Couple transforms bay lots into lush groves and gardens
With the front of their property facing wetlands and their backyard surrounded by Galveston Bay, Barbara and Gary Hankins know just how lucky they are to be so close to nature. But it didn’t happen overnight.
The 1-acre property with two houses and separately defined garden areas — including 133 palm trees — began as a single vacant lot, which the couple purchased in 1996. A boarded up, 110-year-old cottage sat next door, moved there after Hurricane Carla in 1961. The couple bought the cottage, where they lived for 12 years, before building on their lot.
While living in the cottage, the they began planting and planting and planting.
After building the main house in January 2008, life was good — until Hurricane Ike roared in nine months later.
“The cottage took a major hit,” Barbara Hankins said. “But we were able to salvage some of the interior cypress walls.”
Two neighboring houses to the west of the cottage were completely destroyed, which gave the couple an opportunity to buy the land, now known as “T.K.’s Place,” named after the former owner.
“It really opened up our view and gives us a parklike feeling,” Hankins said. “We brought in loads of dirt and created a hill that contains a citrus grove, vegetables, herbs and a variety of plants and trees.”
In a vast grassy area backing up to the bay, a sandstone fire pit in the shape of Texas provides warmth for winter sunsets and star gazing.
East of the main house is a separate garden area the couple calls “Norman’s Yard,” in honor of the neighbor who once lived there and from whom they bought the property. Remnants from Norman’s old house pilings still are evident and have become a part of the raised garden.
“We grow lettuce, arugula and winter greens here along with blackberries, tomatoes, radishes, broccoli and kale,” Hankins said.
The entire area is fenced with chicken wire to dissuade birds from eating the crops.
Peach trees, tomato plants, an apple tree, satsuma and herbs fill an adjoining area.
“We got over 100 pounds of peaches this year from the Florida King peach tree alone,” she said.
Each of the garden areas has its very own personality. Sand dune fencing sets boundaries and wind fences add protection from strong breezes. A drip irrigation system supplies water as needed.
“When we first started planting, Gary and I built all the beds ourselves with Pavestone Anchor Windsor Stone,” she said.
They later got help from landscaper Tom Richards, who used Anchor Diamond Pro Stone Cut Retaining Wall blocks to define larger areas.
All of the gardens are lush with produce, flowering plants and shrubs, and an abundance of trees. A towering Norfolk pine planted in 1998 reaches skyward. The bluish tinge of the Silver Bismarck palm becomes subtly evident when the sunlight hits it just right. Bougainvillea, hibiscus, Turk’s cap, Dutchman’s pipe, Carolina aster, dragon fruit, vitex abloom with lilac spikes and a pomegranate tree bursting with fruit are just a few species among the many botanical wonders.
Crab traps are stacked in front of the pier, where pelicans and oystercatchers gather to rest. The bright orange-red beaks of the oystercatchers are as colorful as the many flowers that bloom year-round inside this private, coastal hideaway.
Adirondack chairs beckon family and friends to sit a while and enjoy the view along with Baby, the couple’s rescue dog. Six kayaks are available and used frequently by the couple and their guests.
“There’s always something wonderful to see and you feel like a part of it,” said Hankins, who became a Master Gardener in 2012. “Pelicans flying by, watching the weather move across the bay, the bird life, the sunsets; it’s all pretty amazing.”