Sofias Country Gardens
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
In the outskirts of Miami, USA, hidden from view by a native subtropical forrest, lies a gem of a garden next to a beautiful early 20th Century house. Villa Vizcaya was built for businessman James Deering (1859 - 1925) as his winter residence, and with the perfect climate of Miami to enjoy outdoor life he commissioned a gorgeous garden to match his house. For many years the artistic director for the Villa Vizcaya Paul Chalfin (1874 - 1959) took credit for designing the gardens, but in actual fact it was the landscape architect Diego Suarez (1888 - 1974) who had designed it. Suarez also oversaw the project until 1917 when he had such a disagreement with Chalfin that he left the project.
The gardens are inspired by European 17th and 18th Century gardens with a series of rooms partitioned by hedges and stone walls. Although the garden is quite formal each room has its own atmosphere, with many water features placed between an elegant mix of native shrubs, orchids and old trees as well as more unusual plants including Giant elephant ear (Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’) and Peach Palm (Bactris mexicana). Deering had a great love of orchids, and still to this day there is a collection of over 2000 orchid plants at the gardens, some of which are rare native species. In front of the house lies the formal gardens with fountains and pools, clipped low hedging and trees lined to lead the eye towards the mound in the far part of the gardens.
The Garden Mound is an artificially built hill that blocks the view of the natural jungle from the house, so that the gardens would not just disappear into the surrounding landscapes. On top of the mound are four Southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana) that came from another of Deerings properties, and as they were already large when they were transplanted one hundred years ago today that are a sight to behold!
Behind the mound a few acres of untouched mangrove swamps and native forests spread out, sheltering the gardens from wind and salt from the seas. These used to cover much of the coastline, but now very little is left as most of it has been erased to build houses. Here eight national champion trees (the largest of their kind in the USA) reside together with endangered species such as Redberry Stopper (Eugenia confusa), Brittle Maidenhair Fren (Adiantum tenerum) and Bitterbush (Picramnia pentandra). The forests are managed to perserve species and seeds collected to help perpetuate these rare plants.
One of the most distinct features of Vizcaya gardens is the plentiful use of old and weathered sculptures, fountains, urns and architectural structures. Deering and Chafing wanted the gardens to have an aged and mature look from the beginning, and the use of porous choral stone achieved this effect in little time. Now, one hundred yeas later, the gardens have even more of a beautiful patina and it is often used as the backdrop to fashion and wedding photography.
Waterlilies were another of Deerings favourite plants, and still today there are some beautiful ones lingering in the pools. Dragonflies and damselflies abound, and the rustle of lizards can be heard amongst the planting. In the middle of the day the heat is quite overbearing, so if you plan to visit I recommend going early morning to get the most enjoyable experience. The house is now a museum and also well worth a visit.