1917 - 1997
Sunday Lifestyle Garden Column
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Greg Grant, August 17, 1997
Texas Plant Pioneer Dies
Texas horticulture has lost another great one. Joining the recently deceased Eddie Fanick, John Fanick, J.C. Raulston, John Lipe, and Benny Simpson, is the "Father of Native Texas Plants", Lynn Lowrey of Houston. He died at the age of 80 this summer in Houston.
It's impossible to convey the amount of horticultural knowledge that has vanished from our midst with the passing on of these great horticulturists. Lynn Lowrey was truly a hero of mine.
Lynn Lowrey was among the most unassuming people that ever lived. Although one of the greatest sources of nursery, botanical, and horticultural knowledge ever, he never considered himself anything more than an underachieving amateur. How far from the truth.
Lynn Lowrey graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1940 with a degree in horticulture. He served four years in the U.S. army during WWII. In 1957 he started a career in the nursery business. He was to spend the rest of his life either in the nursery business, the woods of East Texas, or the hills of Mexico searching for new, useful ornamental plants.
Lynn Lowrey was pioneer in the use of native and rare plants in the landscape. His extensive travels throughout Texas, the southeastern U.S., and northern Mexico, gave him a wealth of knowledge that he generously shared with many people. He literally spent his lifetime collecting and propagating plants for numerous Texas nurseries including Lone Star Growers of San Antonio, my former employer. Through his gracious, caring, unassuming nature and love of plants, he was a mentor to many gardeners, nurserymen, and landscape designers.
Although considered primarily a pioneer in the modern use of native plants in the Texas landscape, he was really much more. Lynn Lowrey was an accomplished general horticulturist, the kind they used to make, but don't anymore. When I hear Lynn Lowrey's name I can't help but think of plants like the Basham's Party Pink hybrid crape myrtle and the dwarf Katie ruellia (Mexican petunia) that he introduced. In addition, plants like Montezuma cypress, new cultivars of Texas sage, Chinese quince, Monterrey oak, and others would probably not be around today if not for Lynn Lowrey.
To be quite honest, Lynn Lowrey was a great horticulturist but not a very good nurseryman. He was known for giving away alot more plants than he ever sold! Lynn Lowrey was never in it for himself. He was in it for the plants and for others.
My friend and well known gardening expert and author Bill Welch worked at Lynn Lowrey's nursery as a teenager and later went into the nursery business with him in Houston. Bill is now our state Extension Landscape Specialist at Texas A&M. He says that Lynn Lowrey truly influenced his life, as he did mine and many other horticulturists that came after him. We'll miss him and his plants.
Educational programs of the Texas Cooperative Extension are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
Greg Grant is the Cherokee County Horticulturist for the Texas Cooperative Extension. He is co-author of The Southern Heirloom Garden and can be heard each friday at 9:30 am on KWRW's (97.7 FM) "Plant Talk". For more information on Texas horticulture contact http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu via the WWW.
REMEMBERING LYNN LOWREY - Dave Creech - July 27, 1997
Lynn's passing June 28, 1997, was a hard blow to the gardening world. Another mighty oak has fallen. A living legend is gone. For many of us, Lynn was one of those folks you run across in life you want to end up like. I knew Lynn from the late 60's as a TAMU Horticulture major working in the fruit science end of the program and, as a graduate student at TAMU, I crossed trails with him many times in the 70's. I was then looking for various native and exotic fruits adapted to East Texas conditions (pawpaws, blueberries, hawhtornes, jujubes, etc.) and Lynn was the man to see. Then SFA and then the Arboretum and suddenly Lynn's footprints and mine crossed much more often. Trips to Mexico, to the backwoods, to nurseries, to gardens, or just out and about with other plant fiends was part of the plan. Simply put, from the beginning, Lynn struck me as a genius with character.
For many of us, Lynn really was a legend in his own time. His impact on southern landscapes reaches almost as far as his effect on people. I could never decide if Lynn was born 100 years too late or too early. Both fit. Always a quiet reservoir of plant knowledge, always eager to learn and share, Lynn was blessed with humility and great humanity. His expertise was unquestioned; whether it was a botanist, horticulturist or adventurous landscape designer visiting the state, Lynn was always high on the list of people to see. Lynn was more a true plantsman than a true nurseryman. Hard to stay in one spot, hard to make a firm appointment with, Lynn liked to wander here and there collecting seed or plants or connecting with someone who knew about this plant or that plant or that person who was working with . . .
Throughout his career - and there's no point in recounting all the names and locations of Lynn's nursery haunts - Lynn brought adventure and excitement to the nursery and landscape industry in the south. The Mexico oaks are only the tip of the iceberg. How many gardens across the south are blessed with living memorials to the oh-so-many plants that Lynn showered on the world? For example, any walk in this Lowrey-blessed garden is a memory. Who can't appreciate Lynn's big leaf yaupon? The Arboretum's Lynn Lowrey American Holly selections - cutting grown from superior East Texas trees - are now robust 10' females with large red berries and clean foliage. There's that special Oakleaf hydrangea sporting large tresses and good fall color over by the perennial border; it deserves a name - collected by Lynn near Angola Prison in Louisiana. Lynn felt that the Dam B Wisteria frutescens, our native Wisteria - white and blue forms - were worthy of greater use and certainly easier to manage than those rude Japanese and Chinese cousins. Hmmmmm . . . what about that soapberry with exceptionally narrow leaves? What about that Hesperaloe from Mamuluke pass? The Mahonias? For those of us who knew him, the list never ends. And that is what Lynn would want us to think about when we thought about him. The plants.
Lynn's impact amazes many of us academic and non-academic types who write and speak for a living in the amazing gardening world of Texas. Lynn wrote little and spoke less. Yet, his followers are legion. The power of his message was more than just the plants. It was an attitude to live by. Back before it was politically correct, Lynn spoke and wrote quietly on biodiversity, taking advantage of microhabitats, understanding the importance of site preparation, plant community development, natural form in design, using superior and adapted natives and exotics and the list goes on. In a conversation I once enjoyed with him on garden design, Lynn said that he didn't see how you could improve much on where we were at - kind of God's design - at the time, we were working along a fence row south of Navosota off a red clay road collecting seed and cuttings from a bright orange-berried deciduous holly that was mixed into a swarm of native trees and shrubs and herbaceous and God knows what.
While Lynn was no doubt an adventurous gardener, he didn't stop there. He also became a role model to live by. I always felt that business to Lynn - even money - was just a distraction, something that had to be dealt with as little as possible. Down deep, he'd rather give away plants than sell them. Lynn's goal in life was to work at what he loved to do and share it with the world. Lynn did that better than anyone. Perhaps more important than the plants or the gardens, maybe Lynn's greatest talent was in putting people together. Whether connecting medical researchers and cancer foundations with rare cancer-fighting plants like the Happy tree of China, or locating Taxus globosa in the mountains of Mexico for the Arnold Arboretum, or hunting down a particular genotype for a botanist, or chasing down a natural hybrid between two related genera . . . Lynn was always there to help out - to make something happen. Amazing to me, he never thought much about all this. He seemed to think he wasn't really doing all that much, that everyone else was doing a lot of good or that others work was "really important." That's what Lynn saw in people - the good. I think all the people, plants and gardening did that to him.
Matt Welch, one of my students, gave me this quote the day after the Lowrey memorial and the message kind of stuck. "Maybe a garden is not like an artistic creation, but more like a relationship. It is not so much designed as it is nurtured and managed. Imperfections, inconsistencies, and incongurities say that the relationship has some vitality to it, and that the gardener is engaged in a dialog and doesn't need to have the last word." - Tom Little, 1996. Lynn Lowrey never even intended to have the last word; his gardens, his plants and his people will do it for him.
Dr. Dave Creech, Professor of Horticulture and Director, SFA Arboretum