In the Garden

By staff March 1, 2006

When John and Linda Lamacraft purchased a Georgian-style home in The Oaks last year, they asked landscape architect Richard Anderson to create an informal English garden to complement it.

For the 1.3 acres of oak-filled property near the bay, Anderson used Florida-friendly plants-flowering herbaceous perennials, such as pentas and salvias-that mimic the colors and textures of a typical informal English garden.

Anderson, a longtime Sarasota landscape architect with many high-profile projects to his credit, says the Lamacraft garden started, as all of his do, with "understanding what each individual client perceives as the most beautiful place in the world.

"My job is to help them achieve their vision by finding out what drives them," says Anderson. "Often they don't know initially which elements affect them, be it the sound of running water, the sight of butterflies, the experience of walking barefoot in the garden or a combination of several features. But when it comes to gardens, the more senses involved the better."

The first step was stripping the site down to its bones, demolishing the reflecting pool, driveway and garden walk, and removing invasive plants and sickly trees. Anderson carefully shaped and trimmed the remaining healthy palms and live oaks, and he uncovered a beautiful iron pergola that had been overwhelmed with wild vines. After 60 days of intense cleaning and the removal of a half-million pounds of debris, the transformation began.

"The Lamacrafts are fond of English gardens, blue flowers and butterfly-friendly plants and wanted an informal landscape," Anderson explains. "In designing a garden, for the overall look to work it's crucial to understand the hierarchy of the site. We focused on organizing the space into a series of distinct garden rooms connected by repeating plant species and composition. In this project, the rooms are well defined by masonry walls. The landscape challenge was to link them in a seamless manner that unites all in theme and style while allowing each to maintain a distinct identity."

A new gray cobblestone driveway lined with bamboo, elkhorn fern, colorful lantana and plumbago guides visitors to the home's limestone front steps and a line of slender pygmy date palms hung with orchids. Compact podocarpus creates a background for soft ferns, flowering tropicals and a variety of palms. For added interest, Anderson included a selection of herbaceous perennials and annuals that are well adapted to the area's subtropical climate yet have an English-garden feel.

"Impatiens, pentas and an assortment of salvias are used throughout the gardens," Anderson explains. "White and blue cat's whiskers, nearly ever-blooming compact growers, do very well in full sun or partial shade and perform beautifully in our Florida climate. Lovely blue indigo spikes are highly attractive to bees and thrive in full sun. Red shrimp plant is truly perennial here. Its abundant red or salmon blooms are conspicuous in light to medium shade, and the soft medium texture works well in many compositions." He also used amaryllis, one of a handful of bulbs that flourish in Sarasota. Anderson chose a cultivar called Red Runner, with red-pink foliage, softer colors than those of the older forms of amaryllis.

To the west of the entry, a newly constructed walkway of Turkish marble leads to the iron gate of a walled courtyard facing the residence's guest wing. Nestled under live oaks and surrounded by bamboo, philodendron and orchids, the enclave's secretive quality and Zenlike tranquility are enhanced by graceful lady palms, holly ferns, Thai plants and dwarf banana trees. Adjacent to the guest garden stands the once-hidden iron pergola, waiting to be draped with the white blossoms of a newly planted alamanda vine.

In the back of the home, the old reflecting pool has given way to a marble terrace and new swimming pool and spa. In the evening, the pink trumpet-like blossoms of brugmansia and the white sprays of night-blooming jasmine fill the air with their heady fragrance. Marble paving leads to a secret garden planted with herbs, vegetables and French lavender.

An adjacent parcel that was acquired and integrated into the garden is planted with citrus trees#151;lemons, tangerines, Murcott oranges and grapefruit-as well as royal palms and a majestic Bismarkia palm.

Providing privacy, a dense hedge of ligustrums borders the east side of the property. Elegant Australian tree ferns and colorful bromeliads contribute yet more diversity.

The garden is rhythmic, cohesive, soothing and sustainable-an English look and feel that's very much rooted in its Florida setting.


Design tips from landscape architect Richard Anderson.

Repetition. Utilize some of the same plants or architectural elements throughout the site to create harmony and rhythm.

Scale. Discover the growth potential of what you're planting. Pick the right plant for the right place.

Hide and reveal. Don't disclose the whole composition in a single glance; let a strategically placed shrub or tree guide the eye. A little mystery is good.

Horticultural awareness. Don't plant beyond your means of care. Ask yourself: How will this be maintained?

Restraint. Maintain a commitment to the design solution, refine the details and know when to stop.

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