It’s hard to believe that Kakie McKinney’s exotic backyard was just a grassy slope with a few trees when she bought her Friendswood home three years ago. The house was built for someone who never lived there, so McKinney was able to add her own touches.

Those touches included extending the backyard patio by nine feet, installing a pool and outdoor kitchen and adding a master bedroom. The patio extension was masterfully handled by Bay Area Design & Landscape. But the main attraction sits just beyond the veranda. The sloping backyard that meanders its way down to Chigger Creek is the pièce de résistance, which includes two separate garden areas divided by an iron grillwork fence.

The combination pool/hot tub with waterfall, which is built into the travertine floor of the patio, is encircled by hibiscus, ferns, queen palms and an array of other tropical plants. A soothing fountain is nearby. Decorative concrete pillars and an overhead arbor are bordered by peach and pale pink drift roses and Italian cypress trees.

Stone steps provide a downward pathway surrounded by terraced beds of periwinkle, variegated ivy, caladium, giant elephant ear, sago palms and other foliage outlined with bricks and flagstone. Bottlebrush, knockout roses (yellow, peach and pink), banana trees bearing fruit, yaupon, asparagus fern and a mixture of colorful blooming plants are in abundance. A lone willow tree is prominent among the water oaks. A thick ligustrum hedge acts as a border at the end of the property line where Chigger Creek lies below.

White crepe myrtles stand in unison along a wooden side fence and are scattered throughout the yard.

“I like the white ones because you can see them so well at night,” McKinney said. “My gardener, Marsaid, and I do most of the work ourselves.”

McKinney enjoys perusing nurseries.

“It’s an addiction,” she said. “I always come home with a trunk full of plants and everything just comes together. I don’t really have a plan and don’t always know the names of a lot of the things, but if I like it, I buy it. I just need to know if it needs sun or shade.”

McKinney’s other addiction is transplanting, she said.

“If something doesn’t look happy, I dig it up and move it elsewhere,” she said.

McKinney is most proud of her silky variety of wisteria (Murasaki-kapitan) that grows on each side of the arbor.

“I saw that particular vine growing on the patio of a Houston restaurant, so I found out what it was and I just had to have it,” she said.  

Inside the house, tall windows and glass doors make bird-watching a favorite pastime. McKinney has seen hummingbirds, cardinals, blue birds, owls and hawks.

Born in Bunkie, La., McKinney grew up in Eagle Lake, but lived in Alvin for 33 years before moving to the Clear Lake area. She’s not sure where she picked up her charming southern accent, but friends tell her she sounds just like Dolly Parton. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren visit her backyard oasis often. Her two Yorkshire terriers love to romp around the grounds.

“This is my sanctuary,” McKinney said. “Just me and God — we talk every morning. After my second cup of coffee, I start my chat. The other morning I was a little down and I said, ‘God, give me a rainbow,’ and he did! I took photos. So, he does listen,” she said.

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