Garden of Love

By Ilene Denton Photography by J.B. McCourtney October 1, 2009

asset_upload_file981_28870.jpgIt was a test of a budding relationship: transforming a half-acre of unwanted Sarasota lawn into tropical gardens—and restoring the 1920s-era cottage attached to it—while living on the other coast.  

But for Joy and Jim Rogers, who started the project in 2004 while living in Coconut Grove, it was a labor of love. For nine months, Joy commuted back and forth every week to meet with the design and construction team while Jim tended to his commercial real estate business back in Miami. In 2005 they got married and moved to Sarasota lock, stock and rain barrels to spend another year completing their museum-area home.

Along the way, they imagined out loud together what their perfect new garden would be. The final vision, Joy says, combined their favorite garden features from Miami with inspiration from exotic places they had visited.

“We wanted it to be a garden where we could feel at home,” she says, “a private refuge as well as an inviting spot for friends to get together. A garden that revealed itself a little at a time with magical features on every turn—epiphytes, staghorn ferns, naturalized orchids in the old oak canopy and mature palms—and looked like it belonged and had always been there.”

With sweat and imagination, the Rogers got exactly what they dreamed of, from the frangipani and royal palms that flank the front entrance of their stunningly restored 83-year-old clapboard cottage to the riot of tropical foliage among the back yard’s newly created winding paths. Now the couple often gathers friends on the spacious back yard terrace for alfresco suppers, where they soak in the peaceful solitude of the garden at twilight.

A longtime active member of Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables (she won its famed International Mango Festival cook-off three years in a row in the condiments, appetizers and entrées categories), Joy was originally the avid gardener and Jim was the appreciator.

When Jim agreed to load up a 28-foot rental truck (which they nicknamed the Fairchild Mobile Express) with unusual bromeliads, orchids and eight- and nine-foot palms from her Coconut Grove garden and carted them across the Everglades to their new home, says Joy, “That’s when I knew for sure I was going to marry this guy.”

The process of landscaping the front and back yards took more than two years. They planted 13 species of palms, seven varieties of crotons, 12 different bromeliads and five fruit trees. They put some of the orchids and bromeliads in trees and strategically placed others around the yard. Jim did a lot of the heavy lifting, hoisting the big staghorns into the oak trees, for example.

Joy spends five or six hours each week in the garden, planting, pruning, plucking flowers for an arrangement that she’ll use to accent her newly completed kitchen. “It fulfills me,” she says. “It’s gratifying to nurture Mother Nature, and it gives you so much more in return—serenity, and a bridge to relate to the planet.”  z

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