Though Keith Williams's area of expertise may fall outside the home, the landscape designer (and cofounder of Nievera Williams) doesn't see what he does as all that different from the work of an interior decorator. "We create rooms with plants," he says. "You can basically see and feel an entire space by adding landscaping, whether it’s vines, or trees, or columns of something. You can define those spaces and make you feel like there’s a reason to be in that space." In one of Williams's recent projects, a historic 1920s residence in his native Palm Beach—designed by architect Marion Sims Wyeth (who also created Mar-a-Lago)—that concept is on full display. Throughout the residence's grounds, Williams and his team used a variety of vegetation to create a group of living spaces that give the yard the feel of a dreamy secret garden: shrub hallways connect to courtyards, lawns, and secret fountains, tucked away in unassuming corners of the home. Meanwhile, ivy and coconut palms surround the glittering pool of our dreams. Take a virtual walk through this Palm Beach Eden.
"There’s a great entrance on the home, and we created a row of these columnar trees, which makes it feel like an old Mediterranean property in Italy or the south of France," says Williams. The taller plants are Podocarpus, which are bordered with geranium.
"We didn’t want to take away from the house and its architecture," Williams says. "It’s got great brickwork and cool terracotta roof tiles." When the designer uncovered original fountains in a Mediterranean tile, though, he added vines and tall plants around to frame them.
"We didn't want to do anything out of the ordinary, because we wanted to mimic the architecture and the style of the era" when the home was built, says Williams. After he saw archival photos that showed an original pool area with just a few coconut palms, he decided to recreate that feel. "It’s a little contemporary feeling, but we’re using old materials," he explains. "Coral stone, coconut palms. Very simple, but it lets everything else in the garden stand out."
Coral stone pavers are a more organic alternative to limestone or brick. Williams loves them for many reasons: "It gives you a sense of guidance, for the flow of certain areas, and it divides spaces up, so it makes the areas feel bigger," he says. "And it’s soft, has an interesting look to it, and you’re bringing the landscaping into the paving so it’s not so rigid."
Around the corner from the pool, Williams used an array of different plants to make the space feel cozier. "The idea is to create compositions—say a large banana leaf plant and then lower plants—to keep everything clean so you don’t see dirt," he explains. "So it’s a combination of plants and it’s a play on scale. The house has a very tall tower, so we want to bring that down a bit and make it feel intimate and cozy and also unexpected."
Using the boxwood hedge as a border, Williams added in "loose and more tropical things behind it: gingers, heliconias, bananas, podicarpus, begonias, a really cool vine called thunbergia."
Williams raised the ground above the tennis court so it "felt more depressed," offering a more natural view from the pool and loggia.
"There’s a lot of loose planting," Williams says. "We call it organized chaos."
"On the outside, everything is clean, and we let the architecture speak and the landscaping complement it," Williams says of the other side of the house.
The home also boasts two loggias around the pool. Williams planted along pathways to these, to invite the eye in.
These planted corridors add to the garden's intrigue. "We do that with paving and landscaping combined," Williams says. "When you round a corner, you might not expect something. You turn the corner and there’s another room."