In Kahlo’s 1936 painting My Grandparents, My Parents, and I, she depicted herself as child, standing in the courtyard of Casa Azul with her leg seemingly fused to the garden’s orange tree. To her left, a prickly pear cactus emits a spray of seeds that germinate a human egg. The implication is that Kahlo has sprung from Mexico’s soil as much as from her human relatives, whom she painted hovering above.
Today, the same orange tree still rises from Casa Azul’s courtyard, and prickly pear cacti dot the museum’s grounds. They are two of many plants that grew during Kahlo’s life and are now cared for by Spíndola. But the garden has also changed since the artist’s 1954 death: Trees that Kahlo and Rivera planted have grown tall, making for a shadier environment that’s less conducive to rearing succulents, for instance. Some replacements have been made, like the ferns that fill beds where sun-seeking varietals can no longer survive.
“Our task is to make a garden according to their vision, but also that accommodates how the trees have grown,” Spíndola explained. That means working only with native Mexican plants, “and adapting them to this new environment,” he continued.
Spíndola takes special care of Kahlo’s cherished bougainvillea, which appeared not only in the artist’s flower crowns, but in at least one painting, as well. In Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), Kahlo depicted herself wearing a necklace hewn from the bougainvillea’s thorny branches. A monkey and a cat perch on her shoulders, a dense thicket of leaves seem to sprout from her back, and hybrid butterfly-flowers take flight from her hair. Here, Kahlo’s body fuses with the natural world that provided her with lifelong refuge and inspiration—elements of which can still be glimpsed in Casa Azul’s gardens today.