A wild, tropical scene blends with Texas Hill Country at this waterfront property
Mary Ann and John McCracken’s San Leon property can’t help but stand out among the many Galveston Bay waterfront homes perched atop wood pilings and adorned in Key West color palettes.
When the McCrackens built on their San Leon property in 1992, they hauled in two truckloads of limestone from the Texas Hill Country because they liked the idea of having a rock house.
More importantly, Mary Ann McCracken liked owning the 50-foot-wide strip of land across the road she would ultimately turn into a secluded beach cove.
McCracken has transformed the area into a sheltered inlet of tropical plants and anything else that will grow, considering the strong bay breezes and salt spray.
She eventually tiered the landscaping, had concrete steps poured for easier access, added a bench or two, as well as more shrubs, flowers and succulents.
The prickly pear cactuses that have made claim to most of the area is abloom with yellow flowers in the spring, but even now, the showy red pods are eye-catching. Mexican fantail palms, wedelia ground cover, portulaca, black-eyed Susans, purple pokeweed, yellow candlestick plants, aspidistra and even the pesky pea vines all co-mingle within this cozy inlet packed with vegetation. The scenic view is an added plus.
Back across the road, the front yard is thick with Bermuda grass, but all other areas are designated flower beds, hugging the front porch and both side and back yards.
To the left of the driveway, a variegated oleander, nandina shrub and fireman’s cap snuggle up to the many other plants and trees. Even on the opposite side of their property line, the McCrackens landscaped a large swath of vacant land that belongs to someone else.
“I got their permission,” she said. “It just needed some TLC.”
Driftwood and river rocks separate the McCrackens’ front yard from the road, while a stone and brick pathway meanders around the right side yard onto the backyard.
Follow the trail and you will find a large pittosporum looming as tall as the roofline of the house. Aspidistra, Chinese parasol trees, altheas, leather leaf fern, Texas mountain laurel and a variety of palms are just a few of the many species of plants and trees Mary Ann McCracken has nurtured to maturity over the past 25 years.
Approaching the wildly landscaped backyard, Mexican ruellia, zinnias, crown of thorns, pride of Barbados, Turk’s cap, Rangoon creeper and a dozen or two brightly painted gnomes live among a collection of tiny pots sprouting new growth.
A bundle of staghorn ferns growing atop a tree trunk on a blanket of moss, a cobalt blue bottle tree and a handmade well, dug by the McCrackens to collect rainwater, are focal points. The well water drains out through a pipeline into a right of way and eventually into Galveston Bay.
Birdhouses, statuary, a small pond and numerous other elements have the Mary Ann McCracken touch, like the big tank that washed ashore after Hurricane Ike.
“We elevated it and made it a compost container,” she said. “I dump all my bad soil and every bit of vegetable scraps in there.”
With a “waste not, want not” attitude, Mary Ann McCracken recently rescued some waterlogged packets of pansy seeds from a retail center’s dumpster and is hoping they pop up soon. She also is passionate about propagation, having grown more than 150 plants from that process.
“I discovered long ago how easy it was to propagate when I took branches off my althea bushes and made them into stakes for propagating shrimp plants,” she said. “Those very stakes are now althea trees.”
Mary Ann McCracken’s latest project is collecting and growing cuttings she’ll donate to the 64-acre community park in Bacliff.
Her love of plants and gardening may have come from observing her father raise zinnias, so maybe that’s where it all started, she said. But, one thing’s for sure — it won’t stop there.
“My daughter, Molly, grew up watching me plant flowers, either for the church or the community, and she liked to help,” she said. “When she started college at Texas A&M, she called one day stating she needed to choose a major and brought up the idea of getting a landscape architecture degree, which she did. Her company has designed everything from aviary parks to playgrounds, and it makes me proud that she will leave the world a better place through the legacy of gardening.”