Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


A Palm Beach Secret Garden

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Fernando Wong is considered one of the most important landscape designers in America today. Quite a heady accomplishment when you moved from Panama just 20 years ago, speaking no English, and can now boast collaborations with starchitects, national and international awards and a new TV show. But what resonated for me after a free-ranging chat with him on his way to a project is that his creations translate well to a variety of garden styles in different parts of the world. Why? Because a garden’s design is determined by the specific architecture of the building to which it is related. His design credo is pared-down, classical aesthetic, steeped in principles of scale and proportion…starting simply with grounds laid out on a clear axis.

Case in point, this particular client gave him carte blanche to create a garden inspired by the south of France…which meant, literally, starting from scratch. One challenge of course would be identifying French favorites (or variations of) that work well in southern Florida. He reminds me that citrus is back, a fantastic addition to anyone’s garden. “Lime and lemon trees can be grown in large containers and placed as accents in a hedge (above). And he adds with his signature humor, “drinks are so much better with homegrown fruit.” So it’s no surprise that another plant used effectively throughout the garden is lavandula pinnatta (lace lavender) to lend texture, color and fragrance (as seen in many of the pruned globes below).

This Palm Beach property so well epitomizes that, no matter how big or small the project, a residential garden can bear out his design ethos as effectively as The Surf Club project in Miami with Richard Meier. The secret? No matter the location, he uses the same principles to align the landscape with the buildings.

He had me at “yes” when stating, “approach your garden with a plan and first, focus on the trees!” Here, affectionately named “The Secret Garden” by Fernanado and his partner, Tim Johnson, he employed a simple but effective visual trick (especially when dealing with just 1 1/2 acres)… planting towering palms to match a neighbor’s trees, thereby making it appear that this estate extends way off into the distance.

For Fernando, it’s not just about creating beautiful outdoor spaces but is as much about engaging all the senses of those who visit his creative settings as well as those who live within them. “I want layers,” he said. “I want to hear the rustling of palm fronds, to feel the sun through a canopy of leaves, to smell the rosemary, gardenias and orange trees, and to see silhouettes”

Perhaps harkening back to his Panamanian roots, Fernando is known for his signature green-on-green, stating that “it appears so much cooler than color.” In this, one of my favorite images, a silver buttonwood shrub (Conocarpus erectus var. sericeus) adds a spot of light to a verdant corner.

The fascinating fountain was made by repurposing existing materials on the property.

And what is a Palm Beach garden without a pool, here masterfully laid out by his namesake boutique design firm, Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, known for designing elaborate garden follies, pools and pool pavilions, outdoor kitchens, fountains, sculpture gardens and hardscapes. What a beautiful angle from which to view a pool and its house!

Thank you Fernando, for the time spent in this sylvan “secret garden.” One can truly understand that your joy as a designer comes through creating beauty which provides moments of contemplation for owners and visitors alike.

And my friends at home, don’t forget to pop on your television or I-pad and watch the new HGTV/Discovery+ 6 part series “Clipped,” a competition show where the work of America’s best topiary artists are judged by Martha Stewart, Fernando, and 2 other judges.


All images courtesy of Brantley Photography.

If you enjoy this article, please share it!
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".

2 thoughts on “A Palm Beach Secret Garden

  1. No wonder he is considered one of the most important landscape designers in America. Does Fernando have a book or a blog that you know of?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.