For readers unfamiliar with the Palm Beach area, the landmarked John Volk estate is located close to town along Lake Worth. The owners reached out to Fernando Wong and his team to refresh and refine the historic property’s landscape.
Fernando looked at the project as “part restoration and part reimagined” saying, “Some of the lines of the old garden still exist, but in terms of plant material everything, with the exception of the historic kapok tree, is new.”
For more information on John Volk, visit the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach website.
Fernando followed the cues from the architecture. “For me, channeling Volk’s vision was relatively easy because he was a classically trained architect like me,” he says. “Given my studies, training, and passion for classical architecture, we have a very similar aesthetic.” The result is an English manor-style garden set against the Adam-style estate.
Planting A Picture
“Gardens such as these are like investing in a piece of art,” says Fernando. Each step of the process is crucial in painting a picture for the homeowner, so they feel comfortable making decisions.
For the clients it was all about the lake views and the beauty of the kapok tree; the tree is more than 100 years old and has a 150-foot canopy spread.
Fernando designed the garden around the main characters—the house and the kapok. Based on these two things, the center axis Volk originally created becomes obvious both in the garden and the estate: every line and every tree leads your eye to the center of the property and highlights the lake.
With only 18 months to complete the project, which Fernando estimates would typically take two or three years, there was a lot of work to get done in a short period of time, and many challenges—including with gas, electrical, and plumbing—needed to be addressed below ground before Fernando could get started above.
As many Peachy readers can attest, there is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden. But even given the scope of this garden, Fernando wouldn’t describe it as high maintenance, saying, “It’s planted with things that are meant to look beautiful but also last. It’s like gardens that we completed 15 years ago, and nothing has been replaced; it just grows and gets more beautiful.”
Also consider that while highly manicured, the garden is mostly straight lines. By honoring the center axis of the entire property that goes from east to west, maintaining the garden becomes somewhat formulaic.
The plant palette includes Cuban laurel, Green Island ficus, podocarpus, jasmine minima, cotoneaster, apostle iris, white hibiscus, white oleander, white angel trumpet, creeping fig, bougainvillea, and diamond zoysia.
Another element impacting the design and maintenance is the Florida weather. In the summer season especially there can be torrential downpours, and there are rules about retaining two inches of water on your property over a certain period of time.
Fernando’s team designed an incredibly elaborate drainage system to manage water. The east garden, for example, is sunken and there are steps down into the ground. A proper drainage system was required for the garden to thrive, because during hurricane season or the summer months, it would otherwise completely flood.
The perimeter was tropical and completely different from other areas of the garden. Fernando says, “The perimeter was done previously with palms, so it looked super-tropical and not at all manicured.”
But its tropical look was more out of necessity. When John Volk built the estate there was no irrigation, and the idea of having incredible formal gardens was something people simply thought could not be attained.
Using Italian Renaissance principles—meaning that everything closer to the house is more formal—and then guiding the eye as you get further from the house and everything becomes less formal, Fernando “created the illusion of more space and more property. This required designing with trees from the surrounding properties in mind, so that visually, they read as if they are part of the estate.”
Fernando and his team knew they wanted to upgrade the gravel driveway. To make it more polished and refined, they used more traditional stepping stones. They also removed some of the stone paths to make walkways throughout the lawn which contributes to the feel of an English manor.
Fernando kept the silhouette of the fountain but essentially had to rebuild the structure. The pool is one of his favorite areas of the project. The chaise lounges that face the pool and kapok provide the best vantage point of the entire property. “It’s also a lovely place to be early in the morning, to see the early morning light reflect off the water. With the dew shimmering off the grass and before the rest of the world wakes up, it’s truly a magical place to be,” explains Fernando.
About the Designer
Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, Inc. is an award-winning boutique firm that takes a limited number of select projects each year.
Fernando Wong and Tim Johnson started the company in 2005 with headquarters in Miami Beach. Since that time, they have added offices in Palm Beach and Southampton and have completed commercial and residential projects across the country and around the world.
You can also catch Fernando and his fellow judges Martha Stewart and Chris Lambton on Clipped, a new topiary competition series hosted by actor Michael Urie on Discovery+.