As we drove out of town and turned off the paved roads onto the familiar dirt and gravel, we both felt nostalgia for those years of bumping along the back roads around San Miguel de Allende looking for capillas. But this time there was no searching for the telltale bell towers; we knew where we were going.
Jennifer Haas invited us to paint at her ranchito, Rancho Jaguar, near Atotonilco but couldn’t be there to suggest views so we took our time and wandered around in and out of her colorful flower garden, lush vegetable gardens, pine forests, and formal xeriscape plantings that look like botanical gardens. To complicate choices, there are houses, a folk art museum, and several other buildings set among winding paths…all picturesque and paintable. We were sort of sorry we hadn’t brought a sandwich and hunkered down for an entire day of painting instead of just the morning.
I toyed briefly with trying to capture the pine forest and xeriscape garden area but these plants are detailed and difficult to capture in watercolor. There are so many mature pine trees that in places the ground is carpeted completely with the enormously long pine needles of Pinus montezumae, known as the Montezuma pine.
I am reminded of the pine and pine/oak forests near San Cristobal de la Casas, Chiapas, where the fresh needles are collected in huge sacks and used to carpet floors and walkways for celebrations. An aside…there are 115 species of pine in the world and Mexico with 55 has the largest number of pine species of any country in the world.
But finally, I chose a view reminiscent of our capilla painting days that included a corner of the xeriscape garden, a background of the pines and a carrizo (Arundo donax) fence.
Linda was drawn to the colorful flower garden with roses, zinnias, and cosmos in riotous bloom all set against the backdrop of Jennifer’s white house. She included a chicken and turkey, two of the many domestic fowl wandering the property. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the silkies.
So many things to paint. The blue bottle tree, a Southern tradition, is said to trap evil spirits and keep them out of your home
We had to leave the bottle tree as well as many eclectic examples of Mexican folk art scattered throughout the garden for another time.
We painted at the end of July but, because of conflicting vacations, didn’t have a chance until this week to chat in person and finish the story. Jennifer has been collecting Mexican folk art since the 1960s and has realized every collector’s dream of turning a private collection into a museum. Museo de Arte Popular, a part of Rancho Jaguar, displays her collection that includes works by Caldelario Medrano, one of the top figural ceramists in Mexico, and Teodora Blanco, internationally known decorative ceramist using the technique of “pastillaje”.
Jennifer first came to San Miguel de Allende in 1966 and studied photography (a life-long passion) at the Instituto de Allende, moved to Morelia briefly, and then settled in San Miguel. She and her late husband Bob Haas bought this six-acre country property in 1991. Jennifer described it as a cornfield with potential. The late Joseph Smith, the founder of Viveros del Disierto, created the intricate, show-stopping, xeriscape garden at Rancho Jaguar and Jennifer and Bob and many gardeners worked tirelessly over the years to create the large and small garden spaces that make Rancho Jaguar such a delight to explore.
On the way back we detoured to the Laja River which flows along one side of the property and noticed numerous and dense collections of branches and debris caught high in trees along the road…evidence of fairly recent flooding. There are devastating floods recorded for the area in 1926, 1955, and 1971. Jennifer describes one more recent flood where the water rose to the back steps of her house as many tiny creatures trying to outrace the floodwaters. Snails were sliming up the walls of the house.
You do not have to outrace the snails to see this expansive and lovely garden as well as visit Museo de Arte Popular. Tours can be arranged through Mexico Magico Tours http://www.mexicomagicotours.com/museoartepopular.html
We are most grateful to Jennifer Haas for inviting us to spend a leisurely morning in this magical place.