my san antonio

sa banner

City Garden Filled with Country Roots
By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen, San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted : 08/31/2002 12:00 AM

Editor's note: As much as we enjoy seeing the fruits of the gardeners' labor, we delight in conversations with gardeners. Planting Ideas, an occasional feature, opens the window on area gardens and those who tend them.

The gate swings open, and you are instantly transported to a serene place looking as if it belongs in a travel brochure. The scene, so unexpected, takes your breath away. Could it be that mere moments ago you were in the thick of traffic on San Pedro Avenue?

The peaceful haven on Jackson Keller Road is the homestead and garden Anne and Joe Barfield have tended for 22 years. "We call this our country oasis in the middle of the city," says Anne, a wardrobe consultant.

The couple has strived to replicate the countryside and gardens of Tuscany and Provence on the 1.5 acres they tend.

"On our frequent visits (to Italy and France), we skip all the museums and touristy places. We'd rather spend our time in the country. It's influenced us as gardeners," Anne says.

Closer to home, they draw horticultural inspiration from the Hill Country. "We are combining South Texas with the French countryside. We like to push the envelope, but that has punished us in the past. Now we focus on what is practical here."

The grounds originally were laid out in a very formal style by Don Morris, the late landscape designer. To better suit their vision, the Barfields have steadily incorporated casual touches. Anne relies on her own sense of design and color, but also gets ideas from other landscapes. "I drive around favorite neighborhoods like Olmos Park, Terrell Hills and even Fredericksburg in the off seasons to see what's thriving and still looks good."

Anne, an avid photographer, chronicles garden features on their excursions. Of particular interest are arbors and trellises. At the entrance to the property, an arbor of rough-hewn cedar supports Champanel grapes and delineates the kitchen potager. A nearby fence is cloaked in a blackberry hedge, a gift from Anne's stepfather's garden in Friendswood. Composed of several large, raised beds, the gardens offer sunflowers, moonflowers, tomatoes, lettuce, chard, kale and other seasonable edibles watered by drip irrigation.

An herb garden supplements culinary plantings throughout the yard and provides lemon grass, basil, tarragon, thyme, fennel, rue and bay leaves. Anne enjoys cooking and puts emphasis on the plants' accessibility.

"The rule is I have to be able to get what I need easily, without my feet getting dirty or wet. And, since I often cook in the evenings, I have to be able to locate what I need in the dark."

The driveway, edged in pomegranate and mountain laurel, encircles a round bed brimming with pink 'Belinda's Dream' and apricot 'Lafter' antique roses. The bed also features multiple varieties of lavender.

This garden took nearly 10 years to master. A dying mesquite tree left a sizable bare spot, and pittosporum was all that remained. Shade from the house and water retention were challenges.

"The asphalt drive intensified the problem, wilting every plant combination we tried. Adding a white-blooming, drought tolerant crape myrtle and trimming the canopy higher each year provided the stage for the roses and lavender. Additionally, we had to address the runoff by digging the bed down."

Beds surrounding the house mix sages, artemisia, indigo spires salvia, lemon balm and yarrow. Beautyberry and crape myrtles frame a 40-year-old deodar cedar that rises above the two-story traditional home and provides a frequent roost for hawks, owls and the occasional eagle. 'Buff Beauty' antique climbing roses drape the doorway in beige blossoms.

A wisteria-capped trellis is the architectural focus of the back yard. The shady respite, entwined with twinkling white lights, is the ideal location to view the impressive landscape. With limestone terraces, decks and water features, it's well-suited for entertaining and has been the setting for their daughter's wedding, as well as those of friends' children and for many parties.

In the center, a limestone pool with a dark bottom sets a natural tone. The Barfields removed a diving board, adding in its place an elevated stone planter and fountains that spill sheets of water into the pool. An old mesquite tree draped in Lady Banks and butterfly roses stands sentinel to the "share-cropper's cabin" that once served as a real estate field office. Now the quaint building is the pool house, makeshift bar and, with the addition of a heater, a winter greenhouse.

Hugging the patio, a step-down koi pond is lushly appointed with lilies, ginger, elephant's ear and parrot feathers. Above the pond, an outdoor shower with a woven twig screen is a favorite of Anne's and their guests.

"We often visit friends in Martha's Vineyard, where outdoor showers are common. I always wanted one," she says. "I think it is more exciting than the pool!"

Unexpected accents add charm to the landscape. A whitewashed bicycle, a remnant decoration from their daughter's wedding, leans against a post to greet guests. Parsley grows through its spokes, and its basket is filled with seasonal decorations. A rusted, iron rooster, laced with tiny lights, pays homage to the couple's fondness of exotic chickens. Papel picado wave colorfully from a fence. A rock obelisk in the rose garden wears a coat of fig ivy.

The gardens are demanding because of their size, but the Barfields don't mind spending an average of 30 hours a week in spring and 15 hours a week in fall toiling the grounds. Enthusiastic customers of Shades of Green nursery, they listen to owner Bob Webster's radio broadcast while working the gardens each weekend.

Maintaining the large landscape, though, has required some ingenuity to save time.

"We have two of absolutely everything. One rake and broom for the front and one for the back of the property." Potting soil used in mass is stored and wheeled to where it is needed in 50 gallon rolling plastic garbage cans. Fertilizing, a major undertaking, is done every two weeks using 12 gallons of foliar spray.

"I use liquid seaweed, Hasta Gro, molasses and whatever else is on hand. I prefer natural and organic methods."

The Barfields usually weed by hand but will spray unwanted plants with orange oil. A few fancy-breed chickens roam the gardens daily for insect control.

The next project for the busy gardeners is to incorporate a rock walkway to link the koi pond with the rest of the yard. Additionally, Anne photographs other home gardens and creates greeting cards from her photos. And there are always more trips to inspire their slice of country heaven in the city.

If you know of a garden that beckons, be it a patio garden or a vegetable patch, please let us know so we can consider it for Planting Ideas. Send a few photographs and a brief description of the gardener and the garden to Planting Ideas, c/o Home & Garden, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171.

Portions 2002 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.