In The Garden

By staff February 1, 2006

A contemporary Casey Key garden that is seamlessly in tune with the strong geometric forms of the modernist house it surrounds recently earned landscape architect David Young an Award of Merit (the only one in the residential category) from the Florida Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Young says the minimalist garden, in which wonderfully spare and sculptural coconut palms and bamboo are carefully placed in geometric groupings that echo the Guy Peterson-designed residence's architecture, "celebrates the balance between the built and natural environment."

"Landscape architecture is focused on the continuum of natural systems and the human spirit," Young explains. His firm's aim is to create "synergy between the architectural vocabulary and interior spatial elements" and the site itself.

In the Casey Key garden Young's skills and artistry come across as controlled and careful, without denying the full flow of sensory pleasure. The simple beauty of the design provokes an embracing sense of calm and soothing purity. Young's use of limited materials and patterns create an ever-changing environment that surprises and delights. As simple as it is, the garden is a constant, stimulating sensory feast.

Smooth concrete pavers that echo the surface of the privacy wall guide the way to the front door. To the left is a triangular reflecting pool that provides a dimension of mystery. Water streams from a simple stone basin into the little pool with musical whispers. Mexican beach pebbles line the entry walkway, their color and texture complementing the reflecting pool. The stones feel almost liquid in their polished shine.

A continuous sightline from the fountain straight through the home guides the eye effortlessly to the Gulf of Mexico, further meshing home and land. Steppingstones create a passage from the cantilevered entry walkway to a garden space on the other side, where the tiny glossy leaves of creeping fig hug the ground like a green carpet, providing a soft counterpoint to the concrete. To the right of the entry, bamboo creates an organic sculpture, stressing the vital role of natural elements as art in the garden. Weathered to just the right shade of gray and flecked with white dots as if splattered by nature's paintbrush, each stalk is thoughtfully placed to exploit light and shadow. A mix of textures, hues of equal value, form, line and scale unite in Young's inspired arrangement.

Facing the entrance of the walled garden, a rectangular limestone-gravel yard showcases a display of curvy Malayan coconut palms purposely planted in alternating directions to create movement. "We opted for this type of coconut palm because their slender scale is best suited for that space," says Young. "For the south-facing side yard, the more muscular Maypan coconut palms were perfectly appropriate. In fact, their girth and large fronds provide more protection from the sun and, together with a natural hedge of silver buttonwood, more privacy from the neighboring property." Young also relocated existing sabal palms along the front of the garden.

To the west of the gravel yard, 15 oversized weathered urns strategically placed on a rectangular plaza create another visual sensation. Masses of feathery purple-gray muhly grass and clusters of papyrus border the planting areas and contribute to the xeriscape quality. "The papyrus thrives equally well in sand, water or mud," Young explains.

On the Gulf side, Young replaced existing invasive exotics with new plantings of sea oats, spartina and muhly grasses to define the landscape and help lessen beach erosion. A hammock sways between two sabal palms, celebrating the serenity of the oceanfront location.

Everything Young selected for the garden complements the central architectural scheme. By using elements of equal visual attraction to express a specific theme, he crafted a harmonious environment that shines by its very simplicity.


  • Know the area's climate, microclimate, wind, sun, salt spray, soil conditions and water table. These elements will influence the plant palette you choose.

  • Make sure the plant and hardscape materials complement the architecture. Native or regional-style materials are preferable.

  • Develop a list of plants you like. This will make it easier to generate a landscape design.

  • Think of designing your landscape like dressing yourself. Pair complementary textures, patterns and color.

  • Consider your tolerance for maintenance, and whether you'll be hiring someone to do it for you.

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