I had been to the garden of Michael FitzGerald and Regan Morris a few months ago and was definitely looking forward to our morning painting session last week. On ¾ of a sloping acre, this is a garden primarily of cacti, agaves, and succulents in a variety of multi-colored and textured beds along narrow paths. Each bed or view is so pleasing to the eye that it is difficult to choose where to paint.
It’s not hard to guess that Regan worked for many years as a painter. Now this garden has become his canvas with the plants of Mexico his color palette.
I tried to pick a view and a bed that would show the rich colors and textures as well as hint at the rockwork and paths that crisscross the property. This was probably the most challenging garden painting day yet.
In this vignette of a small bed sandwiched between a narrow snaking path and a rock wall, the most numerous plants are Opuntia macrocentra, a type of prickly pear with purple and blue-green pads, Senecio mandraliscae or Blue Chalk Sticks, Sedum reflexum or Blue Spruce Stonecrop, and Sedum rubrotinctum or Pork and Beans. Included are a few of the many barrel cacti on the property and two ponytail palms. While just a small snippet of the garden, this view is characteristic of the complexity and delight awaiting in the beds as one explores the garden.
Linda (luckily for you, the viewer) chose a grander perspective of the garden that gives one a better sense and includes more of the barrel cactus of which there must be well over 100. She, too, found this garden a challenge to paint particularly because the day started out cloudy and then broke into brilliant sun necessitating that she start over to capture the garden in the sun.
When Michael and Regan bought this property some 13 years ago, it had a variety of mature trees including olive and ficus and some hastily planted ornamentals such as bougainvillea for color, and, unfortunately, a giant swath of construction gravel across much of the slope. The majority of ornamentals soon died leaving them with an almost blank canvas above ground and, they discovered, tepetate under a thin layer of soil. Tepetate is a Mexican term for a geological horizon, hardened by compaction or cementation, found in Mexican volcanic regions. Tepetate near the surface is problematic for agriculture, because of the hardness, poor drainage, and poor fertility.
Michael and Regan moved to San Miguel from Toronto, Canada, where gardening is quite different and, while living in Canada, had only a very small garden space so becoming owners of ¾ of an acre on a slope in Mexico with some mature trees but not much else constituted a change and a challenge. Regan said that for the first five years they just planted random things here and there without much of a plan.
And then the garden and gardening as an art form seeped into their lives. Gardening changes you and a well-constructed garden changes your world.
So began the planning and work that goes into overall garden cohesiveness and connections between beds. And then there are the plants….without a greenhouse, Regan has, with cuttings and starts, spread a multitude of succulents and cacti across the garden. The book, Desert Gardens by Melba Levick and Gary Lyons has become their guide and reference. Plants are sought out from trusted sources nearby such as El Charco del Ingenio and others further away such as Biznaga Vagabunda in Bernal. This beautiful garden has been created over several years by thoughtful planning and a lot of hard work. They have the help of a once a week gardener.
But, as all of you gardeners know, the planning and work are never done. One develops new plans, makes these changes, and then remakes these changes in parts of the garden. The focus, for now, is on getting the “bones” of the garden permanently in place so as Michael and Regan grow older (many years down the road) there won’t be the necessity of moving large agaves, shrubs, and trees. The planning and work continue.
We wish to thank Regan and Michael for inviting us to paint in their remarkable, personally constructed garden. A peaceful morning spent amongst a tapestry of color and texture doesn’t get much better.
For photos of this remarkable artists’ garden, I refer you to the following Instagram site: https://stalkfest.net/account/clayboys.garden/18170530657/