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Building at the Beach: Landscape Design with Jennifer Waldrop, Vie Plant & Garden Design

By Karen Tyrrell

Oh, to have a vision and a green thumb. Though my in-laws can spend hours toiling away in the yard, that knack for gardening and lawn maintenance has skipped this generation in our family.

In our own home building project, we are now at the point where we must decide on the driveway shape, materials and landscaping that best complement the home while adhering to the guidelines for the area. In Old Ponte Vedra, impermeable structures can only cover 60% of the lot, so we must have grass or another permeable element to make up the other 40%.  Since only a portion of our driveway can be concrete, cobblestone, brick, or some other solid surface, we must consider other products like permeable pavers or pete rock/gravel.

To address our inability to really visualize a concept, our decorator Kelly Cook with Orangerie Home “elevated” our exterior and interior plans in CAD (computer-aided design). We will have her do the same with the driveway and thus we can actually “see” how each material will look next to the house. Not all landscapers or designers will have the ability to offer a CAD elevation and, frankly, many people don’t need it.  And, of course, it comes at an expense but it is well worth the money to avoid making a mistake in this area of the process.

Thankfully, the Jacksonville area boasts landscape visionaries such as VIE Plant & Garden Design to hold our hand, do the planning and all the heavy lifting for those of us who need it! With the creative talent of Jennifer Waldrop at the helm, VIE Plant & Garden Design has brought color and beauty to numerous residences across town. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

How did you get into landscape design?  I have always had a love for plants and flowers, and loved putting together pots. I started out creating pots, then clients would ask me to redesign flower beds, and over time the love for flowers has turned into a full fledge career…I now focus the majority of my time on design of new construction homes and my team behind me fills in the blanks!

What is the most challenging aspect of landscape design in Ponte Vedra or North Florida? Great question! We have what we call a micro climate in North Florida, which means we can experience freezing temperatures, high winds, heat, heavy rainfall, humidity the whole meteorological gamete. This is what makes our area tricky when it comes to plants, trees and palms…especially out at the beach. It can be difficult to find the perfect plant to thrive. I was asked a couple weeks ago by an oceanfront client building a new home if a particular plant would “just do ok or thrive”? I had to explain to him nothing would really thrive in this environment especially on the ocean…our nor’easters can be brutal, the salt kicked up by the wind can wreak havoc on normal, healthy plant material. Then our winters can be very warm as they have in the past few years, or cold as this winter is seeming to be…we can tolerate minimal tropical type plants and flowers but any temperatures that drop below 35 and if any frost appears a lot of plants can die from one night of the cold.

Do certain neighborhoods have rules you must follow?  OH YES! Some more than others! Architectural Review Boards (ARB) are present in most of our neighborhoods at the beach…and they have strict guidelines you must adhere to. We work very closely with them and keep up with the changing bylaws and requirements of each board.

What inspires your design when you first see a home – the home itself? The neighborhood? The lot?  Absolutely the home itself! Many new construction homes are trending with the modern vibe…and you certainly do not want a traditional boxwood garden with a modern home…each home is architecturally designed with a certain style both aesthetically on the outside to the interior design of the inside. I always look at what we do as being the “exterior designer”, because what and how a home is designed on the outside is just as important as how it is designed on the inside and it should all work together with the same architectural style of the home.

What is your favorite plant?  That is a tough question, I have several I like to use in my pallet, but if you were to ask my team…I think they would say Podocarpus (Japanese Yew). I use it in almost every design…it works for all styles of design, it can be a great hedge plant, it makes a great “green wall”, it stays green year-round, you can let it grow tall, keep it short, let grow into a tree form…it is probably my most used plant in my box of tricks!

What is the biggest mistake people make trying to care for their own lawn here in Florida?  Undeniably, fertilization. More and more we are using Bermuda for sod and veering away from St. Augustine. Although, Bermuda is beautiful it needs to be fed and treated with the right formulation. I have very rarely run across many yards that are treated by homeowners that look as they should. I am generally called in when it is too late and they don’t know what happened. My first question is who treats the yard, if the answer is them that is generally the problem. Bermuda is very resilient and can be brought back from looking as though it is dead with the right treatment. I recommend MaxLawn to all my clients for fertilization…they have been the most knowledgeable and have kept my properties in tip top shape for years.

Were you inspired by Edward Scissorhands? Although I love the movie, no. I think certain plants are made for growing in natural form and not be trimmed to perfection every week. I do love a tight podocarpus hedge though!

Do you incorporate pots and urns into your designs?  YES! Yes! And yes!! What is a landscape design without big, beautiful pots full of color!! That is what my team and I love doing! There is no better time of year than early to mid-spring when flowers start coming out and we can go to the nurseries and load up trucks and trailers full of flowers to do our clients pots!! In all my designs I use pots, and within the design we incorporate irrigation to be hidden into the pots so that they are not forgotten and dead in a week! Pro tip…have your irrigation company have a separate zone for all pots…this way in the heat of the summer you can set that one zone to come on a time or two a day to keep the delicate flowers from frying in our summer heat.

What are the best ways to naturally form a hedge for privacy and not annoy a neighbor?  Keep your hedge at a maintainable height. Maintenance companies do not maintain hedges that are above certain heights…and when they get too high, they get unmaintainable and encroach upon neighbors’ properties…when a neighbor has to have their maintenance company maintain a hedge that has grown out of control it is an annoyance for all.

Why is bougainvillea so tricky to grow in North FL or is that just me? Oh no, it is not just you. Bougainvillea is gorgeous! And everyone sees how they grow over garages in Palm Beach with the bright fuchsia blooms bursting! Well, we can do that to an extent here in Jacksonville, but you have to find the right place for them. They do not like wind, they do not like cold and they don’t like a lot water…and as I mentioned before we get wind, we can get cold and we have very rainy days…which can make a bougainvillea not the Palm Beach hopeful!

What was the most challenging job or endeavor you have encountered?  I love a challenge, and I love when I get a project that makes me think outside of my box, so this is a good question! In the last 2 years we have been working on a project on the river near Fruit Cove called Marywood Retreat Center. It is a fabulous place, tons of acreage that sits on the gorgeous St. Johns River…it recently went through a major renovation and we were brought in to design the landscape around the property. It was one of the larger projects that my team has completed, and one that I am very proud of.

Have you had customers request anything totally out of the ordinary?  All the time! I always try and make the clients wishes work into the design no matter how out of the ordinary it may be. I also let the client know if something is just too far out there to make sense.

If you could give your readers one piece of advice that would help them really improve their curb appeal, what would it be?  You don’t have to have an elaborate landscape design and fancy palm trees for curb appeal…keeping your hedges trimmed, adding small areas of seasonal color, and pots! Pots make such a difference!

What services does your Landscaping company provide? VIE Plant & Garden Design is a full service landscape design firm…we offer full design, installation, and maintenance services.

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One Response to “Building at the Beach: Landscape Design with Jennifer Waldrop, Vie Plant & Garden Design”

  • Great tip about adding more fertilizer when you don’t have good growth. My lawn needs to be revived. I’ll have to consider getting a landscaper with good reviews to help out.

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