We left off of Part I of Vizcaya with this view from The Secret Garden. The Garden’s were originally designed by Diego Suarez, a native of Bogota, Colombia, who studied architecture in Florence during the early 1900s. Today we get to see the gardens with some insight from it’s current designer, Chief Horticulturist of Historic Landscapes Ian Simpkins. I say designer because Vizcaya is an ever-changing horticultural chameleon. As it’s being brought back to life, the horticultural teams are working toward a new future for this previously hurricane-decimated landscape with new and better plantings that will restore the feel and the ambiance of the gardens while rebuilding it to last.
Simpkins spent most of his career in public garden management with the last nine years working specifically with historical gardens. Previous to Vizcaya, he was the Director of Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia before begining his work here in 2007. After studying in the U.S. and abroad (in Florence and the U.K.) he’s particularly suited to help bring this “international” garden to it’s full historic and modern potential.
I had to ask him about the wonderful topiary and maze garden. They are a fantastic combination of formal and whimsical features with an artistic and geometric theme that is perfectly offset by large unexpectedly grassy areas that unify the vision. A work of art indeed. According to Simpkins, the darker, “rounded shrubs are original to the 1920 (Vizcaya design) and are Australian Pine, Casuarina equisetifolia.” Unfortunately Vizcaya is in unable to continue to use them because they are invasive plants, which Simpkins explains, “were used extensively (almost exclusively) for hedging in the original garden configuration.” The rounded topiary plants he adds, “are supposed to be small cones – but after years of negligence they were sort of pruned into these tama-zukuri style cloud shapes. I inherited them as they are and in a way, I think they are fabulously odd, so I left them.”
Simpkins explains, “The parterres, (seen above) are of Wax Jasmine Jasminum simplicifolium. These plants are by no stretch original, but this is the plant that was used for the parterres in Deering’s time. They were looking for a boxwood substitute and at the time, this was the best solution they could find. They are fine, but I only have a full time staff of six, and they really require more maintenance than we can provide – especially once we restore the gardens and return the original elaborate designs. We’re exploring better, slower growing options such as Dwarf Yaupon Holly (which incidentally looks more like Box than the jasmine).”
The grounds of Vizcaya are an extensive eclectic mix of architectural, sculptural and landscape elements that pull the visitor along a dreamy path with unexpected wonders. Surrounding the fantastic and odd-shaped pool are Live Oak trees or Quercus virginiana. (seen above and below).
Simpkins informs us that, “Some are original and planted in 1917, some are not. These trees are a perfect substitute for Ilex, Quercus ilex – the tree so commonly used in Italy. These are a bit overgrown. A decision was made before my time to let them go, and as such, they lost their trimmed shape. Originally, these trees were trimmed into neat rectangles, and a center alley of Royal Palms was to tower over them, forming a peristyle. That will be returned during the restoration. We are working on the trees to get them back to their original intended form. It’s a long process – we are two years into the five it will require”
According to Simpkins, the 1926 category 5 hurricane blew most of these trees down, before they were “stood back up, where they re-rooted.” He adds, “The biggest trees are around 100 years old. They are covered in resurrection fern and native orchids.”
You can see more of these Italianate style trees up on the mound which was originally designed to block the morning light which blindingly streamed into the main garden viewing area of the mansion. A fantastic structure uses local limestone and coral for it’s decorative features. It has several stairways that lead up to the square center where there lies more Live Oak trees. “The oaks on top and side of the Casino Mound,” Simpkins explains, “were brought there and planted as full size trees.”
Around the Mound are also these fantastic shrubs that perfectly crowd the long benches creating secret hideaways from the general strolling areas. The main entrance to the Mound is a colorful tiered fountain. The colors of terra-cotta, yellow ochre and textured limestone are beautifully accented by simple algae. Who knew it could work so well?
I stumbled upon this lovely vine and asked Simpkins about it. It turns out it’s part of the daily challenge of bringing Vizcaya back to life.
“The vine like leaves come from Creeping Fig, Ficus Repens.” Simpkins explains, “The gazebos were originally completely covered with it, but we recently had to remove the overgrown vines because they were cracking the foundations and raccoons were nesting in them. These are recent replants, and will be trimmed to create a lightly coated gazebo.”
Vizcaya is full of life and gesture. To me that is exemplified by this dazzling shrub. As I mentioned on my previous post on The Photo Garden Bee Tour of December 2009, which included Vizcaya. This shrub is my favorite shrub of all the shrubs I’ve seen anywhere.
I have not been able to identify it for weeks, but thanks to Ian Simpkins, I can now tell you it’s a Red Cocoplum Chrysobalanus icaco, which Simpkins tells me is “a shrub native to South Florida. It is a great all-purpose shrub and grows almost anywhere. With enough sun, the new growth emerges red and gradually changes color through purple and finally to green. It bears a 1 inch black fruit that looks like and tastes like a plum. It is edible, and makes good jelly.” If I could bring one thing back from Vizcaya to remember it by it would be this. I am going to have to go buy one some day to border my future garden.
When we next visit Vizcaya, we will taking a look at the amazing collection of statuary and sculptures that populate the gardens. This one gets to stand watch over my favorite shrub mentioned above. You can see what great character these statues add to the ambiance of the garden.
Britt : )