We are painting gardens in San Miguel in the middle of Mexico in the 21st century….who would have thought we would see Moby Dick?
Let me tell you about Jack and Terry’s garden where we painted this week…a very lush garden. (More about Moby Dick later.) Lush is important as a descriptor because this is May in San Miguel which is the hottest month of the year and the end (usually) of the dry period. Records for this garden kept since 1998 show the rainy season (May through October) averages 20 inches a year and the dry season (November through April) 4 inches a year.
For those of you who don’t live in San Miguel, imagine gardening in such a climate. Jack and Terry’s garden is large…approximately 1000 square meters or about 1/4 acre. With gardening help coming only 5 hours a week, the time necessary to water and care for this lush garden is huge.
This is a personally designed garden and Jack and Terry are avid plant collectors so there are surprises and delights throughout the garden. I was drawn to this birdbath garden sculpture by Czech artist, Katerina Pinosova.1 Having water sources available for the wildlife that live here was an important consideration in the garden design. The small garden view that I painted includes just a small sampling of the many greens which you can see in any direction throughout the garden.
Linda was drawn to the artistically striking yellow of the outdoor furniture and positioned herself to include them as well as giving you, the viewer, a more generous view of this special garden. The tree front and center is Ficus elastica (rubber tree). There are in this view the rarely see 14-foot tall Strelitzia nicolai (giant white bird of paradise), Strelitzia reginae, Euphorbia tirucallia (pencil cactus), and Asparagus densiflorus (Myers asparagus fern). Euphorbia species are a plentiful favorite in the garden.
The story of how people find San Miguel always interests me and how Terry and Jack found San Miguel and this property bears telling. Terry and Jack moved to Mexico City in 1994 when Terry was working for a major US corporation and was offered a two-year position. They fell in love with Mexico and as the two years drew to a close started looking for somewhere to live….somewhere where they could buy a house with land for a garden and, if they decided to return to the states, easily sell it. San Miguel seemed like the ideal place.
And you know how the story goes from here…their current house and garden was the first property they were shown. The house was run down and the garden almost nonexistent…but sometimes a clean slate is the best. They have learned by doing (remember the 1997 freeze??) and seeking advice from knowledgeable people in San Miguel such as agronomists/landscapers Sarai Guzmán and Iván Chávez.2
Along the way they were able to buy an adjacent property which was formerly a tennis court thus increasing by a third the size of their original property. All rooms in the house have a sight line to a part of the garden. Their gardening philosophy includes no toxic chemicals, organic when at all possible, and composting but it is their love of gardening and their creativity that make the difference. Words and a few paintings don’t do justice to this special place. Many thanks to Jack and Terry for allowing us to paint.
Finally, we come to Moby Dick. A swimming pool, a legacy from a previous owner, has become a thriving fish pond. In amongst the many goldfish and shubunkins is a lone white shubunkin with blue-rimmed eyes affectionately named Moby Dick. They say that unlike his namesake he is a friendly sort.
1 Katerina Pinosova…well known in San Miguel, Texas, Prague, and elsewhere for her concrete garden art http://katerinapinosova.com/fine-art/