Gardening How-Tos, In the Garden


10 Inspiring Tips from a Lush Florida Garden

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My recent stay in Palm Beach, Florida provided two exceptional opportunities to admire and gain a better understanding of gardens in a subtropical clime. On one afternoon, I arrived at the end of a very, very long driveway to find a sight that  took my breath away…a property clearly inspired by and looking every bit the part of an Addison Mizner-designed Mediterranean Revival treasure. The siting of the elegantly massed out-buildings, starting with the arch through which the brick drive continued  and the generously-sized guest house, provided the romantic feel of an estate of old.

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I, a long time admirer of Mizner, found it difficult to believe that this home had only been built ten years earlier; it was handsomely sited, set far enough back from the entry arch to reinforce the sense of a large estate but not so distant as to make the house seem off-putting.

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Then I began to notice the variety of plantings, the carefully considered landscape architecture, the intentionally-placed palm trees, the vignettes of different plant material, the koi pond and subtle rock “waterfall.” And I was only in the front courtyard…

Tip #1: Transitions in a garden create mood and intrigue, keeping in play the subtle but very important dynamic of reality versus imagination.

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By the time I had passed through the house and looked across the infinity pool to the  acres that fronted on the Intracoastal Waterway, documenting this lesson in successful garden design became a project to slip in while enjoying a beautiful poolside luncheon.

The biggest lesson for me, living with a French-inspired garden in New England, is  confirmation that the basics of good design transcend a style, a location, a part of the country.

Biggest Lesson…
Tip #2:
  Give the eye a rest; a gentle slope of lawn is an intentional contrast to the dense and lush plantings in the upper area of the property.

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Tip #3: Take advantage of the many different shades of green to create a monochromatic color scheme that can keep a layered composition from appearing too busy. 

Tip #4: Repeating one shape (i.e. elongated, pointed plant material) helps a garden vignette “hold together.” 

Tip #5: Keep the garden lively by introducing surprises and playing up unusual features (as here, with a banyan tree’s roots so dramatically exposed).

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Or orchids growing on tree trunks — quite a novelty to a northern gardener.

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Tip #6: Add drama to a pool by introducing  a carefully-considered element of the garden; the “planter boxes” on either side of the full-width steps contain a key statement of a subtropical garden…elegant-in-their-simplicity palm trees.

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Tip #7: Introduce subtle, strategically placed accents, as with these containers…each with plant material of one color.

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Tip #8: Stone surfaces provide an opportunity to interject another detail; here, diagonal lines  pick up the color of the stone trim on the house.

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Tip #9: Even a side path can be carefully considered with both low and tight plantings, and larger grouped “masses” for contrast and scale.

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Tip #10: No garden location is too insignificant or small for a carefully considered detail like tightly clipped greenery along or within walkways.

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A scrumptious luncheon capped off this oh, so memorable experience…entering a garden should be like stepping into a new world, not knowing exactly what you’ll discover inside and all the richer for having taken that step.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

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