Couple’s past farming lives and love of birds define San Leon yard
C.W. and Helen Jahn’s San Leon property is across the street from Galveston Bay, providing the couple with a partial view of the water from their upper deck. Yet, the water view isn’t the main attraction for the Jahns, who are avid fans of the green parrots that have been occupants of the area for many years.
“We both love birds, especially the parrots,” said Helen Jahn, who keeps bird feeders filled to the brim for her winged visitors.
Their property, aptly called “Parrot Bay,” has a few artful birds scattered about, the main attraction being Chester, a giant inflatable toucan ride-on raft the Jahns enjoy using in their pool.
“We get in the pool every day and have fun riding around on Chester,” Helen Jahn said.
The Jahns have spent the past 20 years manicuring the grounds and remodeling the structures that occupy the property: the main house where they reside; a garage apartment facing the pool for guests and family; a smaller apartment out back; and a combination garage/storage area across the street. All the areas have the vibe of a tropical retreat.
Both C.W. and Helen Jahn grew up on farms, so they know plenty about agriculture, but didn’t know much about seaside gardening. They began by planting a variety of palm trees — many now taller than the garage apartment.
“I planted things that my mom had, like hibiscus, geraniums and ivy,” Helen Jahn said. “Mom could plant a two-by-four and it would sprout. She had African violets all over the house, and would give me one, but it would die. I finally got the knack of it and now have her green thumb.”
The Jahns soon learned that banana trees thrived in a coastal environment and even got 18 pounds of bananas off one stalk about three years ago.
“They are sweeter than anything you can buy at the store,” Helen Jahn said.
Over the years, the Jahns set about planting oleanders, hibiscus, bougainvillea, bird of paradise and roses.
“My mother raised antique roses on the farm and they smelled so good,” Helen Jahn said. “So, when I go to buy roses, I don’t care what they are called, I just sniff them, and if they are fragrant, I buy them. The stronger they smell, the more I love them.”
Some of the other plants include daisies, yellow bells, holly, esperanza, begonias, yucca, lilies, zinnias, sunflowers, shrimp and ginger plants. There are also tomatoes, peppers and Swiss chard to honor the couple’s agricultural background.
An arbor covered with wisteria greets all who enter Parrot Bay, and various paths lead to porches, decks and multiple areas adorned with birdhouses, vintage anchors, buckets of driftwood, wind chimes, ship ropes, statuary — angels and frogs — and a plethora of other nautical embellishments.
Helen Jahn is particularly fond of an outdoor lighting fixture in the image of a dolphin jumping over the moon, which faces the pool, and a cast-iron well pulley turned into a chic plant hanger.
C.W. Jahn is more focused on what lies beyond some of the more intriguing spaces, such as the artful Queen palm pods he has assembled on the deck of the garage apartment and the barbecue smoker he built from a 1961 die-cast iron post office letterbox, which is in the downstairs barbecue area.
“I welded it, built the door, added a fire box and vent on top,” he said.
A shed contains weathered garden hoes, rakes and other tools, many from their families’ farms, including a paddle C.W. Jahn’s mother used to make soap. Its counterpart soap pot resides among the plants in the yard.
“She made the soap from pork fat,” he said. “Just another reminder of how hard life on a farm used to be.”