Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Bermuda Influences In a Palm Beach Setting

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Overlooking its own cove and the Intracoastal Waterway beyond, a white-stuccoed Bermudian style house boasts not just a name architect, Thomas Kirchhoff, but a name landscape design firm, Nievera Williams, as well. The pairing, with enthusiastic input from the owner, James Berwind, is responsible for one of the most singular gardens that I have ever visited. The fact that James took the garden’s designers to Bermuda to better appreciate his design expectations speaks to his level of involvement.

In a town of major architectural masterpieces, many of them leaning to the Mediterranean influence, an outlier with Bermuda sensibilities gets one’s attention. Coquina (soft limestone of broken shells) and stucco were used for the walls of the extended house that hides behind an understated facade. The smallish, terraced garden was appropriately placed between the main house and the large guest house….the better for all to enjoy.

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Two of the most important of James’ design expectations were the water feature and the rock outcropping interrupting the beds throughout the property. As the lead designer Keith Williams explains, “walls and even homes in Bermuda are built onto and even integrated into the natural limestone or coral rock throughout the island. We wanted to mimic these characteristics in the gardens. Large coral boulders, hand-selected, were placed into the landscape and hand carved into the walls and even the architecture of the building, so it looks as if the coral boulders came first and  then the house…much like you see in Bermuda.”  

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James was most specific in his thoughts regarding plant material…”while Bermuda is limited in its variety of vegetation, I wanted to use a lot of sea grape and leafy ground covers. The rest of the materials used are ones that I personally like. My rule of thumb when it comes to choosing plants is ‘if it looks like Dr. Seuss drew it, I want it!’ ” A quick list includes — Fakahatchee grass, Bamboo grass, Philodendron Congo, Citrus, Tabebuia tree, Soft tip Agave, Dwarf minima, Elephant ears, Flame vine and Saw Palmetto. All the better if they are set within the coquina coral that is used throughout Palm Beach for paving and hardscape as well as the aforementioned walls of the house.

Based on the design parameters and meeting specific characteristics, the design team had to locate and gather mature specimen trees from all over Florida. Some of the  trees include Rubber tree, Silver buttonwood, Seagrape trees and Darco Palms.

And the Yellow Tabebuia tree, which at this time in the spring scatters its spent blooms across the gardens surfaces lending an air of romance.

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While one would not expect to find a stream in Bermuda, James is a big fan of this water feature, admitting that “it was  an artistic license I had to take.” The designer’s solutions? Adapt the concept of cisterns, which are found in Bermuda. Thus, the main courtyard’s fountain is designed to overflow with water, which spills into the pebble-strewn rill which in turn flows along the pebbled stream beds that meander through the planted areas and end in a sunken garden. It is this detail that James sites as one of his very favorites, in which I heartily concur. A bit of Persian influence interjected into this design compilation.

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The street entrance to the garden is through a Bermudian stepped roof “gate house,” where another cistern provides a backdrop to a casual seating area.

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Lest I not forget, James is also fond of the small secret gardens that exist around the property; this green vignette, with its own coquina ball, caught my attention as I was departing.

Thank you, James.

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