After Hurricane Harvey, Nassau Bay gardens get a clean slate
Although the gardens at Jenni and Tom Hudgins’ home appear to be one continuous swath of color and greenery, they’re five separate gardens seamlessly merged together.
After Hurricane Harvey in 2017 destroyed their front and backyards, they decided to rip out almost everything that was in the ground and start all over again. There wasn’t much to save.
The eight flower beds in front of the house required too much maintenance and had to go. Instead, the couple constructed a circular drive and embedded a rock garden along the street and filled it with yellow lantana, microcephala with white flowers and a ground cover of succulents and scarlet bush.
“This is my least favorite place to work because I’m bending over in the street,” Jenni Hudgins said.
The couple’s home in a Nassau Bay subdivision is near Clear Creek and across from the bay. There are no sidewalks, so gardening the front area can be dicey.
“We moved the rocks here and got rid of all the grass so there would be less maintenance,” she said. “Unfortunately, weeds like it here, too.”
Five very tall freeze-resistant sabal palm trees hover over the front of the house and smaller, Mediterranean palms were planted as anchors on both ends of the beds. A mix of pride of Barbados, yellow/green duranta, foxtail ferns and a ribbon of blooming red salvia give color and movement to the brick exterior of the house.
“We chose warm colors — reds, oranges, yellows — because they seem to go best with the architecture and area,” she said, adding they wanted a “coastal vibe” for their garden.
The couple moved to Nassau Bay from Tulsa in 2013 and had to learn about what grows best in a coastal area. Jenni enrolled in the Galveston County Master Gardener program in 2016 and then became a vegetable specialist in the organization.
Inside the house are floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto a covered porch and outdoor living room, where Tom, Jenni, son Spencer and dog Ruby spend most of the time. From the comfortable chairs, they have a view of the entire yard and get to enjoy it year-round.
In the backyard, the gardens continue. First, there are the simple rock gardens surrounding the pool and waterfall, with bromeliads and periwinkles planted among the bird of paradise and fire cracker plants. A window box attached to the wall is filled with blue daze cascading down. Around the boulders embedded at the pool’s edge are large blue planters filled with ponytail palms, Mexican fan palms, sweet potato vines, a variety of cannas and an African iris with delicate white flowers.
“When we moved here, all the beds were filled with rock,” she said. “This yard was a blank slate for us and we’ve gradually worked on it.”
They added hibiscus, crepe myrtles, plumbagos and plumeria. A butterfly vine, jasmine and coral bells line the back of the property and climb six trellises.
The side beds are where they have planted their fruit trees: Meyer lemon, oranges, lime and grapefruit. A kumquat tree and a tangerine are mixed in with a flaming red bottle brush, ginger, elephant ears and some “volunteer” ferns that took up residence after the Harvey floods.
“I don’t know where they came from,” Jenni said.
In a small side yard is the vegetable garden, which is limited in space but prolific. A large herb garden is filled with mint, oregano, parsley, dill, basil and cilantro. There also is a lovely pineapple sage Jenni calls “an accident — I don’t know what to do with it, but it’s pretty and smells good.”
Nearby, in the raised garden with southern exposure, are peppers: green, red, orange and yellow, as well as sweet banana peppers. And two varieties of tomatoes — Sweet Chelsea and Juliet — fill baskets on the counter all summer with their harvest. A crop of okra will dominate the garden all summer because those plants love the heat.
“This vegetable garden is in a tough spot — not much air circulation,” she said. But she has lined the gardens with newspaper as a weed deterrent and filled it with a cypress mulch to help retain moisture.
“Every two weeks, I make the rounds and clean up these gardens,” she said. “We spend about 12 hours a week gardening, but we get to enjoy it all year long.”