The surprise awaits behind the house

It’s a simple little house on a main road through town. A short wall in front covered in plants. The house crowds to within a meter of the sidewalk. Nothing that would draw your attention as you drive by,

although you might notice the steps and the detailed iron gate to the right. But wait. One of the neighbors says that the owner is a gardener, a wonderful gardener. Not that it shows, he says, but wait until you see the backyard. So we go to see the owner.

Nixon is a gentle, unassuming man.  Victoria TorleyAn ironworker who creates fences and trellises for local  homeowners. He makes his living with iron, but he makes his life in his garden.

We walk through that detailed gate and enter Nixon’s real world. The path is hard-packed earth overhung by branches and flowered vines. The air is much cooler. Upright meter-high columns of soil on one side are are topped with plants. They look as though they would wash away in the first rain but Nixon explains that he built columns of concrete and covered them with soil; the roots of the plants hold the soil in place. They amaze me.

The narrow passage opens up to the left to stairs and a terraced area packed with plants. The stairway leads to his workshop, but the path continues to the right into the gardens. Nixon’s yard, like so many in Arenal, is sloped, but this has been no disadvantage. He has used stone, concrete and recycled materials hold the plants in place. The area is also narrow and not very deep, perhaps 13 by 16 meters. But again, this has not been a handicap for the gardener.

Paths run through the garden, some of grass, some of packed earth. Stand on one path, and you are alone, unable to see anyone else in the garden. It is very quiet. The slope has been cut to allow flat areas for walking, and steps have been engineered at each turn. There are a lot of turns, as the garden winds back and forth to allow maximum space for plants. Here and there you will find a stone or concrete bench worked into the slope so that you can just sit and watch the hummingbirds drink their fill from flowers. The result is a small space used to its maximum. It is the space of a master gardener.

But he is not done, Nixon tells me. He is planning a bridge or overlook for the garden, one with an arched trellis for his vines. As he speaks and gestures, I can almost see it take shape. This sculptor of iron is also a sculptor of gardens, and plants are his medium. He has created a space of tranquility in the middle of our small town.

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