Originally posted August 28, 2009
Editor: We repost this in tribute to Lou Williams who has just passed away. There will be a celebration of his life on Wed., December 1, at Beardley-Mitch ell Funeral Home, 1818 Sunset Cliffs Blvd. from 6 to 8 p.m.
“This whole place was the pits,” says Louie Williams, gesturing at the lush, artfully designed garden around us.
It’s hard to believe, but Louie swears that it’s true, pointing out spots where he had trees taken out, pulled up overgrown bushes. When he moved to this little house on Niagara with his wife Kathi, one of their first projects was to tear up everything in the garden, down to the last blade of grass, and start fresh.
The result is a phenomenal work of art. Louie gives me a tour of the garden, pointing out where he’s attached a door and a window to the back of his tenants garage to make it look like another cottage. There’s also the little hillock on which they’ve created a miniature oriental scene, complete with small Japanese figurines, bonsai trees, and pieces of glass to simulate lakes. Various antiques, too many to count, peer artfully from beneath or behind plants.
“This is an old ore bucket from the mines,” he points to a rusted barrel next to the simulated cottage “And this is an old cement mixer, that was donated by Walter Anderson nursery.”
The most prevalent items are windows, several of them, old and peeling, hanging up on the fence that separates the yards. Louie and Kathi replaced the glass in the windows with mirrors, which enhances the space while also giving it an eerie, fairy-garden quality. Someone is always watching you here, even if it’s just your own reflection.
Louie has a different take, as he points out the mirrors, exclaiming how much they contribute to the space. He steps back and looks at them proudly.
“You know, I put them in, and I stand back, and I go, god, who is this good-looking guy?”
Small and wizened, with gray hair and the sweet face of an Italian grocer, Louie looks up at me and cackles, then hustles me back to the back of the garden to show me some more antiques, donated by friends and store-owners in the area. As I am led around, I marvel. What is truly remarkable about the garden is the attention to form. The garden that Louie and Kathi have created shows an artist’s eye for creating vignettes, surprises, and hidden treasures without any appearance of clutter or schmaltz. There is order here, even a peace.
Perhaps this is the true attraction of this hidden garden. From the front, the yard looks interesting and eclectic, sure, but once you go around the front house, where renters live, and into the back, another world opens up. Louie and Kathi, over the years, have gotten used to people, many of them strangers, wandering back and spending time in the garden, just sitting, or smelling, or, if they’re kids, getting deeply involved in intricate playacting.
The Williams encourage visitors, and have several “regulars” to the garden. Louie points at a rubber tarantula in one of the plants, and explains that one man comes through with his two kids about once a week, and one day his little boy brought in a tarantula to donate. Louie made sure to put it in a pot he’d remember, so he wouldn’t give himself a heart attack later while gardening.
“I don’t mind if people come back here and hang out,” says Louie, his hands behind his back, “You know, if you can’t share, that’s kind of a sad world.”
Louie and Kathi’s world seems anything but sad, full of the mysteries of the garden and antiques, and the excitement of new and old visitors alike. When I ask if he’s ever caught teenagers making out in the garden (there is definitely something romantic about the place, and hey, it is hidden), he chuckles and says no, but he did walk out of his house one day around lunchtime and there was a young couple sitting in the garden having a picnic. He politely excused himself and went on his way, leaving them to their date.
Louie and Kathi themselves met, married and moved to Ocean Beach only about 7 years ago. Louie was an antiques dealer in Lemon Grove, and Kathi came in to his store and they started talking.
“I was by myself for 12-13 years, and was kinda set in my own ways, but we just kinda hit it off,” says Louie shyly, changing subjects quickly to his antique business.
He hurries into the house and back out with a big set of keys, and opens the back garage door, shedding light on a veritable grandmothers attic of antiques, trinkets that could absorb an interested collector for hours. He dismisses it with a wave, and says he’s selling it bit by bit at garage sales he has about once a month. I marvel at an old filigree and turquoise bracelet, before remembering my empty wallet and putting it down.
Back out in the garden, I can see how Louie and Kathi’s shared passions for antiques, plants, and art coalesced into the garden I see before me. Although we’re just a block away, it feels like Newport and tourists and the bar scene are miles from here. A swarm of contented bees buzz around an African Basil bush, unknowingly stalked by a lithe calico kitten named Lola. A sea breeze rustles in the leaves overhead. And as I look across, I see reflected in one of the windows a smiling older man, tenderly bending to examine a plant leaf. This is OB’s hidden garden.
For more pics of Louie and Kathi’s garden, go here.
Louie and Kathi’s Hidden Garden is located next to the Blue Parrot on Niagara, between Cable and Bacon streets. Go through the pathway by the purple bench to enter, and wander at your will, or if Louie or Kathi are around, you may even get a tour. Louie’s antiques are available upon request.
For more photos see the repost just previous to this one.