I have to start by saying this garden is so much better in person. We took last Saturday off so we could enjoy viewing gardens on the Garden Conservancy tour here in Houston. We started with the garden created by Jeff River Law at his home in Sharpstown. I have been enjoying pictures of his garden via Facebook and was so excited to see it in person.Upon first sight you know you are in for a treat. This garden is an excellent example of what thrives in Houston with our sub-tropical zone 9 climate and 52 inches of rain spread throughout the year. We are able to grow some tropicals, many Texas natives, even some succulents and cacti; the trick is to know which ones. Jeff doesn’t have in-ground irrigation and I know from following him on Facebook he doesn’t have to use supplemental water very often and mostly for the potted plants. I love the eclectic combination of plants, leaves and colors he uses in his gardens. The lawn is minimal and the hardscaping is water permeable. The path that leads you to the front door beckons you while also asking you to slow down and notice nature.Jeff lives here with his partner Warren James Morales. Together they have turned this 1950’s ranch house into a rustic oasis in the middle of a quiet older neighborhood. They have added beautiful wood, both painted and varnished, that really enhances the simple ranch style and adds to the feeling that you have stepped out into the country. The front is both private and inviting. And as you will soon see, Jeff has combined art in with plants in the most entertaining way.
This garden is a series of vignettes and rooms each with its own charm. There are places to sit and soak up nature at every turn. I have known or known of Jeff River Law since I moved to the Heights 16 years ago. He had a wonderful shop called October Gallery on 19th Street. Every Sunday I would walk to Kaldi Cafe for brunch and then pop over to have a look round his shop. It was my favorite place to go gift shopping. He featured handmade items from local artists. It has been years since he sold the shop and went off on an adventure. I next saw him when he bought a property in the Heights with an old quonset hut on it. He called it Indian Summer Lodge; it was a mixed use space. It was only then that I saw his gardening style. Fun, artistic, eclectic and all using only hardy low maintenance plants that love our climate. It backed up to the walking trail that leads from the Heights to downtown Houston. You can still see many of the plants thriving there with no human attention.
As we get to the front porch we find just to our left one of many sitting areas. What a great place to sit and chat with neighbors. As well as being an artist Jeff is a skilled carpenter and makes his own furniture out of reclaimed and hard woods. He brings this talent to his customers when he does their landscaping. Between living life, traveling and doing his art Jeff is a landscape artist, designer and installer. He owns Kabloom Landscaping.
I found an article from our local newspaper that sums up his philosophy in his own words. “With summer’s horrific heat, gardeners may be tempted to shower their blooms and blossoms with attention, particularly when it comes to watering. But that can be a bad thing for both your garden and your water bill. “If you cater to them,” says Jeff Law of Kabloom Landscaping, in the Heights, “you get a co-dependent relationship, like those kids on drugs who won’t leave home. “Not that you really want your foliage to leave, you just want it to leaf, but that’s where tropical xeriscaping comes in.”…”The term Xeriscape, a registered trademark, was coined in 1978 by the Denver, Colorado water department, by combining the Greek word for dry, xeros, with landscape. Like that other great idea that starts with X, the practice caught on, it entered the vernacular as a verb. Xeriscaping is about planning what works in your environment in order to conserve water and energy while still keeping a lush, beautiful garden. And Law is an expert at it. – The Leader, (Northwest Houston’s Community Newspaper) Pg. 2, August 21, 2008
One of the spaces we really like was a little pergola added to the front that carved out a semi-private space in the front yard. This area catches the morning light perfectly and I love the way it reflects off the white beams, especially on this gray day. The large island surrounding the big tree in the front yard is full of plants that top out about 4 feet, making a wonderful privacy screen without making you feel to close in. I can imagine sitting here under the pergola sipping mimosas on a quiet Sunday morning. As we walk back to head towards the back garden we are treated with many little little visual treasures. I love the little owls in the clay pot!
On the right of the door is a beautiful Epiphyllum orchid cactus full of buds and this one lovely big flower. We have one at home and Shawn said I should show ours this picture and tell it we want flowers too. Next we walked thru the house which was just as inviting as the front garden. They have brought the rustic inside and by now you have totally forgotten you are in the city. They have painted the walls with rich colors and you have the feeling you are in an old Mexican ranchero instead of the Houston suburb of Sharpstown. I didn’t take a lot of pictures inside but it was very inspiring and I love the use of wood that really gave such a warm and comfortable feeling. The window below is in the room added to the back of the home which is full of windows and doors on each side making it as much a part of the garden as the house. A wonderful transition and sheltered space.
A view of the garden room from the west and behind the garage. No corner is left untouched. Strong and striking color combinations reverberate throughout the garden, plants and art reflecting each others beauty. There is a very sturdy and well kept path that leads you through the garden. It circles around a large raised island in the middle. I love the color of black diamond gravel. I am not attracted to the sharp edges but it does help it knit together and make a good stable surface even though it is loose gravel. It is also good because it is water permeable and allows as much water as possible to soak in to the ground. It is not a big yard but the way Jeff planted, elevated and edged the property, with tall shrubs and trees you actually lose track of the scale. It works perfectly! It is impossible to give you the whole picture but I know you will enjoy it in pieces! Just off the addition is a covered porch which is as cozy as any family room I have ever seen. Humor, excitement and fun are certainly part of this garden. You know that it has been created with passion and love! This is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and is a friend to all living things. The more I get to know him the more I feel he is a kindred spirit. I felt very cocooned in this garden! I love this sign! This outdoor room would be pleasant on a rainy evening! Kicking back watching nature instead of TV. I have to say I am not a fan of outdoor televisions!Stepping back for a wider view!Found art is something I find very appealing. I am a bit of a squirrel or crow and attracted to pretty things, especially if they are cheap or free. Found object repurposed brings back memories of different times and tell stories. The lovely woman that guided us to the back garden told us Jeff is the king of giving new life to found objects. “Found object originates from the French objet trouvé, describing art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects or products that are not normally considered art, often because they already have a non-art function. – WikepediaThe way the path is laid out you can’t see the whole garden and your mind becomes more curious as you wonder what is around the corner. Here to your right the strong red of the ironing board captures your eye and cause you to pause, then slowly move up towards the plants in the background. It did make me think, what a perfect place to iron : )
And here we have a common tool, but hung as art makes me wonder what did the artist have in mind? Or am I over-thinking it and it is just a convenient place to keep the shovel? This is the back southwest corner if I have my bearings correct. The bright yellow of the vintage glider catches your eye immediately. They have a collection of metal chairs and gliders that look to have been restored and repainted. For a great little article on the history of this garden furniture that first appeared around 1930 click HERE. I really love the idea of fire in the garden, not so much in summer but we do have pretty chilly winters that are still nice enough to enjoy sitting outside. An interesting benefit of the raised island planting beds is that plants that are generally at knee height are now right at eye level. Here the blue in the lovely delicate flower is repeated in the middle of the island in the lawn chair and cushions. The middle of the island is to carefully tucked away that you could almost miss it. A perfect place for relaxing to read a book, take a nap or enjoy sunbathing.
The color orange is repeated here in these beautiful roses. Continuing on down the path is a working storage shed obscured from view by a jungle of plants. The opaque roof means natural light and the grayed wood helps it slip into the back ground. To me I would be tempted to use it as a green house to over-winter my collection of cacti and tropicals that don’t like the cold. But that is not Jeff’s philosophy! Around the corner from the shed is a private nook, with another metal glider in blueberry this time. This is the side of the casita that Warren uses to do massage therapy. The palm and bamboo remind me of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. An ideal petting station where you can enjoy the shade with the menagerie of dogs that share the garden with Jeff and Warren.
As we round another bend we come to the northeast part of the garden and the casita comes into full view.The energy is so calm and relaxed…a perfect place for massage therapy! And of course more art on an old reclaimed door. I love the contrast of gray and burgundy in plants and equally enjoy spiky leaves with soft lush leaves!Another nook just to the right of the dog run that takes up the north-side of the back garden and the side of the casita. I like the use of wood with different stains and a bit of corrugated metal as a wall covering. A nice little shelter from a storm.
Following along the fence going west is the outdoor shower. Being an immersion gardener, like I am, I love outdoor showers. I imagine this one gets a lot of use.
You can see this from the garden room but it is still private enough! When I lived in San Diego my father-in-law had an outdoor shower behind a huge Wax myrtle bush. On a hot dry day it was the perfect place to wash the dirt off. This garden also has an outdoor kitchen so the only things that is missing is an outdoor loo. I imagine that is against the city code.
Above is the door to the dog run just past the outdoor shower. I got to peak through and say hello. The dogs did so want to be part of the party! I have followed along with the saga of how Helen came to join the family. She is one very lucky dog to end up at Jardin de la Paz!
Turning around we have a little nook with a BBQ and a kitchen garden. The idea of raising it to table height is intriguing. This is half of the space against the house that functions as a outdoor kitchen. This would be perfect for someone that is not able to bend down. A bit lower and it would be perfect for someone in a wheel chair. I especially liked the mix of plants and rusted tools. I have a love affair with tools!Yellow squash flowers. Even an outdoor sink using repurposed materials. I want a blue sink. If only we didn’t have to use our whole back yard for our landscaping business I would so borrow these ideas. The sit down dining area with a custom table. The view as you come out the french doors on the north-side of the garden room. This is a garden that is lived in. The tiny ranch house is big enough because you can live outside too! Closer peek at the water fountain with the casita in the background. Layers of collected treasures given a home.To wander this garden is a pleasure but it really begs you to sit down, put your feet up and relax. Or perhaps step outside in the dark and howl at the moon! As we turn to leave this is the view back into the house and you wonder where am I?The kitchen greeter or is she/he looking for pets?On our way out we notice the post box which of course is handmade and a functional art piece. A collage that tells a story. I will end with this photo of a statue of Saint Francis, whose face reminds me of Jeff. It is fitting as Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and ecology. This garden is a haven, an oasis in the desert, in the middle of a city of over four million people. A home and way station to pollinators, birds, lizards, rescued animals and people. It a garden that says to me less is more and everything has a purpose. It is a humble garden full of grace! Thank you Jeff and Warren for opening your home and garden and sharing them with us!