No, I am not writing a sequel to “The 39 Steps” but recounting my day and the actual number of steps in a remarkable garden belonging to Bill and Pepe Anderson. This monumental garden with 129 steps, multiple terraces and patios, outcrops of massive rocks, retaining walls, arches, ponds, and other water features has been fashioned out of the steep hillside above Casa Cultura and El Chorro.
But before we descend some of those 129 steps, here is Linda’s charming painting of a view across the upper terrace to the arched entrance at the top of the hillside garden and, on the far right, a part of the gatehouse…both covered in luscious bougainvillea.
When the Anderson’s bought the property in 2001 it consisted of three houses on (5809m2) or about 1 and 1/2 steep acres of semi-arid desert scrub. The area was so wild there were two resident coyotes on the property.
A little San Miguel history: The previous owner, James Henry “Tom” Sawyer, built the houses in about 1966. A violinist, he was one of the founders in 1979 of the Festival de Musica de Cámara.
Pepe had been looking for a house for about 5 years, but had only been looking at haciendas in Centro. A realtor coaxed her to see what was described as a property with potential but out of Centro. Pepe, an interior decorator, immediately saw the world class potential of the site.
While there was no magic wand to be waved that would rapidly transform a raw steep hillside into a lush, shaded and accessible garden, Pepe enthusiastically began what was to be a multi-year transformation of the hillside and remodels of the main, guest and gate houses. She acknowledged that any previous gardening experience in Houston, Texas, was useless, “you can’t grow anything here that you can grow in Houston.”
Working with noted San Miguel landscape architect, Tim Wachter, the Andersons have succeeded in transforming most of the hillside into a serene and labyrinth-like garden with a million dollar view of San Miguel from each terrace and patio.
As I walked down all 129 steps with Pepe as my guide, I was making mental notes, “paint here….no this is better….maybe with the view….there’s color over there.” Delightful vignettes every few steps…oh, too many choices.
Walking back up the steps to collect my painting supplies I thought…”Even the steps could make an attractive painting….hmmmm?” Here is a quick and colorful pastel of a few of those 129 steps.
What is unusual about this garden is how the design artfully incorporates the rock outcrops and huge boulders that have always been on the property. It’s as if all these rocks had been placed to enhance the garden, but, not so, the garden was designed to incorporate these rugged monsters. No one could possibly move them.
So…I chose a spot to paint that gives you a view across a small koi pond to a particularly large outcropping that includes many massive boulders.
An absolutely delightful garden….we thank the Andersons for graciously inviting us to paint.
As a sort of postscript to this garden post—the property Quinta Bella Vista has just been listed (May, 2019) with Sotheby’s and, if you wish, you can check out the video that has views of the garden: