A Spectacular 39 Page Art Gallery
Ralph John Velez II (1934-2018) was an artist, educator, and lover of horticulture. Born in New York to a Puerto Rican father and a Nicaraguan mother, he attended the High School of Performing Arts and Music in New York. After graduating from Queens College with a Bachelor and Master in Education, Ralph taught art, horticulture, and English as a Second Language until he retired from teaching in 1994.
On Christmas Day of 1955, Ralph married Nilda Garcia Morales. They lived in New York until 1961 when they moved to California with their children. Ralph and Nilda were married for 50 years before she passed away in 2005.
Ralph jumped into any activity that sparked his interest, whether it was bodybuilding, his 1955 Studebaker, or most notably his love of palm trees. He and Nilda bought their first and only home in Westminster, CA in 1962. What began with Ralph planting a few seedlings eventually developed into a beautiful and richly diverse botanical garden. Ralph eventually called his garden The California Rainforest, but many neighbors and visitors affectionately call it The Jungle House. This unique gardem home profoundly influenced Ralph’s artwork.
An episode of Visiting with Huell Howser, a TV show that highlights unique and interesting landmarks, featured Ralph and his California Rainforest. Ralph’s beautiful garden was also featured in the book, A Man’s Garden written by Warren Schultz. In this book, Ralph is described as “a man who would plant 483 palm trees, 370 different species on a 60-by-150-foot corner lot.” Ralph always wanted to bring the peacefulness of the tropics to his Orange County community. He was one of the founding members of the International Palm Society of Southern California, an organization dedicated to promoting the cultivation, enjoyment, and conservation of palms. Always willing to share his extensive knowledge with others, he advised landscapers on major projects in and around Disneyland, Palm Island in Mile Square Park, and the Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Ralph’s son, Steve, inherited his father’s passion for plants, and he is committed to the preservation of The Jungle House, so that people may continue to enjoy this uniquely tranquil and beautiful place for years to come.
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