Gardeners create colorful landscape for their island cottage
At Sharon Duray and Don Wilkerson’s midtown cottage, zinnias are full bloom, lining the sidewalk in pinks, reds, oranges, yellows and whites. Birds of paradise mingle with orange/red Pride of Barbados, with a touch of yellow esperanza and red hibiscus. Decorative bricks frame the walkway with locally sourced shells from the nearby beach.
“We wanted to color it up,” said Wilkerson, who retired to Galveston Island from Texas A&M University at College Station where he and Duray were on the faculty in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. He was a professor at the university, and she was an academic advisor and researcher.
The couple lives in a small, raised cottage, built in 1901 and which they’ve decorated with comfortable furnishings and lots of flora. But it’s the outdoor spaces — the front yard, the side yard, the alleyway and even a vacant lot nearby — that capture the attention of the gardening couple.
Rather than putting plants in the ground to grow, they have selected a variety of pots, vessels, bowls, jugs and tubs to mix and match plants and scatter them in an organized design in the yard. It gives them the opportunity to easily move plants that aren’t doing well or need more or less sunshine. It also makes it easier during those rare winter nights, when freezes are expected, to quickly move the more tender plants into a secure and warm area.
“It’s not a big deal if we want to change out a plant or change the colors,” said Duray, who noted that by putting everything into containers, they can manage watering more easily.
Wilkerson hooked up water tubes to each pot and can control the time and amount of water every plant receives. Even if he’s out of town, he can do it remotely via the Wi-Fi hookup under the house that can signal when and which of the 12 sections of the yard to water. He also has a monitor on his water meter that notes whether there is an abnormal release of water, alerting of a possible broken pipe. Most of the containers are filled with a peat-based soil that retains water and moisture, thus minimizing the amount and frequency of irrigating the garden.
“Once we get into weather where every day is the same — 90 degrees and dry — it is easy to monitor the watering,” Wilkerson said. “But we are more mindful when the weather is variable and changes.”
A variety of garden-friendly yard art hangs on the new high fence. A sculpture of the head of Zeus is filled with sedum, a small perennial plant with thick, succulent leaves, fleshy stems and clusters of star-shaped flowers. Nearby is a terracotta head of Athena, with long locks of “hair” made from a yellow-blooming ice plant. A folk-artsy statue of St. Francis hangs from a limb, blessing the garden and its critters. Two 5-foot-high metal wind sculptures the couple purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico, whirl continuously within the confines of the garden and the soothing sounds of a small water feature is background music in the yard. A ceramic tower of colorful fish and geometric shapes handmade by a fellow gardener is prominent in one garden.
Small and large pots fill the yard with macho ferns, red hibiscus, foxtail ferns, variegated schefflera and a generous schefflera arboricola, better known as dwarf umbrella tree. In the flower beds are green and white dianella flax lilies, red pentas and yellow lantana, bordered by the grayish lacy dusty Miller and sloppy painter crotons, as well as a healthy smattering of spiky grass-like plants with tall hollow stems for leaves known as rush plants.
The couple put a roof over a raised area, a 14-foot-by-8-foot “tree house” on the side of their home, and this is where they frequently eat, relax, chat and socialize, surrounded by birds, squirrels and more plants, such as five large sansevieria plants, better known as the hardy mother-in-law’s tongue.
Noticeably absent from the garden are vegetables, except one tomato plant. That’s because the couple owns a vacant lot 50 feet away where they grow seasonable edible crops — and lots of them.
Wilkerson and Duray also have a shaded area below their porch with staghorn ferns, holly ferns and dracaena growing from pots along the wall. Healthy xanadu and mahogany ferns thrive in the area, because they are watered frequently, Wilkerson said. Lining the back fence is an old yellow oleander, which was at the house when they bought it.
“It survived Hurricane Ike, so we don’t have the heart to get rid of it,” said Duray, also noting that the Chinese tallow and pittosporum, which sometimes overwhelms the arbor gate, also are hurricane survivors and continue to flourish.
“We know they are invasive, but they were here before us, so they can stay.”