A San Leon yard beckons a traveling couple home
After 42 years of marriage and living in various places across the United States, Lana and Al Barber have finally settled into their forever home they bought eight months ago in San Leon.
It wasn’t so much the house that drew them to this particular area, but the yard, and the yards surrounding theirs, they said.
“Everyone at the end of our street takes pride in keeping their yards lush with tropical plants, flowers and trees,” said Lana Barber, who points out some of the surrounding larger oaks, rain trees and even weathered Chinese tallow trees that have been in the ground for decades.
Because of Al Barber’s job as business manager in the cement manufacturing industry, the Barbers have lived in Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, Alabama and Pennsylvania. During every move, they’ve managed to cart a few potted plants with them.
“I keep some things in pots due to the harsh freezes we had while living up North,” Lana Barber said. “Even here in San Leon, I had to bring a few things in last January.”
A tall ficus on the front porch has seen its share of moving vans, as have a large black elephant ear and split-leaf philodendron. Aside from plants, a fat cat stone sculpture, cast-iron patio table and Adirondack chairs, made of Trex siding, have made several cross-country jaunts as well.
The front yard is mostly hidden by shrubs. It’s easy to miss a Rangoon creeper because its burgundy blooms have found their happy place atop a tall mallow tree where the vine has been leisurely climbing. Bottle brush, Mexican petunias and golden thryallis are thriving beyond a black metal gate. Masses of lantana, various palms, a clematis vine full of white blooms, sweet potato vine, an invasion of shrimp plants and a healthy, perfectly trimmed yaupon all cluster together in harmony. Texas bird of paradise, white bougainvillea, coleus and bells of fire esperanza are colorful additions.
“I like the wild look,” said Lana Barber, who has a fascination with the two front-yard tallow trees as well as the one in the backyard. “I know many people don’t like them, but they have so much personality when they get old with their aged, crackled bark and drooping leaves.”
A side yard full of red-tipped photinia and another rain tree take you around back where a blend of milkweed, sweet potato vine, more coleus, lantana and several offshoots of another rain tree are scattered about, gifts from the huge rain tree nearby.
“We pull a lot of them up, but keep some because not only do we like them, it adds a bit of privacy,” Lana Barber said.
A dominate oak tree and large rain tree offer shade, while gravel and flagstone paths lead the way to a courtyard shared with a neighbor. There’s Turk’s cap, native to the area, with coral blooms. Begonias, coleus and Boston ferns blend in with Confederate jasmine.
A deck adjoining the house is where the Barbers have their coffee each morning while listening to the Music of the Spheres wind chimes.
“We love the tone,” Al Barber said. “They sound very much like Westminster chimes.”
Sweet potato vines growing up the pole of the umbrella over the outdoor table just adds to the wildness that Lana Barber loves so much.
A parson’s bench, painted yellow, and the fat cat sculpture sit in front of a separate two-story apartment building the couple rents to tenants. The cast-iron table, Adirondack chairs, rusty wheels off an old cart, lion statue and the potted elephant ear are nearby.
A separate area beyond the backyard, next to the garage, is just a canvas in waiting. The Barbers will do more landscaping there, and they’ll convert the garage into an art studio for Al Barber, who has been painting for most of his life.
The Barbers, who met when they lived next door to each other in South Houston, have four children, eight grandchildren, one great-grandchild and four dogs.
Now retired, they often reminisce about how they met and the many houses they’ve lived in over the years. One, in particular, stands out.
“We actually lived on Bayshore Shore Drive in Bacliff many years ago,” Al Barber said. “It was the former home of Lawrence Shipley Sr., who founded Shipley Do-Nuts back in 1936 when doughnuts were a nickel a dozen. The house had five bathrooms, which we certainly didn’t need, so we had to do a lot of remodeling. We sold the place before we moved to Tennessee.”
Back on the upper Texas coast for good, the Barbers already are thinking about what flowers to plant next spring.
“A year from now, this place will look totally different,” Al Barber said. “I’m going to put in a fountain, set up my easel and paint nature’s blooms.”