August 21, 2019 1014 PM
MARFA – More than just a guide to native plants of the Big Bend, “Marfa Garden: The Wonders of Dry Desert Plants” is a visual celebration of flora of the Chihuahuan Desert. Conceived among four Marfa friends — Jim Fissel, Jim Martinez, Mary Lou Saxon and Martha Hughes — the book was published July 31 by Trinity University Press.
“The four of us have been close friends for many years here in Marfa,” Fissel said. “We all love to hike together and spend time exploring Big Bend, the Guadalupes and the Davis Mountains on many outings.”
What began as recreation soon began to germinate into something more.
In interviews with the Big Bend Sentinel, the friends explained the process of writing their full-color guide. Martinez was a unique resource on hikes because of his incredible knowledge of the plants of the area. His day job as a landscape designer in town also informed his work in the book.
“While the rest of us were looking up and out at the incredible landscapes and vistas, Jim Martinez would be looking down at unique plant species or plants growing in the wild here that he only saw in nurseries in the past,” Fissel said. The enthusiasm and knowledge was contagious. The four developed the book through their individual talents and contributions over the course of seven years.
Saxon’s photographs display plants as they pass through a life cycle. “We shot for a long time in order to capture the various seasonal changes that occur with each plant,” Saxon said of her contribution.
Vines, grasses, trees, herbs, shrubs, cacti and succulents abound, and Hughes’ text makes easy reading, avoiding a textbook feeling despite the book’s hefty weight. During the book’s development, the group would meet over a bottle of Prosecco. Martinez would explain the plants, and Hughes would refine the information into text.
“We realized that each of our backgrounds were unique and complementary in working on the project. We also loved spending time together and learning more about the plants of the area, and we had fun the entire process,” Fissel said.
A visual appendix of botanical and gardening information, the book consists of illustrations of close-up botanical details as assembled by Fissel. You can find copies of the book locally at The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, The Marfa Book Co., Hotel Paisano and The Sentinel.