Garden Guru Mario Nievera

The gardens of landscape architect Mario Nievera transport us to another world in his gorgeous new coffee table book, Forever Green (2012 Pointed Leaf Press), whether they belong to a historic, lush Palm Beach estate, shingled Cape Cod beachfront cottage or windy Manhattan rooftop.

Growing up in Glencoe, Illinois, Mario rode his bike hunting for roads marked “private, residents only” so he could see the amazing properties at the end, complete with walled courtyards, rose gardens and allées of apple trees. Now he and business partner Keith Williams create those features for carriage-trade clients across the globe, including the Caribbean and Shanghai. As summer approaches, we start contemplating the promise of our own gardens, and I spoke to Mario about his luxe, orderly vision.

H&H: You were influenced by The Preppy Handbook, Love Story, Frank Lloyd Wright, Green Acres, and Sunset Boulevard. How does this all come into play when you design a garden space?

Mario Nievera: There’s always some kind of romance, intrigue, fun and drama in our landscapes. In books, TV shows or movies, there’s a feeling of progression and a finale. Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture was very much a part of the land. We always try to help architects ground their magnificent structures to the earth.

H&H: You and Keith Williams have collaborated on some very impressive vacation homes. What’s the most common request among your high-end clientele for their gardens?

MN: “Tailored” and “balanced” are the big asks. That doesn’t mean formal or uptight, it’s just that many of our clients are quite cerebral, so some sort of order is really important — even if the garden is deliberately designed as a jungle.

H&H: The bulk of your work is based in Florida, but you have clients with homes in the northeast too: that’s a big difference in climate, soil and plants. Which region do you prefer to landscape and why?

MN: It’s a toss up! When it’s snowing in the northeast, I’m very happy to be in Florida. Our goal is to create landscapes that are life-changing for our clients — we like to think we can create memories wherever they live.

H&H: What’s a good rule of thumb when choosing plants for blustery northern rooftops?

MN: Pretend you’re on a mountaintop: there are dry winds, lots of sun, freezing temperatures and not a lot of soil at your feet. If you find a plant that can survive those conditions, you can have it on a rooftop.

H&H: What big trends are you seeing in garden design?

MN: Planters made from a fusion of materials [the faux bois planters to the left are Mario’s design]; fire pits and outdoor fireplaces; great looking outdoor kitchens and lots of bar and counter-height seating.

H&H: If you don’t have a huge, lovely estate, how do you create a feeling of grandeur in a garden?

MN: Scale! A magnificent urn on a pedestal situated outside a balcony and framed by square planters with evergreen topiaries will create much needed and unexpected drama in a drab view.

H&H: What’s your favourite plant?

MN: Today I’m very happy with different varieties of southern magnolia (magnolia grandiflolia). I love stewartia for its bark and summer blooms, and I’m all about Phoenix robelinis (common Pygmy date).

See more enviable outdoor spaces in our Inspiring Backyards photo gallery.

Photo credits:
1-9. Forever Green by Mario Nievera, available through, photography by Michael Stavaridis

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