Houston's own secret Garden of Eden: Retired engineer turns an esplanade into a green wonderland
Going to the post office has become downright pleasurable. On the way home, I make it a point to turn on Bonnie Brae Boulevard and drive west. The esplanade there, once a turn around place for a train years back, now lays out like a little Garden of Eden. Thanks to Willem Kegge.
The first time I met Willem, a Dutchman and retired engineer, he was standing in a blanket of marigolds that spread to the curb. I stopped my car. “Are you the gardener of this gorgeous place?” I asked. He beamed. Then, he pointed to his house across the street.
“Willem can take a broom stick,” Dieter said, “jam it into the ground and it’ll not only grow, it’ll bloom!” Looking around, I believed it.
Since then, whenever I stop there to appreciate Willem’s work, I’ll run into half a dozen others, passing by to do the same thing. This includes bees, butterflies and birds.
Recently, I was admiring a bed full of blue dwarf petunias Willem planted when his next-door neighbor walked up. “Willem can take a broom stick,” Dieter said, “jam it into the ground and it’ll not only grow, it’ll bloom!” Looking around, I believed it.
But, if you ask Willem, he’ll give a lot of the credit to another neighbor, John Andrews, who moved there long before Willem and his wife did two years ago. I haven’t met John yet but, supposedly, folks in the neighborhood call him Johnny Appleseed. John originally planted most of the trees on the esplanade.
After Willem and his wife moved into their home, Willem started gardening a section of the esplanade. It’s grown in size ever since.
Today, his neighbors bring him trees, plants, and sometimes money for plant materials. Typically, Willem rescues plants from places that are about to be demolished so he seldom has to purchase any. Moving them, “costs just sweat,” he told me. “I can’t throw good plants away.”
You’re likely to see Willem rooting around the esplanade almost every morning. “I meet a lot of people stopping by,” he smiled.
During one of my visits with Willem, an ex-neighbor drove up and stopped his car. “I wish this looked as nice when Shelley and I lived here!” he told Willem.
For The Love Of Plants
As Willem and I meandered on through the esplanade, he pointed out a peach tree that puts off sweet and wonderful peaches. His favorite tree, a Japanese Zelkova, makes a nice canopy so that things can grow underneath, he explained.
If you look closer, you might find other things of interest. My favorites? Three miniature cars that you’d never know were made of concrete unless you picked them up. Willem said that when he put them there, he thought they’d last only a day (meaning, thievery). Maybe, I shouldn’t mention them, I worried. “That’s OK,” Willem said, shrugging his shoulders. “Someone might need them more than me.”
“The hobby I’m most passionate about is music,” he said. “Of all genres.” Looking down the Bonnie Brae Esplanade you could've fooled me.
Willem talked about his other hobbies like computers and ancestry.
“The hobby I’m most passionate about is music,” he said. “Of all genres.”
Looking down the Bonnie Brae Esplanade, you could’ve fooled me.
I wondered if Willem had been a gardener all his life.
“No, I came to gardening thanks to my wife. I learned about it from her,” he said, pausing.
“When she died last year, our friends wanted to know if they should send flowers or plants.”
He looked down, opening his hands over two rose bushes planted in her memory.
“I told them plants of course,” he said.