Miami's Most Beautiful Gardens

Vizcaya // Photo by Brent Ozar via Flickr

Tim Richardson, The Daily Telegraph, January 15, 2015 

Tim Richardson hobnobs with the rich and famous Miami's Tropical Botanic Gardens, before escaping to an improbably green car park

Who wouldn’t accept an invitation to balmy (and slightly barmy) Miami at this grey time of year? And so it was that I found myself mooching along South Beach in the improbable winter sunshine, surrounded by swimsuited beach-goers.

The occasion was the gloriously incongruous ’Art Basel Miami’ show, the kooky Florida offshoot of a buttoned-up Swiss art show. I was there to ’moderate’ (as the Americans say) a panel discussion at the city’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, which is currently hosting an art event on the ’fringe’ of the main event: an ambitious outdoor installation of glass-artist Dale Chihuly’s writhing, multi-coloured artworks, along similar lines to the one he created for Kew a few years ago.

I think I was moderate enough in the panel discussion, but the real highlight for me was the evening before, when Chihuly hosted a lavish outdoor party in the gardens.

This was the closest to a fête champêtre I have ever experienced. It not only provided the chance to drive about in little electric cars to see Chihuly’s astonishingly colourful and dramatic glass pieces lit up in the context of exciting tropical plantlife, but was a decidedly glamorous affair, with a red carpet and press photographers at the entrance.

The Fairchild is one of those gardens which has alligators in it, but alas they did not make an unscheduled appearance at this juncture. In fact I bashfully sneaked around the back of the paparazzi, though I did later find that I had chatted to Martina Navratilova without knowing who she was.

I was intrigued to see whether the work on display at Art Basel Miami would be as fixated on ecological themes as the work at the last Venice Biennale art show, in 2013, where every other national pavilion seemed to feature dead or dying trees or dismembered parts of them (though not Jeremy Deller’s British Pavilion, which contained cups of tea and digestive biscuits). There was certainly a lot of ’eco’ about in Miami, but not quite on the scale as at Venice. The most beautiful thing I saw was a sinuous piece of sculpted natural wood exhibited by the Beijing Commune Gallery, though David Hockney’s marvellous ’spring’ iPad paintings of the Yorkshire landscape made one proud.

Aside from the Fairchild, Miami’s other must-see garden is Vizcaya, a fabulous confection of a garden in the suburb of Coconut Grove. It was made in the 1920s in imitation of a Venetian palazzo by the heir to a fortune made in agricultural machinery. But having ’been there and done that’ before, I headed out to the place everyone was talking about: the new Pérez Art Museum, which opened in 2013.

’The Pérez ’ turns out to be a hurricane-proof building designed by Herzog and de Meuron, creators of Tate Modern, resembling a gigantic version of a mid-century Californian beach-house, with a slatted wooden roof extending to create shaded terraces all the way round.

From a horticultural perspective, what is fascinating are the massive hanging planters created by Patrick Blanc, the Frenchman who pioneered and remains the doyen of the ’living-wall’ phenomenon. Here, he has for the first time branched out into three-dimensional ’gardens’ which hang down like stalactites on two sides of the building, dripping down onto more conventionally gardened areas below.

As is always the way, the architects have garnered all the attention and plaudits, but the garden element is far more original. When the high winds and storms do come (and they will) all of this plantlife will be ripped out; but the museum is sanguine and says they will simply replant it all again.

Even the underground car park at the museum has a strong horticultural theme. It has been designed to be permeable to wind, light and water, and is an improbably pleasant space to be in.

Perhaps it was to do with some obscure English gene related to the urge to have picnics in laybys, but I had a strong desire to linger in this calm automotive space. But the aeroplane home to a chilly London awaited.


This article was written by Tim Richardson from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.