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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Or orchids growing on tree trunks — quite a novelty to a northern gardener.
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.
Tip #7: Introduce subtle, strategically placed accents, as with these containers…each with plant material of one color.
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.
Tip #9: Even a side path can be carefully considered with both low and tight plantings, and larger grouped “masses” for contrast and scale.
Tip #10: No garden location is too insignificant or small for a carefully considered detail like tightly clipped greenery along or within walkways.
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.