June 29, 2021

Lush and Verdant: Villa Finale Gardens Bounce Back After Unexpected Freeze

On February 14, 2021, Winter Storm Uri hit the Southern United States, plunging temperatures well below freezing for days. The unusually frigid conditions caused widespread and lengthy power outages along with extensive property damage estimated at $195 billion in Texas alone.

San Antonio’s Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens, the last home of civic leader and historic preservationist Walter Nold Mathis—and the only site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Texas—managed to escape the storm with no damage to the 1876 Italianate home, but with extensive impact on the landscaping.

Today, with the passage of nearly five months, we wanted to share the initial damage to, and eventual recovery of, the Gardens at Villa Finale.

After February’s harsh freeze, Villa Finale’s Formal Garden was brown and desolate, but the rapidly warming temperatures meant signs of life in the budding trees and greening boxwood hedges—a signature part of Villa Finale’s garden design and integral to the landscape. The sago palms were trimmed back, as we hoped they would make a full recovery.

A look at the formal garden after Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. The plants are brown and broken, with many appearing to be damaged and dead.

photo by: Villa Finale

Sago Palms in Villa Finale's Formal Garden.

A man sits in the middle of planting some jasmine in the garden at Villa Finale. He is kneeling on the ground with greenery around him.

photo by: Villa Finale

Buildings and Grounds Manager Orlando Cortinas takes a break from planting jasmine in the formal garden.

The vegetation along the property’s front fence line was less than welcoming in the weeks after the storm. The star jasmine so ubiquitous as a scented evergreen ground cover in South Texas was in rough shape. We have since nurtured the jasmine back to health where possible and replaced what could not be saved.

A view of the decimated fenceline flower beds in February. They are brown and dead.

photo by: Villa Finale

San Antonio roses were not daunted by the freeze and bloomed—and continue to bloom!—shortly afterward as temperatures quickly warmed into the 70s and even 80s. The antique varieties that perfume the landscape at Villa Finale are not as “antique” as you might think. They were planted by Villa Finale staff before the site’s grand opening in 2010.

A close up of some San Antonio roses that were planted in Villa Finale in 2010.

photo by: Villa Finale

San Antonio roses planted in 2010.

The fruit trees along the rear perimeter of the property were amongst the first of the plantings to recover. Planted years ago by the City of San Antonio to gracefully shade the adjacent Riverwalk, the persimmon trees began flowering in early March, adding some much-welcome green to the landscape.

Close up of the persimmons growing on a tree in the garden at Villa Finale. The branches are slightly blurred in the background.

photo by: Villa Finale

Flowering persimmon tree.

The sago palms placed throughout the garden by Villa Finale’s final owner, Walter Mathis, delight visitors with their tropical glamour, and we were pleased to see new sprouts unfurling from the top of each one at the end of April.

You may notice quite a few changes in this photo, taken from a similar vantage point to the first image in this series. The sago palms are spiky and green and the boxwood hedges are brilliantly verdant. The oak trees and native pecans have fully leafed out and shade the gazebo area—a popular spot for brides seeking a romantic portrait backdrop. The gazebo was lovingly added by Walter Mathis and incorporates columns taken from his childhood home, which was demolished by the City of San Antonio prior to HemisFair in 1968.

A look at the formal garden in early June where everything is lush and green. There is a brick pathway leading up to a circular area.

photo by: Villa Finale

Formal garden in June 2021.

Farrah Varga is the manager of marketing & programs at Villa Finale.

By: Farrah Varga

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