After moving from Utah to Galveston, couple takes gardening to new level
A Galveston couple has spent a decade creating a lushly landscaped yard that rambles over a full lot on Avenue O and is both an animal habitat teeming with life and a peaceful oasis.
The garden is a labor of love for Bret and Raini Cunningham, who moved to the island in 2010 from Utah, where they owned a garden pot and ornament company and were avid gardeners. Their move from snow to sunshine took their gardening to a whole new level, they said.
“We went from having just three months of warm weather and eight to nine months of snow to having 365 days of gardening here in Galveston,” Raini Cunningham said. “It was a huge adjustment as we became used to differences like increased insect pressure and faster growing times.”
“It is amazing how quickly things grow here,” Bret Cunningham added. “If you don’t keep on top of weeding and pruning, it seems like things will grow 4 feet in a matter of weeks.”
Both Raini and Bret were keen to learn more about Gulf Coast gardening and signed up for classes with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office in Galveston County. They completed the Master Gardener program in 2013 and continue to take classes.
When they bought their raised Gulf Coast Cottage, the adjacent garden was dominated by a large pond and featured various landscaping trees.
The pond didn’t survive Hurricane Ike very well, so they took it apart and used the stone for the pathways and pavers throughout the garden, Bret said.
They also rearranged the landscape trees and did plenty of planting of their own, creating different zones throughout the garden, each with their own delights. From the back porch, there are rambling paths past fruit trees and palms, a pond and water pots leading to a shaded and paved patio fringed by ferns. There also are raised beds for vegetables, fruit, berries and herbs.
The previous owner had the garden certified as a backyard wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, which is one of America’s oldest conservation organizations, tracing its roots to 1936. The Cunninghams loved the concept and have worked hard to ensure their yard continues to be welcoming to wildlife, they said.
“It is an important part of our yard and philosophy of gardening,” Raini said.
To meet wildlife habitat criteria, a garden must offer food, water, shelter and a place for beneficial insects and animals, she said.
In their west garden, the Cunninghams have milkweed for monarch butterflies, Dutchman’s pipe for pipevine swallowtail butterflies and passionflower vine for Gulf fritillary butterflies. In their wild garden, they have various nectar and host plants for butterflies while their pond, water pots and ferns provide habitat for frogs and toads. The garden also attracts local and migratory birds.
The Cunninghams are members of the Texas Gulf Coast Fern Society and have collected fern species from around the world. A large shade sail creates a shaded area for the ferns, which thrive in Galveston’s humid climate.
In their raised beds, they grow vegetables, fruit and herbs all year, planting and harvesting whatever is appropriate to the season. They’ve grown everything from artichoke and asparagus to bok choy and kale, as well as various berries and herbs. So, they often eat fresh from the garden, they said.
Their fruit trees include pomegranate, satsuma mandarin, Meyer lemon and a Republic of Texas orange tree that’s at least 15 years old and provides plenty of sweet oranges.
“We also have avocado that started out in a 2-gallon pot and were about 2 feet and are now close to 16 feet and give us a great crop each year,” Bret said.
While the garden requires daily attention, it also is a source of tranquility for the Cunninghams.
“I enjoy working in the garden and walking around it and seeing all the birds as well as the frogs and toads,” Raini said. “It is just so peaceful.”
“We have the Garten Verein on our front doorstep and then out the back is a church, so it is quiet and peaceful without any noisy neighbors to speak of,” Bret said.