Karl Lewis is surprised that tending to a small garden can take half the day, he said.

“This is my tiny garden, but when I come out here for coffee, piddling around, weeding and watering, it’s already noon,” said Lewis, who retired as a real estate agent in Galveston, settling into a quiet life, he said.

Lewis moved into his midtown island home 3½ years ago and was horrified by the condition of the small yard, he said. Two towering Norfolk pine trees provided ample shade in the yard and he designed his plant selections based on that type of lighting. Then the freeze of 2018 came along, killing the trees.

It was time to make a change, he said. In one area, Lewis replaced some of the shade-loving plants with variegated banana trees, which are ornamental and grow quickly. He added a variety of coleus to add more color to the yard and planted purple and white irises that feature green leaves most of the year. Birds of paradise and a purple cattleya orchid give the garden some special touches.

After a trip to see a garden in Philadelphia, Lewis was attracted to the idea of an all-white garden, so he enhanced his yard with a slew of white pentas and even more white vincas, better known as periwinkles. Those plants require little care, which was good news to Lewis, he said. They grow next to a section of umbrella plants, which also require little effort, and alongside a tall palm covered in fig ivy, which has climbed to the top.

“The white garden is cooler and cleaner looking,” he said. “In the moonlight, it sparkles.”

A white crepe myrtle anchors one corner of the garden, and it looks over to a very large terra cotta planter in the shape of an Asian warrior. The yard is surrounded by a high fence, but to add ventilation and character, Lewis made a series of fish cutouts along the sidewalk.

“The fence was really ugly, so I bought a jigsaw, made a pattern and cut out the fish,” he said. “It made it so much more interesting.”

In a sunny area nearer to the house, Lewis planted a kitchen garden with tomatoes and peppers and an herb garden of basil, chives, oregano and parsley. A neat border of bright yellow marigolds line the vegetable garden for color and purpose — they deter pests above and below the soil and help protect the young fruit. Front and center in that garden are three fragrant rose bushes featuring pink Belinda’s dream, a yellow St. Patrick and a red Mr. Lincoln. Lewis also planted some jasmine and a hibiscus with white flowers and red throats. Nearby, the branches of two large angel trumpet trees mingle — one has large white flowers and the other displays peach-colored blooms.

Along the back of the garden is the shaded area with red/green and green/white caladiums and a speckled cast-iron plant, formally known as aspidistra, grows in a pot. The plant earned the cast-iron name because it’s hard to kill, said Lewis, who noted most are plain green and not variegated as his is. And climbing up the trunk of an old tree in the corner is a pothos, its leaves getting larger the higher they ascend.

An old shed on the property was revamped into a he-shed — it’s too light and bright for a man cave — where Lewis can entertain out of the sun but still in the garden. He built two large, sliding barn doors that allow him to open up the sitting area for drinks or dinner outside. In the winter, he uses it as a greenhouse to protect delicate plants from the cold if necessary.

Because the yard is so small, Lewis has taken advantage of the sidewalk strip that runs in front of his house. He doesn’t like grass, so he planted tropical flower beds with lots of colors and heights to give his yellow house, which he calls the Blue Crab Cottage, a splash of color from the street.

“I’ve always enjoyed gardening,” Lewis said. “My grandma was a gardener in Corpus Christi. It’s been fun to learn what does well and what doesn’t.” 

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