Friday I was in Houston with Professor Wes Michaels and a curious group of LSU Landscape Architecture soon-to-be-graduates, we ducked in to see a garden designed and planted by Will Flemming, horticulturist, garden designer, nurseryman, awesome human being. Of course we were treated to many horticultural delicacies throughout the visit. Will fills his gardens full of beautiful and useful plants that are not the typical run-of-the-mill garden variety. There is not much bare area left when he’s finished planting.
I have been a big fan of Will and his work since my first trip to Brenham, Texas in 1993 where we were introduced to each other and first talked plants while standing in one of his creations: a particularly lush ground rock garden. Will is not only famous for his plants and plantings but also his rock work.
Will distinguishes between landscaping and gardening. He says one is not the same as the other. And to understand this one must see Willie’s gardens. And many of them. Each one is so uniquely different. Willie Flemming loves collecting, growing, using, and nurturing extraordinarily significant plants.
I consider myself a fairly well versed plantsman but people like Will, I am simply in awe of. Yet there is absolutely not a pretentious bone in his body.
He is not only very willing to share his knowledge, he shares his plants. …and his gardens. He and I have been sharing plants for some years. Some of my long-time, favorite pass-a-long plants originated from him.
So many times over the last twenty years he has dropped what he was doing to let me into his world, to see his gardens, so that I could experience them. After all, most of what Willie does is behind the gate of a private garden. Each time I’ve visited his handiwork, a burst of horticultural energy has been tranferred, like an IV into the blood of my veins. It is so inspiring to see and study the work of the masters. I feel really lucky to have been able to bring the class to see his work. A treat it certainly was.
Willie’s client wanted to design a garden at a rental property they owned just next door. So Will took advantage of mature Chinese Privet growing on the fence line between the two properties and after rounding off the top, carved out an opening, making it the entrance “doorway” into the garden.
Wes Michaels, as he steps into a Will Flemming Rabbit Hole.
Landscape Architect Alex Ochoa steps up to enter the Garden
Landscape Architect Keely Rizzato checking out the hand-carved entrance ceiling
above: once through the entrance doorway, you’re hit with a forceful wave a foliage and effect that will stop you in your horticultural tracks.
The garden is arranged as a small terrace, a level, open surface adjacent to the back of the house, with a fairly steep slope that drops twenty feet into one of the dry drainage channels of White Oak Bayou. Large Basswood trees shade the slope from the south and the bayou channel has an otherwise volunteer canopy with oaks and cypress. There is only water running in the channel in big rain events but sometimes the water backs up and the water goes upslope toward the terrace, Will informed us. Hackett stone was used for the walkways and for the steps leading down the slope. Flemming built a dry creek-bed “sedge lawn” that is designed to stabilize the hillside base when water runs and channels down the slope face.
Much of the planting is done for function as well as beauty. Its wonderful stuff. Lots of different plants, and gardens everywhere except for where the paths cut through it. Will focused on using plants that stabilized the slope and they are obviously working well. He masterfully uses cool natives and heirloom plants to build gardens that are beautifully arranged plant collections.
Will brought us here to show us his use of the sedge meadow, since our class focused on designing and building Urban Meadows.
I only met the cat casually, didn’t get a name, as he / she was walking through the cushiony bed of Leavenworth’s sedge, Carex leveanworthii. Bronze Fennel and Bee Balm in the background, just prior to bloom.
above: The sunny part of the garden. On the right, St Joseph’s lily in foreground, the spikes of Manfreda variegata, sedge and Cardoon in background.
the bold grey leaves of Cardoon, Cynara cardunculus are ultra-velvety soft-to-the-touch.
a really tightly compact Sedum Will told me was native to the Czeckoslovakia region of Europe(didn’t get the species name), with the fat-strapped leaves of Manfreda x Agave ‘Macho Mocha’, aka Mangave, a cross between Manfreda and Agave, a Yucca-do Nursery introduction.
St Joseph’s lily in red, the green of salvia on the right and a dwarf, blue form of Eastern Gamma grass (a Flemming introduction) in full inflorescence.
Leavenworth Sedge is cool stuff, folks. Get you some!
Lindhiemer Muhly grass, Muhlembergia lindhiemeri arches over a path. This grass does exceptionally well in gardens here in Louisiana and I’ve never seen a seedling, so not invasive yet.
“the silver form”, Will said, of Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens at the far end of the gardens, as compared to the “blue form” which he said, is more common in the nursery trade. Eyelash Leafed Salvia, Salvia blepharophylla is on left foreground as a ground cover with Inland River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolia on the far side of the Saw Palmetto, punctuated at-top with Crinum and Leavenworth’s Sedge.
stone paths lead the way in the garden, with Rain Lily hybrid Zepharanthes “Labuffarosea” (a super duper garden plant for Louisiana), occasionally lining the edge
Stone craftsmanship by the Flemmer!
the delicacy of Prairie Phlox merges with the rigidness of natural stone.
Prairie Phlox in the foreground, Bear Grass, Nolina budding-up for flower, and Meadow Rue, Thalictrum just beyond.
steps leading down to the base camp
A trademark plant of Will would be the old world Cardoon Cynara cardunculus. These are herbaceous with velvety silver leaves. They were huge.
Mottled Tuberose, Manfreda variegata flower stalks just before blossom, lunging upwardly, reflecting the verticality of the building’s architecture. Mottled Tuberose is an excellent garden ground cover for us in Louisiana for shade or sun, adaptable to most garden soils.
Saw Palmetto, River Oats, and Spiderwort all work hard to keep erosion from occurring.
Wes Chats with Will at the summit
Will Flemming exits the garden through the Privet doorway.
What’s taking Garden Design magazine so long to find this guy?