THE MASTER KEY
A TROPICAL OASIS AT HOME IN THE FLORIDA KEYS
WRITTEN BYCATRIONA TUDOR ERLER
PHOTOGRAPHY BYBARRY FITZGERALD, STEPHEN DUNN & TAMARA ALVAREZ
When landscape architect Craig Reynolds first saw this residential property in Key Haven, Florida, located in the lower Florida Keys, it was an overgrown mess with plantings that were out of scale to the site and there was no balance or flow. In addition, a large proportion of the half-acre lot was given over to a parking pad.
Homeowners Mark and April Jones brought in Reynolds to transform the jungle into a livable landscape. Mark, who before his retirement had led a peripatetic business life that took him around the world, asked for outdoor dining and a koi pond in a garden he would never want to leave. His wife April’s only request was for a bridge over the pond.
The first thing Reynolds did was rethink the parking space. Instead of leaving it in the heart of the garden, he moved it and the garden fence to the property line. Now the enclosed garden circles the house, allowing visitors to stroll through the spaces, enjoying the various textures and colors provided by the plant combinations, as well as the unveiling of the different garden rooms and settings.
The experience begins at the front entry where visitors can choose to turn right or left to enter the garden. The paths are paved with Oolite limestone and coral stone, both local, indigenous rocks that give the garden its harmonious genius loci or sense of place.
Turn left past the garage onto a curving path surrounded by palms, bromeliads, and other tropicals that leads to the large koi pond and the dining pavilion, which is a palm-thatched structure called a chickee. Meaning “house” in the Mikasuki language spoken by the local Miccosukee tribe, a chickee is a shelter supported by posts with a raised floor, thatched roof, and open sides.
“We hired a Miccosukee tribe crew from the Everglades to put on the sabal palm roof,” says Reynolds. Cantilevered over the pond so that it appears to float, the indigenous structure harmonizes with its setting, and due to the brilliance of the Native American design, is cooler than most Western-designed open-air structures. “The hot air rises and seeps through the thatch, and because the roof edges come down low, it protects the space from both sun and rain,” explains Reynolds.
An Oolite limestone bridge spans the koi pond and leads to the hut, enhancing the effect of crossing into a special, cool space when you enter the pavilion.
The amorphous-shaped pond, which is 35 feet long and 8 to 15 feet wide, is large enough to be a swimming pool. In fact, to ensure its durability, Reynolds commissioned a swimming pool contractor to build it.
Edged with rough-hewn Oolite, the pond looks like a pool found in a jungle clearing. Achieving that natural effect is much harder than most people realize. Reynolds worked hard to make the results look easy, creating exacting drawings for the contractor to follow and selecting plant combinations to clothe the structural workings and please the eye with a wide variety of foliage color and texture.
Continuing the stroll, the path winds beyond the pond until it opens into the swimming pool area. Because the pool was built before Reynolds took over the garden’s design, he worked to assimilate the clean, modern lines of the swimming pool into the more naturalistic look of the rest of the garden by adding a soft surround of palms and layered tropical plants.
In addition to his keen artistic eye (he was a fine artist before training as a landscape architect), Reynolds is deeply knowledgeable about plants. When still a rookie landscape architect, he trained with Raymond Jungles, the award-winning, Miami-based designer who is considered one of the best landscape designers in the country. “He is one of the rare landscape architects who knows a lot about plants,” says Reynolds. “I learned from him.”
In each of his projects, Reynolds’s goal is to integrate the plants and the hardscape to make a seamless, natural whole. He uses the plants to decorate spaces, being mindful of size, color, and texture. He also puts plants to work as screens, creating privacy and blocking sightlines so the garden cannot be seen all at once. Thus small spaces feel bigger, and they take on a delicious sense of mystery; observers are drawn in to discover what’s around the next bend or beyond that clump of plants.
With Reynolds’s masterful design, the Jones’s small garden feels much bigger than it is, and has a variety of living spaces for lounging, swimming, dining, and strolling. Nominated for a 2016 HGTV Ultimate Outdoor Award, this remarkable garden is truly a slice of paradise that the owners never want to leave.
ABOVE FROM LEFT: The pond’s waterfall adds sound and movement to the garden. Lily pads provide shelter for koi. Reynolds “paints” with plants, adding color and texture to the garden design.
Check out these top-five garden tips from designer Craig Reynolds.
Hide edges of property with dense planting along the periphery.
Create a balance of spaces with plants, open areas for dining or sitting, and connecting paths for circulation through the garden.
Be sensitive to scale and proportion with plants, furniture, sculptures, and other features so they are neither too big nor too small for the garden space.
The quality of line is important to draw the eye and set a tone. Diagonals add energy, curves create softness and mystery, and paths set on an axis to the house create stability. Use plant massing to reinforce these lines and to draw the eye.
Use recessed spotlights in key areas to highlight a few of your favorite features.
February 9, 2017