Rhett Roy nurtures nature to create an urban retreat.
Text John T. O'Connor
Photos Myro Rosky
FLORIDA LIVING HAS ALWAYS BEEN — for the last 100 years any-way — about making your dreams come to life. From the swirling, Italian Renaissance gardens of Miami's Vizcaya to the wild, bohemian grove landscape that is the Barlett Estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida's landscape seems at home whether snipped and pruned into geometry or let to grow wild and free. A gardener's paradise, you can practically stick an old pencil in the ground and a new tree sprouts.
It was this same malleability that inspired a couple with a passion for plantings in the creation of an outstanding Victoria Park garden. Knowing they wanted a home that celebrated the sub-tropics, this couple reached out to Rhett Roy, an award-winning landscape architect and his team to help realize their goals. Faced with a single family home with a distinct character— although new construction, it seems almost California Mission in feel — both Roy and the homeowners decided on a scheme that would enhance that beauty, and although contemporary in look, use natural hardscape materials that would give a sense of natural age to the final design.
Native keystone from the Dominican Republic was used extensively in the design, extending from the broken-ice-patterned driveway to the secluded, poolside terrace in the back of the home.
According to Roy, the streetscape and entry to the property in their final form, present a unique image of the overall canopy and layers of foliage combined with the hardscape. The unique form and smooth trunk and branches of a Gumbo Limbo frame the left side of the drive, while various bushy palms create a privacy screen from the neighbors on the right. The pervious keystone drive is broken into "islands" not only for visual interest, but to help with storm water retention. And while water retention begins there, wide planting bands direct the flow which ends with groupings of water-loving plants. The same holds true close to the home's facade, which employs rain chains instead of downspouts to direct roof runoff to groupings of fern and Equisetum or horsetail, wonderful but rarely used in South Florida.
An irregular walkway leads to a woven metal Fence, separating private rear yard from public front. Walking through this area, with its dense growth dotted with Aristolochia hanging from above was completely intentional. "The tunnel appearance all came together by planting," says Roy, "We used a perimeter buffer to soften the interface with neighbors on three sides." Roy used an overhead trellis and vine-covered wall to complete the enveloping effect.
The selection of planting material started with the owner's personal preferences. Field trips to exotic growers expanded the collaborative list between owners and landscape architect to some 50 varieties of plants. Plant combinations were developed for each space to create a paradise-like garden. The palette emphasizes the owner's preferred colors and primarily uses silver, black, chartreuse and purple.
The pool and its cascading water can be experienced from the inside of the home, tying interior and exterior living spaces together. The broken mosaic tiled backdrop for the fountain picks up on the tones of the garden with deep purple and chartreuse. Water flows through a brushed metal grill into the black pool below. Traveler’s palms and other trees here were selected to provide not total shade, but dappled sun light and shade, giving the combination of native and exotic plantings just the amount of light needed. One doesn't often think of lighting as the gardener or landscape architect's purview, but as Roy makes clear, creating pools of light that illuminate key elements of the garden at different times was, indeed, part of his — and both of the owners' — goals.
In the end, after allowing the garden to grow and fill in naturally over the years, this collaboration has literally and figuratively, come to fruition with stunning results. The careful combination of hardscape materials and tended plantings reflects Florida living at its best.