Hawaiian Garden Casey Key Style

Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Sunday, November 23, 2008)

A New York couple who built a home and enjoyed a tropical lifestyle at Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s “Big Island” during the 1980s, bought a piece of gulf-to-bay property at the north end of Casey Key four years ago for their permanent year-round residence.

Although they have lived in Las Vegas and towns in the South, they picked Casey Key after a thorough, year-long exploration of Florida cities for a community that would meet their needs for a relaxed, beach-side lifestyle, but still give them easy access to a wealth of cultural and social activities in a nearby vibrant small city.

casey_key_paperOnce they selected Casey Key, they called in an architect to design a Mediterranean revival, two-story home that would maximize water views, and they commissioned landscape architect Michael Gilkey Jr. to provide the design and installation of hardscape and plant material. Gilkey’s mandate was to give them the lush, tropical and colorful gardens they so loved in Hawaii.

“Deciding on the plants didn’t present that much of a problem,” said Gilkey, “because given the wind conditions on Casey Key, which often reach 60 miles an hour, and the need for salt-tolerant plants, I knew I’d select a lot of hardy Florida native specimens. And I knew I’d design the installation so my clients would have a year-round bloom cycle; something would be colorful in some part of the yard all year long and that includes various flowering trees.

Gilkey said his major challenges were the site and what had to be on it. “The lot is narrow; the house is so large that it extends almost to the property line on both sides; and we had to conceal the septic drainfield in the front yard,” he said. “Plus, we wanted a gorgeous approach to the front door, so we modified the architect’s original design in favor of a wide paver circle driveway with a motor court off to the side. It’s a soft, gracious look that complements the front entrance with its two bronze foo dogs and wall-mounted classical urns filled with ferns.”

The charming green security gates are shaped like banana leaves bending in the breeze. The privacy walls at the sides of the property have holes cut in them to accommodate old oaks that were already on the site. “The side-loaded garage is narrow, and, to maximize the space, we opted not to have a high hedge for privacy,” said the landscape architect. “Instead we grew creeping fig on the wall, which gives us that solid green foliage look without stealing any space needed for vehicles to maneuver.

“Most of the decisions I made had to do with scale and working around things that needed to stay, such as the drainfield and the trees,” said Gilkey. “The other consideration was that we not obstruct any views to the bay and boat dock at the back of the house or to the Gulf of Mexico, which is across the narrow road and provides wonderful vistas from the front of the home.”

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The Floratam St. Augustine back yard, which slopes down to the mangrove-fringed bay, has its gardens around the perimeter of the yard so as not to block views from the pool pavilion, from the many wrought-iron balconies, or from the inside of the home. Gilkey used Bermuda turf in the back yard and brought in about 80 kinds of palms, including coconut, foxtail, fishtail, Bismarck and Chinese fan, to intensify the tropical look and introduce a variety of shades of green, as well as sculptural shapes to the scheme.

Other trees in the landscape were selected for their shows of color, and include coral tree, frangipani (also called plumeria, the flower from which leis are made), royal Poinciana, yellow cassia, orange geiger, angel’s trumpet, crape myrtle, tabebuia and lakeview jasmine, besides several citrus trees. Orchids are randomly positioned in the branches of many of the trees for spots of color that recall Hawaiian days for the homeowners.

To further reinforce the Hawaiian style, Gilkey brought in variegated ginger, Hawaiian ti, orange bird of paradise, hibiscus, bougainvillea, confederate jasmine, crinum lily, ixora, dune sunflower, allamanda, blue plumbago, society garlic, jatropha, and heliconias, all of which are at home in a Casey Key environment.

Because Gilkey was able to save the eight large oaks on the property, the garden rooms look established and as though they have evolved over time.

This past fall, Gilkey won a state award for the Casey Key landscaping project in the category of Residential New Construction. Judges for the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) praised Gilkey for successfully designing hardscape and landscape in unison to embrace the architecture, the site and the client’s tropical desires.

The homeowners couldn’t have said it better themselves. “What I like best about this property is coming home to it,” said the husband. “When I drive through the gates, there is such a sense of peace and tranquility. My wife and I love the color, the plants, the views. And, yes, it does remind us of Hawaii.”