Gardens of Miami

By Mary and Hugh Williamson

The Villagers, a non-profit Miami-based organization that focuses on the preservation of historic structures has published a stunning book entitled “Gardens of Miami”.  It does not disappoint. An impressive “coffee table book”, this tome is not the typical “armchair gardener” offering.  Instead, this work celebrates the South Florida natural habitat, with its lush vegetation.  Nearly infinite textures, shapes, sizes and shades embrace the influence of our native environment, as well as the many species that have come over the years to seem native. The plant environment is portrayed as a collective “historic structure” to be preserved, and certainly follows The Villagers’ mission.

(c)-Steven-Brooke-Studios.-2.2MB.COVER-GARDENS-OF-MIAMIGardens of Miami is much more than it portends and is an effort of grand proportions.  The masterful photography by Steven Brooke highlights daytime venues that radiate with sunlight, and it catches a magical glow in evening shots.  The crisp narrative of Elaine Mills and Julie Petrella Arch succinctly captures the mood of each entry as the examples change character from page to page.

Some gardens appear to be happenstance, growing as if nature were the sole designer.  Others appear planned and formal, while still utilizing plantings that have adapted to the hydrology and geography of our state, and because of that adaptation to our conditions need little care.

This celebratory book includes examples of numerous subtropical treasures….our beloved palms as well as hammocks and mangrove swamps, with beautiful applications for our South Florida lifestyles.  At the same time it encourages the preservation of the habitat of our threatened wildlife.


Art objects, decorative mosaic walls and fences that show the reader some local creativity.

Giving nature her due
Rather than illustrating applied “afterthought” landscape solutions that are dominated by buildings and hardscapes, the many dramatic and beautiful gardens pose man-made additions to the environment incorporated as a minor feature.  They are “tucked into” the luxuriant growth that dominates the thesis.  There is a prominent deference to the majesty of the flora that we are so blessed to have all around us.

Examples of cultivated floral additions appear as well, including classic garden favorites often in containers, and well-tended hedges, but they all seem to give a nod to the overriding theme of local subtropical splendor. They meet the “wilderness” halfway; the best of both.  Most of the color, however, is found with native and adopted flowering plants and trees, shrubs and vines; bougainvillea, orchids, heliconia and anthurium.  But sparkling foliage prevails, with all its drama and diverse textures.


Vizcaya is a study in classic, formal design, Miami “Style”

Building on our heritage
From formal gardens, pool environments, waterfront settings and sculpture gardens, this edition salutes the concepts long ago brought to bear by Charles Deering, James Deering, Marion and David Fairchild, George Merrick and others who recognized that the Miami experience is like no other.  The authors introduce us to notable gardens and botanical centers in and around Miami.  These resources provide visual enjoyment and the opportunity for further study of archaeological and nature preserves, as well as an education on endangered plants and habitats.  It is pointed out that Florida gardening history can continue to inspire us going forward.  The history of ornamental gardening and a review of the principles that it has traditionally employed is eloquently outlined in the book’s introduction, penned by Joanna Lombard.  It is worth reading and rereading.

Mediterranean art and architecture always seem to look right at home in South Florida, due in part to the “common denominator” palms.   Our omnipresent Mediterranean Revival residences and parks with Moorish influences and seemingly age-old “ruins” are exquisitely illustrated within the pages of this volume, but there are other cultures that are shown to be right at home as well. The serene Asian influence is a good example, and one that finds an important place in this book.

Branching out
Pages that feature “old world” and other traditional themes are punctuated by contemporary applications, including a few Bohemian surprises.  There are art objects, decorative mosaic walls and fences that show the reader some local creativity and are departures from the expected.

This book will serve not only to heighten awareness of Miami Gardens with all their variety, but perhaps to inspire the reader to create a unique habitat in their own corner of South Florida.

Gardens of Miami is available at $60

Gardens of Miami