This week we painted in the heart of San Miguel de Allende at the magnificent home and historic garden of Cesar Arias de Canal and Rocio Rios Jiménez. This historic vegetable garden and orchard is nestled between the increasingly busy streets of Jesus and Aldama very near La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel.
Many years ago almost every block in San Miguel had interior gardens and orchards creating un corazón de la manzana or “a heart of the apple” as these gardens were called in the past. This may be the only remaining such garden in downtown San Miguel having existed essentially unchanged for more than two hundred years. The property was purchased by Cesar’s father from another member of the Canal family in the 1950s and the magnificent house constructed in the 1960s by noted Mexican architect, Leonardo de la Canal.
It is indeed “an oasis of tranquility” as the late Bob Hass referred to this garden. While there are more formal garden vistas along the entrance walkway and a grand old Ficus sp. (which deserves a painting in its own right), we both were drawn to the historic garden area.
For readers who do not live in San Miguel, about 10 days ago on July 1 (2019) San Miguel experienced the hailstorm of the decade which caused considerable damage to plants. This lovely garden did not escape unscathed. The view that I chose to paint which, of course, had to include the flock of chickens, also, shows the aftermath of the storm….a necessary replanting of the vegetable beds and, if you look closely, the ravaged leaves of the papaya tree.
Each garden that we paint presents different challenges and I found the details, which I wanted to capture impossible to paint within the time frame we have for a plein air sketch…thus the bold, loose strokes. Maybe not my best effort but fun nevertheless.
Some things cannot be corrected when using watercolor so I must admit that these are not giant chickens and boys doing the planting but, in reality, ordinary size chickens and men.
Linda, who choose to paint an entirely different scene in this large garden, describes her choice and experience as follows:
“I wanted to find a scene of serenity including the new plants for replanting. I liked the way the iron gates led to the planting shed. Three bright orange pots lead the eye to a focal area. I placed a young man in the shed for scale…I “stole” some chickens to add interest to the foreground…it was a peaceful morning accompanied with the sound of digging and the smell of freshly turned earth.”
As usually happens on our painting Fridays, Linda finished her lovely watercolor sketch in about half the time it took me to somewhat finish mine.
Cesar and Rocio have made changes such as adding a large (670 square meters) rainwater cistern and new plantings here and there that include native trees. A native cotton plant (possibly Gossypium hirsutum) was flinging wisps of cotton everywhere but neither of us included it in our paintings. They intend to preserve this historic garden in the heart of San Miguel de Allende.
With so much development taking place in San Miguel, the new condos, houses, streets, parking lots and shopping centers have destroyed much of the native vegetation and actually covered the soil thus diminishing the capacity of the environment immediately around San Miguel to absorb the water from violent rain, or, in the recent case, hail storms. When these storms occur, the water has nowhere to go except in the streets creating violent, temporary rivers flooding the downtown streets. This oasis of tranquility serves as a reminder to all of us to work to preserve green spaces and develop communities within planned guidelines that serve us and future generations.