Flora & Fauna

September 10, 2013

An Oasis in the Valley

2013-08-20 14.56.28

There is an oasis in the valley called Hilltop Gardens located amidst 400 acres in Lyford, and 6.5 miles north of La Villa.

The place is considered the historical home of aloe  because it was the first farm to grow aloe in the nation.  It was in 1939 that Lee Ewald and her husband Sherman Ewald purchased 100 acres of one of the first commercial aloe farms in the country.  What is even more interesting is that Phyllis Schmidt, the Ewalds’ daughter, developed cosmetics using aloe vera gel in 1959 becoming a pioneer in this industry.

Today, the ideal climate and nutrient- rich soil of its farmland produce some of the finest plants in the world, all of which are grown naturally without the use of pesticides. It is a certified organic farm. Hilltop Gardens has an amazing 1/2 mile (more or less) driveway lined with dozens of palm trees increasing the expectations as you approach this magnificent estate.

Nestled among this  subtropical oasis is the Inn at Hilltop Bed and Breakfast housed in a Mediterranean style home boasting four beautifully decorated comfortable bedrooms, a spacious living room area and a sunny dining area. Patrons can rent a room or the entire home for the night, and enjoy the private swimming pool and surrounding gardens even through the night. Patrons to the Hilltop gardens include locals who desire a nearby escape to relax and business people looking for a quiet place to conduct meetings and seminars. It is also an ideal venue for weddings and private parties. Breakfast is always included, and other meals can be prepared by request. Rates average around $250 per night.


Within Hilltop Gardens people find an array of tropical healing gardens such as the sensory walk where sight, sound, smell, touch and taste are awakened by several unique plants. Fragrances like basil, jasmine, mock orange, reseda and an ylang ylang tree are found here.  The leaves of the ylang ylang tree are used to make Channel #5 perfume. In the the “touch” section we find a kapok tree covered almost entirely with thorns! The taste section includes many edible plants like banana, fig, Texas persimmon and avocado.

A bust of Chung Kang Yunho Lee, a pioneer of the modern aloe industry and father of Econet’s present chairman and owner of Hilltop Gardens since 1988, Bill Lee, is  located in the middle of the memorial garden. There are about 200 different species of aloe among Hilltop Gardens, most of them brought from South Africa. It is one of the largest collections of aloe species available for public viewing in the U.S.  Hilltop Gardens also has a children’s garden and more to come, for plans for expansion have been drafted. Anybody interested in a native plant garden must  visit this place – you will get plenty of ideas on how to landscape using these butterfly loving and colorful trees and shrubs. It is beautiful! 

“Nature speaks to our souls, and humans heal better when exposed to it,” said manager Paul Thornton when speaking about why these are healing gardens.  The mission of the Hilltop Gardens is to promote healing and wellness. Their gift shop sells their unique made-at-premise grape jelly and beauty products such as an aloe vera eucalyptus gel and an aloe vera anti-wrinkle cream among several others.

During my visit for a luncheon meeting I savored their hibiscus tea which I found delicious.  The recipe they gave me is very simple, you just boil some hibiscus flowers – they used the red ones – let the water cool, strain the flowers and add some sugar – not a lot they said, and serveover ice! That simple, but I have not tried it yet. I also plan to use their beauty products, but I promised myself I was going to wait until I finish the ones I’m currently trying: It’s a never ending practice. If anybody out there is using them, please send us your input.

A view of the aloe fields from  Hilltop Gardens


Hilltop Gardens is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children 5-12, fewer than 5 is free.

For additional information I highly recommend visiting www.hilltopgarden.com or call 956-262-2176

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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