house belonging to the Leyendeckers had burned down and much of the once beautiful garden was grown over, they decided to re-create much of the home and its surroundings on their property, which is across the road from the original homestead, which a cousin now owns.

They picked the highest spot on their land to build their ranch house, which sits on acres of dense wildflowers--yellow coreopsis, bluebonnets, red Indian paintbrush and purple Herbertia. For Pickens, the sight triggers memories of the sea of wild blooms in her grandmother's yard. Like the Levendecker homestead, the Pickens' house boasts a lengthy front porch with a family of rocking chairs that invite visitors to soak in the beauty of the surroundings.

Pickens, a former state president of the Native Plant Society of Texas, designed her garden with a combination of wildflowers and heirloom plants from her grandmother's flowerbeds. At the burned-out house, she dug up bulb plants--summer snowflakes, narcissus, Byzantine gladiolus, oxblood lilies and grape hyacinths. She rooted bridle wreath from the old homestead and planted it near her front porch and driveway. She dug up a shoot of a yucca plant that had been on the Leyendeckers' property since 1863. She also managed to acquire cuttings from a Pearfield Nursery boxwood and a dwarf myrtle from a nearby cemetery. After buds from the old trees were grafted on to rootstock, Bob Pickens planted a dozen pear trees and eight persimmon trees in their orchard.

Although her grandmother's roses were long gone, Mary Anne Pickens found a number of species that had been sold by the nursery. Today, she has white and red roses, both climbing and bush varieties, on all sides of the house and guesthouse, as well as climbing on arbors and trellises. A white Cherokee rose, which now vines on bushes lining the entrance to their property, is a reminder of a time when Texas settlers used the thorny vine as fencing.

Like all gardeners, Pickens has been the recipient of plants, everything from native grasses to red buckeye seeds. Friends and relatives have found heirloom plants purchased from Pearfield Nursery, such as orange daylilies, a pink-flowering almond and a sago palm. Pickens has interspersed these among native plants in her gardens. The herb garden also has Pearfield flowers among rosemary, thyme, parsley, dill, fennel and oregano, as well as vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. A gated arbor welcomes visitors into the fenced-in herb garden and hundreds of bottles line the paths.

While Mary Anne Pickens' passion is flowers, Bob Pickens' is the land. A former geologist, he surveyed the surrounding pasture and woods and focused on land reclamation. Where the mining of gravel decimated some of the acreage, he smoothed down the gravel hills to make them more productive. He reintroduced native grasses such as little bluestem, Indian grass, switch grass and Eastern gama grass. He also built wildlife tanks. Today, deer feed among the native plants on the restored prairie that he carefully reintroduced.

At the house, Bob Pickens designed the flowerbeds. He hacked out gravel from the clay soil and filled buckets with the coarser pieces. He hauled in mulch and mixed it with smaller gravel and sand. While he was digging the beds, he found bulbs that went down into the clay and added them to the buckets. One day, to his chagrin, he discovered that he had been throwing away hundreds of Herbertia bulbs that would have turned into three-leafed wild iris.

He has a good laugh about his early naivete.

"I've learned a lot about flowers from my wife over the last 1 2 years," he says. "Mary Anne had the vision. We started pretty raw here, and I just followed her lead. But didn't it turn out nice?"
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Author:Owen, Linda
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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