Casey Key Landscape Featured in SRQ

The Carl Abbott home we were recently fortunate enough to landscape was featured in the July issue of SRQ magazine. The article, entitled “Seaside Garden” by Abby Weingarten, follows in its entirety.

At the end of Casey Key Road, against a horizon of jet-skiers trailing foam across an aquamarine waterway, Gary and Heidi Sankes’ home blends seamlessly into the Florida backdrop. Thanks to the vision of Sarasota landscape architect Michael A. Gilkey, Jr., a sunken garden in the front and a shelled private beach by the shore now flank the Carl Abbott-designed structure. The spring renovation has transformed unusable pathways and an overgrown mass of foliage into a sustainable green space on the barrier island. “I respect Carl Abbott’s designs, and he likes his yards to be in contrast with his houses,” Gilkey, vice president of the design-build firm Michael A. Gilkey Inc., says of the Sarasota modern architect. “This house is very sharp and angular and the vegetation is very loose—freeform.”
The three-story, 7,000-square-foot white stucco house was built in 1994, and the 16 years of hands-off growth had turned the landscape into a bit of an unkempt jungle. Gary, a contractor from upstate New York, and Heidi, a designer, purchased the home in 2003, and sought out Gilkey and his team to revitalize the exterior. “Michael thinks outside the box,” Gary says. “What he had in mind really fit the house and the environment. He doesn’t do the same thing at every house so it’s unique.”
Gilkey strove to maintain a wild, indigenous vibe on the Sankes’ land while also making it utilitarian, engaging and evoking of emotion. He salvaged some shrubs, kept all of the existing palm trees and added more, and blocked off the previously wide-open view of the neighbors across the street. Heidi was adamant about reusing the natural findings on the property, so Gilkey pulled back the vegetation and unearthed hidden stones and boulders to arrange in semicircles and use as sculpture mounts. “When I first started the project, the landscape had become one monochromatic piece and all it did was juxtapose the house, so it just wasn’t inviting anymore,” Gilkey says. “I wanted to add focus to the house and the garden.”
Bringing the garden entry to the first terrace, Gilkey created a drop-down effect and selected white decorative concrete pavers (with mother of pearl and blue glass inlays) to replace the old flagstone on the path. He staggered the steppingstones, which Concrete Countertops Etc. had manufactured, in a keyboard pattern with sleek black rocks for accents. Gilkey introduced a green-and-fuchsia bromeliad to the garden that will mature over 20 years to a six-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall marvel, and complemented it with smaller versions of itself throughout. Because Gary and Heidi are art collectors, Gilkey incorporated a few of their pieces into the layout, including some wrought iron and colored glass sculptures of frogs and chameleons that illuminate at night. Now, the Sankes’ oversized lizard and amphibian are camouflaged in Gilkey’s rainforest-like setting. The aroma of rosemary catches the breeze along the garden passage, one side of which is lined with recycled flagstone, and a butterfly garden with milkweed attracts fluttering black-and-orange monarchs.
“It’s a kind of a dressed-up overgrown landscape now,” Gilkey says. “It pays homage to Carl Abbott’s vision but freshens it up. There’s a nice stark contrast of beautiful lush vegetation and a crisp white house.” While the poolside garden wraps around the front and left side of the home, a built-in beach now takes advantage of the crystal blue waterfront to the rear. Gilkey had to work around a tall, county-mandated seawall, which prevented the Sankes from tiptoeing out into the surf in their backyard.The shoreline had also eroded, and the 20 feet of beach that Casey Key once boasted was significantly reduced. The Sankes could now walk down a case of wooden stairs to reach the ocean but there wasn’t even enough room for a personal setup of towels and umbrellas. Gilkey’s solution: bring the beach directly to them. He hauled in crushed shells, white sand, sea grass and Carissa plants to forge a makeshift dune outside of the Sankes’ sliding glass doors and guesthouse. Gary can now play golf on his backyard putting green while Heidi relaxes on a cabana chair and watches her grandson construct sandcastles. It’s a private retreat that picks up the echo of crashing waves and a panoramic view of the sunset.