Wednesday, 27 June 2012 14:06

Vizcaya Villa and Gardens

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vizcayaThis Italian renaissance garden is the former villa and estate of James Deering, of the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune. Located on Biscayne Bay in Miami, FL, this early 20th century estate includes an extensive Italian Renaissance gardens, with much of its architecture influenced by Veneto and Tuscan Italy incorporating Baroque elements.

 
 
It was a lazy Sunday morning when we visited the gardens, situated just a few blocks from our residence. Odd how we never thought to tour the estate, despite having lived close by for many years.
 
The tour begins at the north gate, a small round driveway encircles the green space of this Italian-style villa.
 
As we enter the trail, the first thing we notice is an orchidarium just north of the path. Deering had always intended for orchids and bromeliads to grow at the villa, but the original locale was too hot and arid to faciliate epiphytic growth. 
 


This new preserve provides shade and humidity to two rows of hanging epiphytes along the green space, several of the orchid plants are larger enough to touch the floor.
 
 
Varying hues of red, white, and yellow adorn this delicate garden space.
 
 
Across from the orchidarium is the Vizcaya pool. The ceiling here is sculpted of Gesso and painted while wet to result in the fresco seen today. The floors are marboe and the walls and columns adorned with tiny seashells. The bronze guardrails adds a feel of age and depth to the scene. The pool is adjacent to what was once Deering's smoke room and pool hall, which now serves as a giftshop and cafe. 
 
 
Farther east we reach the back of the house, facing eastward towarsd Biscayne bay. An elegantly etched sundial and weathervane rests upon the facade, the weathervane features the seahorse, one of the symbols of Vizcaya.
 
 
Across is a stone barge, designed as a breakwater in the shape of a ship. The barge served as an island party retreat during its haydays, originally adorned with tropical plants, a fountain, and a gazebo. Much of it was lost in hurricane damage.
 
 
In the southern arm is a gazebo once used as a tea house, providing views of the mangrove shore and Key Biscayne. The structure and coloration, including the blue and yellow striped pilings, were inspired by Venice. Unfortunately we did not venture in for a closer look, since a large reptile was guarding the path.
 
 
Large hedge mazes surround the villa to the south, leading into the Secret Garden. Originally Deering intended for orchids to grow in pots built into the walls of this garden space, but the area was too exposed to light.
 
 
Today the garden harbors more sun and arid varieties, such as Hawaiian ti plants and colorful succulents.
 
 
After admiring the Secret Garden courtyard, we moved onto the main Italian gardens south of the villa.
 
 
Many of the marbled structures found in the garden are original to Italian townships and provinces, procured by Mr. Deering and his artistic director during their European art procurement tours. The fountain shown below, for instance, was procured from the town of Sutri, just outside of Rome. 
 
Throughout the main gardens, a dizzying array flora litter the grounds, from the exotic tropical, to the mysterious gravel dweller, to air loving tillandria attached to fallen branches. Can anyone ID the first three?
 
 
In the far corners of the villa, the areas have become somewhat wild and untamed, the overgrowth shadows adding an eerie beauty, contrast to the well manicured scape of the main gardens.
 
 
Hiking to the southern tip, we reach the boat house and dock of the villa. Deering's estate once spanned for miles and miles upon bending canals, here he would embark on short trips to his other island homes and gardens in the area. 
 
On the bottom level of the boat house, a face is carved into the stucco wall. On the upper level, a Venetian canvas is affixed to the ceiling, adding height and dimension.
 
 
Climing one of the side stairs, we reach the terraced courtyard between the boat house and the main gardens and home. A large shaded courtyard surrounded by calming green serves as a calming respite from the rest of the garden.
 
 
Across the courtyard and down a flight of water-cascading stairs lies the villa, in perfect symmetry with the rest of the garden. 
 
From here we proceeded back to the villa for a tour of the mansion, concluding our tour.
 
 
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