October 12, 2006

It catches your eye. You stop, take a step back, then forward and then back again. You whip out the digital camera and maybe, just maybe you can capture a quick shot of what's there. You preview what you took, and decide that it is worth saving ... but you want more.

So here's your opportunity.

Mark your calendar for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28 and 29 for a weekend outing for the whole family. Take in the beauty of nature beyond garden gates with trained docents and educational materials at each garden. Learn from your choice of two outstanding workshops with materials from the garden. And take a bit of the gardens home with you from a plant sale adjacent to one of the gardens. In the meantime, take a sneak peek with me of the five gardens on the Annual Garden Tour coming up in two weeks in Old Victoria.


So let's start downtown at 307 S. Bridge St. on the corner of Church and Bridge streets across the street from City Hall and the police station.

The gardens of Rey and Lucy Herrera are nestled on one of the oldest and highest corner blocks in the city. Various palms, gingers, philodendrons, ferns and numerous hibiscus grace somewhat limited space, with not a step of brick or flagstone missed in design and placement. In fact, the Herrera gardens are planned in such a way that you are led to capture side gardens through pathways and a wrought iron gate to a secluded and quaint patio area rich in foliage and authentic design elements. You won't want to miss what lies beyond the gate!


Moving north and several blocks to the east are the Dunnam-Steen residence and gardens at 104 N. Liberty St. Historical ambiance accents the gardens with each step past the front gate.

Your camera eye is immediately drawn to a lovely duranta tree on one side with a huge Norfolk pine amongst tropical bananas, bamboo and gingers deeper into the garden on the other side. Various remnant pieces of architecture from historic sites and stately residences of days gone by accent the gardens with statues, cornices, finials and an extensive arbor with iron arches originally from a train depot that leads you out the back gate.

Old structures updated for new use and design are apparent throughout the garden and especially the former raised herb bed that has been converted to a water garden that provides continuous irrigation for mint cut fresh for the kitchen.

With each item in the gardens and through the residence there is a story ... and the gazing ball in the water garden is no exception. It has been revolving from the water's flow ever since it was placed there as a house warming gift a number of years ago.


Outside the back gate of the Dunnam-Steen garden that is also the back parking lot of the old post office building (now the offices of Walker, Keeling and Carroll law firm) is the location for the garden tour highlighted plant sale on Saturday, Oct. 28.

On the backside of 210 E. Constitution St., the sale site is central to the downtown gardens and will have various plants grown in the feature gardens available. Simply go through the Dunnam-Steen gardens and follow through the arbor pathway through the gate to the sale, which begins at 9 a.m. and continues throughout the day.

Or enter the sale directly off William Street to the side of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.


To the west side of Main Street on the corner of Commercial and Bridge Streets are the Moraida-Baugh gardens at 107 W. Commercial St. Not only has the residence been completely restored and masterfully furnished from top to bottom, the gardens have been created and designed from bare scratch to creative splendor amidst two of the largest and oldest trees on record in Victoria County.

Beyond the driveway gate, which is rich with blooming hyacinth bean vine, is a camera-ready vision. You cannot miss the arbor that, due to the generosity of the homeowners, has become the focal point for ceremonial fanfare like weddings and social gatherings in the gardens. Be sure to see the cutting garden, decks and patio built from original bricks from the yard, garden ornaments and art atop structures and stationed on trees, in beds and in the ground. See how an obtrusive and massive concrete wall was converted into a living green ivy backdrop for a picture-perfect garden scene.

Most every item in these gardens has an heirloom memory of former childhood days in Victoria or of ancestral descent. No wonder these gardens are an extension of the home - waiting for you to see.


Now for a newly planted landscape and home in the old historic neighborhood at 706 W. Goodwin, the furthermost corner of Goodwin and Washington streets.

Torin and Melissa Bales have designed a dream come true with a new, old stone home set amidst original terrain. The sun nourishes large duranta and a sprawling Rangoon creeper vine, tree-size jatropha and spectacular hibiscus varieties. Around the home and through the gated driveway is a true color spot in Old Victoria with abundant cascading blooming plants and colored foliage. Still in its infancy - only 2 years old - the gardens are comfortably in place amongst the natural sloping terrain.

A step up and through a small gate to terraced beds on stabilized rock finds you in the middle of both shade-loving and sun-loving plants. Gingers, azaleas, roses, lantana, firecracker ferns, hanging baskets and wall-climbing ivies create this snapshot of color.


One block to the north and one to the west at 808 W. Commercial St. are the gardens of John and Annette Fossati. Nestled in ancient anaqua trees that border the property are shade plants of various textures. The gardens flow into direct sunshine beds and containers bordering the front walkway with abundant color in bloom and foliage.

From the smallest of color pockets to larger spacious meandering mixed beds, your vision will focus on more than meets the eye. Use your notepad to carefully record what you see, but wait until you enter the side gate to the newly planted tropical garden designed and planted by Fossati.

Full of splendor, the wrought iron gazebo interspersed with huge palms, tapioca plant, blooming Hawaiian hydrangea and bird of paradise is a garden structure that embraces flare. Bold-leafed orange king philodendron and alocasia border a goldfish pond and flagstone pathway that leads up steps to decking around the in-ground swimming pool.

A newly designed patio, complete with water feature, cooking grill and outdoor furniture provide hospitable garden ambiance you will not want to leave.

What you see is what you get, so the saying goes! Snapshots of these gardens illustrate creativity, traits and personality of the homeowners through choice of plants and design elements. All have transitioned the heat and drought of the summer to flourish for this first fall garden tour in Victoria. There are photo albums waiting for you to make.


Gardens extend beyond the outdoors into the home. Learn culinary and decorating techniques from two creative artists in the area at workshops on Saturday afternoon of the tour at Trinity Episcopal School's parish hall.

"Culinary Demonstrations from the Garden" will be presented by Ric Tinney/Panache of Goliad followed by a tasting of what is prepared. This workshop is limited to the first 50 attendees.

Renowned designer Stanley Schweke of The Foliage Shoppe of Victoria will present Holiday Designs from the Garden.

One session follows the other with a culmination of a holiday table setting for attendees.

Tickets are available for one or both of the workshops sponsored by Gaye Gilster Lee.