Summary List Placement
As a landscape designer, my job is to create the most beautiful setting for whatever outdoor space I’m working with. It could be a huge garden, the area around a pool, a back patio or gazebo, or even just a walkway.
At any given time, I’m working on 30 or so projects, but we’ve never been busier than we are right now.
Most of my work these days is in Miami and Palm Beach. In Miami Beach, we do a lot of work in North Bay Road, which is a neighborhood on the water filled with incredible mansions. We also go to Gables Estates, a beautiful gated community in Coral Gables. In Palm Beach, we’re in Billionaire’s Row.
So many of my clients have moved here from New York and other places since COVID-19 or are at least staying here long term. They’re home all the time and have a new appreciation for where they live. They want homes like resorts, and landscape design is a big part of that.
We’re thrilled for the business even though it’s a hard time in the world. Thanks to the migration, a lot of other businesses in Florida are also getting a boost.
I started my company in 2005.
Since then, I’ve designed the landscape for numerous hotels, including the Four Seasons Surf Club in Miami, as well as museums like the ICA Museum in Miami’s Design District, where I worked on the sculpture garden. I’ve also designed a national park in the Bahamas and homes all over the world.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most famous architects and interior designers like Richard Meier and Enrique Norton. My clients include movie stars, hedge-fund titans, athletes, rock stars, Texas oil money magnates, and self-made billionaires.
Greg Norman was a client, and Charles Schwab just bought the Palm Beach house for $71 million where we just finished the garden.
I’m from Panama and immigrated to the US in 2000 with $400 to my name.
I taught myself to speak English by watching American TV shows like “South Park.”
Becoming a landscape designer was a natural career for me: I studied to be an architect and interior designer in Panama and have loved trees, plants, and flowers ever since I was a kid. Plus, I love the outdoors.
I learned the ropes of the industry by being part of a landscape crew for a design company and took on freelance landscape gigs that grew bigger in scope.
It wasn’t long after that I officially launched my own company. My husband, Tim Johnson, is the CEO, and we have 12 employees.
In the beginning, I would take jobs for as little as $20,000. Now I won’t accept anything for less than $1 million.
I even have projects that cost up to $5 million.
Landscape design isn’t just about prettying up an area. The work is complicated because there are so many technical aspects to it.
I work with engineers to build retaining walls in gardens, which allow them to have multiple levels such as recessed courtyards. We also look at water drainage. If we’re working on coastal projects that involve protected dunes, we have to get permits from the local government.
An average job takes me two years to finish, but has taken as long as five.
The owners of a massive beachfront house we’re working on now in the Hamptons want it to look like an Aman hotel.
I’m going for a Zen aesthetic without a lot of color and no flowers — we’re bringing in dune grasses, sea oaks, and juniper trees.
Another current project is for a couple who live in a Mediterranean mansion in Palm Beach. The wife has a fantasy about living in Provence and wants a garden that makes her feel like she’s there.
I’m using lavender to line the walkways and built a secret garden that has a fountain made with fragments from an ancient fountain in France. It’s surrounded by topiary trees in different shades of green. The main garden is full of kumquat and rosemary trees and also silver buttonwoods, which are native to Florida but evoke Provence.
All told, I’m using at least a 100 different species and several thousand plants and trees.
I have an employee whose sole job is to drive around South Florida and find trees for my projects.
I’m a fan of using towering trees in my gardens. They create a sense of permanence and make a garden feel more stately and bigger than it actually is.
We get them everywhere — schools, private homes, you name it. The tallest tree — a kapok — I ever transported is 90 feet tall and came from central Florida to Miami Beach. It’s now outside the residences at Four Seasons Surf Club.
My most memorable tree anecdote goes back a few years ago when I got into a bidding war over an oak tree with another designer who was working on Michael Jordan’s house. I won and got the tree for $125,000.
As fanatical as I am about trees, the people who hire me are that much more so about what they want.
One client wanted to gift his wife her own rose in a pale pink shade. Tim found a rose hybridizer — a person who creates new rose species — and got it patented for $100,000. Their entire garden at their mansion in Connecticut is filled with thousands of these roses.
Then, we did a project in Miami where we had to design a koi pond for someone who had $1 million worth of koi fish, including one that’s worth $200,000.
The person, who works in the airplane business, wanted to make sure that the fish wouldn’t get eaten by birds, so we had built a 12-foot-deep pond with hidden alcoves. We filled the rest of his lawns with jasmines and gardenias.
Since these long-term projects have me going to their homes all the time, I tend to develop deep relationships with my clients.
One couple flew Tim and me to France on their private jet just before COVID-19 to shop for garden furniture for their Hamptons estate.
We spent a week in Paris, where we stayed at a suite at The Ritz and then went to the South of France for another week at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. We spent all day shopping and would go for fabulous dinners every night with free-flowing champagne and martinis. Since that trip, we’ve become good friends.
Another client we’re close to, a sports team owner, took us to the Super Bowl. We drove to Tampa and had a blast. I will say though that the halftime show was odd.
In fact, I’m constantly with my clients. Tim and I entertain them almost every night, whether we’re in Miami, New York, or anywhere else. During COVID-19, we’re only doing outdoor gatherings.
Our entire life is our business. My job is to be creative and shoot for the stars. Tim’s is to land us safely on the moon.