A Little Provence in Palm Beach

Recipients of 2018 Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award Tim Johnson and Fernando Wong with Lesly S. Smith

It’s that time of year when I seem to be drawn to anything about gardening and green spaces. Maybe it’s a way of grasping at straws before the summer heat and humidity fully arrive and the summer sun scorches my garden’s delicate winter blooms and greenery. Although my garden is tropical and lush, for the most part it’s green. This midwest transplant  craves the riot of color (think 64 box of crayons crayons here) that a northern garden offers. And thus each fall, there is that itch as the weather cools to add flowering plants that I know I have no business planting in South Florida. Alas, a few months of enjoyment is better than none at all.

I was intrigued to see that when the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach presented its 2018 Lesly S. Smith Award last month, it honored a landscape design that purposefully minimizes color and emphasizes form. Gathering inspiration from the gardens of Provence and the design style of Nicole de Vésian, the homeowners sought to create a calm and peaceful retreat with a sculptural emphasis.

Ms. de Vésian, originally a designer at Hermès, became known for her unique garden, La Louve, at her home in southern France, favoring subtle, natural colors and stone texture as a focal point. Her garden terraces, full of soft mounds of plants, seemed to undulate like waves.

The owners of the awarded garden in Midtown Palm Beach tasked Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design to create their garden sanctuary. This could have posed a problem for Wong and colleagues. After all, a Provence garden features distinctive elements including olive and cypress trees as well as aromatics like rosemary and lavender, most of which is not a fan of our tropical climate. But he found a way to make it work, substituting similar plants that he coaxed into the soft shapes desired for the layered design.

According to the Preservation Foundation website, the Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award, named for former mayor Lesly S. Smith, was established in 2011 to “recognize a landscape design that is both in keeping with the character and traditions of Palm Beach, yet also original and forward-thinking.” Fernando Wong’s masterpiece sounds like it achieves that mission in an elegant and understated way.

The inspiration gardens of southern France use indigenous vegetation that maintains its foliage all year. Perhaps it would behoove me to use Provence and Fernando Wong's creation as my inspiration as well. It might save me from the futility of another winter’s spoils.

Photo of colleagues Tim Johnson and Fernando Wong with Lesly S. Smith by Capehart Photography, courtesy Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design

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