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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Elenitza Garden — An Ode to Africa made out of native plants grows in Centro Mérida

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Veronica Garibay
Veronica Garibayhttp://yucatanmagazine.com
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Over on Calle 50, the house of Maryinez Lyons hosts a green oasis. Elenitza Garden began in February and has slowly grown into a city jungle.

Entrance to Elenitza garden, shaded by a young yet big Cojoba arborea. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Rodrigo Escamilla, founder of Jardines Nativos Mexicanos, met Maryinez through social media when she stumbled upon her work. 

“She had a clear image of what she wanted,” remembers Rodrigo. “Maryinez lived in Africa for many years, and when she moved to Mérida, 9 years ago, she brought her love of nature with her. We set on the task of recreating the jungle landscapes she knew. We created a living environment that reminds her of her previous home.”

Detail of the terrace, opposing the garden. Maryinez has planted Snake Plants all around the garden for oxygenation. Photo: Verónica Garbay

As we cross a long corridor from the entrance to the backyard, Maryinez highlights the decorations she brought across the world. When opening the wooden doors of a beautiful terrace, sculptures of wild boars under a Cojoba arborea welcome you to the garden. 

Sculptures of wild boars watch out for the koi pond. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Rodrigo notes that most plants are native and many are endemic to the state of Yucatán.

“We also had to work with some common exotic species, to bring in the leafy look and texture of the jungle, since we don’t have that vegetation in the state. But my specialty is local plants. That’s what I want to highlight in my gardens.”

Canopy of the trees over Elenitza Garden, planted before Maryinez moved in. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The context of the garden changes as you walk through it. The first element Rodrigo had to work with was water. 

The koi pond, surrounded by beach lilies yet to flower. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“The backyard starts with the koi pond. We had to think about the environment that plants would experience. Everything is humid, so we added species like Hymenocallis littoralis — or beach spider Lily, Flaveria linearis, Crinum erubescens — all plants that we find at the coast of Yucatán.”

A shy koi, happily swimming around its humid environment. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Koi swim happily between native lilies, as a relaxing opening as you begin to discover the environment. From the pond, we move into the jungle.

From the terrace, a stone path leads you through the jungle, out to the pool. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The trunks of the trees are still thin, but their leafy tops create a green canopy. Aphelandras, Malvaviscus aroboreus, and Bravaisia berlandieriana are some of the native species Rodrigo has added.

The six-month-old jungle, quickly covering Elenitza garden. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“It’s important to know the distinction between native and endemic,” he tells me. “Native plants are indigenous species with wide distribution within a region. Endemic refers to native plants that are exclusive to a specific zone. Here we’re bringing the best of all worlds, with Yucatecan flora in the center.” 

Opposing view of the garden, from the pool. This section was designed by Rodrigo to give a jungle-esque feel, using mostly local plants. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Native palms like Chi’it and Gaussia maya are growing near the pool, enjoying the humidity and light sun. On a wall to the left of the yard, bamboos begin to cover them. Maryinez tells me that the idea for a bamboo forest came from an experience she had in Africa.

Bamboo growing on one side of the garden. Rodrigo used dry bamboo trunks as decor in different parts of the garden. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“I was driving through the forest one day, shocked by the height and density of the bamboo. Then I heard a bell, and out of nowhere, a dog flew right in front of me. Indigenous communities often use them for hunting, and put bells around their necks to track them. Behind the dog came members of an indigenous community, running while carrying their bows and arrows. I was amazed. That experience was so significant I had to bring it with me.”

Although bamboo is not native to this region, Rodrigo notes that they planted a species that easily grows in the state. Outside of this plant, he notes that exotic species were added in order to create focal points throughout the garden.

Rodrigo notes that some more plants from Yucatecan coasts were planted near the pool, in order to take advantage of the humidity. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Potos, monsteras, elephant ears, these plants are usually found in gardens. And they unconsciously catch your attention. I wanted to generate a walk-through where, regardless of where you stood, an interesting plant stands out. Some have already grown to do so, but in six months this place will be a whole different world.”

An elephant ear has become a focal point when walking from the pool back to the terrace. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Behind the main jungle, a small patio waits next to the pool. Over it, large palms and old trees offer shade. Maryinez proudly looks up to her local Álamo tree, smiling as she reaches for its hanging roots.

Detail of the trunk and roots of the local álamo tree, with a local epiphyte plant. Epiphytic plants are those that take root on the stem or trunk of other plants. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“Every gardener that has come here has told me that an álamo this big is a sign of a cenote. I have no idea if this is true, but it is so exciting to me, imagining one under this old house. It would certainly explain its magical feeling.”

Rodrigo has designed the jungle looking to create different layers and heights with the plants he’s added. Photo: Verónica Garibay

With only six months of growth, Elenitza Garden has just started its settling phase, but its fast development is astonishing. This encourages Rodrigo and Maryinez, who excitedly await to see its final stage — once it turns a year old.

Monstera dissecta growing around one of the original trees of the property, adding a new layer to the garden. Photo: Verónica Garibay

“This is really a place to let grow,” says Rodrigo. “Gardens take time, especially with such special projects like this. But that’s the beauty of plants. They show us the fruits of attention and patience.”

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