Island gardener honors wife’s memory and his own love of colorful flowers
Bold and bright designs on painted flower pots blend with quieter monotone planters at Eddie Janek’s Galveston home. The containers vary in size and shape and fit with flowering bushes planted in the ground. They also add moveable art to this garden and lawn on Channelview Drive overlooking Galveston Bay.
Janek, who turned 93 in April, is a World War II veteran, a Korean War veteran, a telephone company man, a former Galveston County commissioner and a former trustee of the Galveston Wharves Board, which governs the Port of Galveston. Janek also coached generations of young Galveston baseball players.
He grew up on a Texas farm outside of West, not too far from Waco. When he arrived in Galveston at age 15, electric lights and indoor plumbing amazed the country boy, he said. He has lived in many neighborhoods on the island since then. In 1978, he moved his family into a new home on Channelview Drive, then in 1986 moved into another home on the same street.
Janek still lives in that house where he treasures his garden, which includes red knockout roses, coral drift roses, red sisters and citrus-colored-blooming hibiscus bushes planted in the lawn as a backdrop to pots full of bright red and shocking pink geraniums and other planters with annuals such as pentas, blue daze and milkweed. Every shade attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
Along with colorful bushes and vines, Janek also has planted a vegetable garden. In late April, it was full of radishes pushing themselves out of the ground and squash growing curving stems. In other parts of his garden, large tomato plants thrive near day lilies and hibiscus bushes.
“My wife loved gardens in each place we lived in,” Janek said. “I always worked in those gardens with her. I enjoyed the work, but more than that, I loved the colorful flowers.”
He still does.
Doris Denke Janek died in 2015, but her garden continues to bloom. More than 30 years ago, she planted a hibiscus bush at the newer home that still blooms with large yellow flowers.
When they got married, Janek took pride in his lawn and would even mow the lawns of elderly neighbors and would do it for free, he said. He continued for decades to have a nice lawn, he said. And he continued to keep a colorful garden, too. In recent years, Janek hasn’t been able to garden as much as he once did, he said.
One person he turned to for help was Linda Pettit, a longtime friend who also is a landscape designer and president of Coastal Gardens Inc. based in Galveston.
Pettit knows that Janek loves color in his garden, she said.
“The more color, the better he likes it,” she said.
She also collaborated with Janek on his container gardening and choosing plants for his pots.
“Containers should have a thriller, a spiller and a filler,” Pettit said. The thriller is a bright plant that pops, while the spiller is a plant that drapes itself over the edges. The filler in this formula would be a close-to-the-ground, low plant, she said.
Many plants grow well in a large container, Pettit said. What’s important for a container gardener to consider is how much watering and shade a plant needs, she said.
Another consideration at Janek’s Channelview home is the northern wind that comes across salty Galveston Bay. It can be too much for some plants, Pettit said.
Talavera pots and figurines dominate Janek’s back deck that overlooks the bay. Pelicans sit on old posts not too far away. Some of them fly overhead with a stoic stare without acknowledging any of the boldness of the traditionally painted Mexican pottery.
Janek, who is fond of pelicans, has a wooden sculpture of one in his home he shows to visitors. The day before his 93rd birthday, Janek picked up two Talavera pelican figurines to add to his container garden. He bought them from Kandy Arena, a Galveston teacher with a part-time business and hobby of collecting Talavera pottery from Mexico.
“The beauty is it lasts and lasts,” Arena said. She has a Talavera pot that survived Hurricane Ike in 2008 and is still vibrant, she said.
The natural pigments and minerals used in Talavera paints and pots are the same ones families have used for generations to create intense, vibrant shades of orange, blue, yellow, purple and more. One technique is painting parts of the design in thick strokes that stand out like a relief on a temple wall. The firing process is another factor in creating these one-of-a-kind pots, Arena said.
And certain families have particular artistic markers that Arena has learned to identify, she said.
The two pelican figurines that Janek chose in April were heavily orange and golden with different motifs yet similar expressions. One is at least 2 feet tall while its sibling is 18 inches tall.
Pettit puts pots and figurines in groups of three, varying the size and contents. A huge advantage of container gardening is the ease in rearranging pots to create a new art exhibit of plants, she said.
The passionate hues complement the calming hues just as the bold, contrasting Talavera pots balance the simple, dark and neutral one-colored planters.
The garden that continues to grow on Channelview Drive reminds Janek of his wife and her touch in this garden and their time gardening together.
“I made my mind up to keep doing it to honor her,” he said.