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From Garden Passion to Community Giving

Photo from Jesse Jenkins V (1)

I’ve admired BJ and Michael’s home for years. It’s a beautiful Santa Fe style stucco home with a clay tile roof and old dark stained wood front doors. The landscape follows the theme with brightly colored benches and ceramic containers mixed with artistically placed specimen agaves, yuccas, and palms. 

This past week a group of us toured her garden; I felt like I was visiting a remote Mexican countryside estate. We moved from the front under a wood arbor and through a gate into their herb garden, all in large pots – Italian parsley, chives, mint, sage, some tucked under towering jatropha and schefflera. The walk to the back led us through banks of holly fern, ruellia, and liriope with blooming viola in Talavera wall pots hanging on the fence, interspersed with climbing red passion vine. The back included an area with blooming poinsettia, fire spike, plumeria, European olives, night blooming red cereus and lots and lots of succulents. The view from the interior looks out on to an intimate clay tile patio, scattered with dining tables and chairs and a multi-level stone Cantera fountain with cascading water and a backdrop of bougainvillea blossoms. Stunning!! 

And you think, all they must do is work in their garden. Well, no. BJ shared with us her tricks to making her garden work for their current lifestyle. The first rule is nothing gets covered during cold spells. They live a block from the bay, which does bring warmer air off the water. After a cold winter, there’s a lot of cutting back, but if a plant doesn’t make it, it’s gone. Their permanent collection of potted plants are all on a drip irrigation system with a timer. She said the biggest challenge is keeping the timer adjusted correctly. And finally, no grass in this landscape! 

I’m thinking BJ must have been born with dirt under her fingernails. Her parents weren’t gardeners, but at a very young age she was attracted to women neighbors that did garden. One woman had an extra square of space and let BJ loose to grow veggies and flowers of her choosing. In college she was advised she should be a farmer. When raising her boys, BJ grew vegetables but gave that up when she realized her sons and husband weren’t crazy about greens. Today, succulents are her passion. 

BJ loves succulents. She loves collecting succulents, some from Gill’s, some from friends, some from HEB – anywhere and everywhere she can find a new variety. She harvests from the mother plant, growing from cuttings and offshoots. Many of her succulent arrangements are combinations of three or four varieties, each placed to compliment the other. BJ has a designated work area strung with shade cloth where she does her potting and another area where she does her growing. She doesn’t just keep all these succulents to herself; she has one more station where she places plants that are ready for delivery to our South Texas Botanical Gardens to be sold in their gift shop! 

Dr. Wommack of our South Texas Botanical Gardens said how thankful he is for folks like BJ & Michael in our community who share their talents and gifts to enrich the gardens. By growing and gifting plants, income is generated for the gardens and visitors benefit from BJ’s passion for succulents. 

Thank you BJ and Michael this Thanksgiving week for sharing your garden gifts with our South Texas community! 

-Sally Gill

Reader Interactions


  1. Meredith Kershaw says

    Awe-inspiring, gorgeous, award winning and creative don’t even begin to cover it. I’m so lucky to be able to see this garden in person, love you grandma!

    • Sally Gill says

      Oh my goodness Meredith!! How cool to have BJ for a grandmother!! Lucky you. I know you are proud of the beauty she creates and the gifts she gives to our community. We are very thankful for BJ!!

  2. Becky Braswell Keenan says

    Great article Sally! Thank you for the “wrap up”. I am feeling much more inspired to work in my yard WAY OUT HERE on the Southside! BJ harbors a treasure trove for sure…a lovely retreat and a “working garden”.

    Becky Braswell Keenan

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