Before the gardens, there was el Jardin
Recently, members and friends of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables enjoyed a private “peak” inside El Jardin (“The Garden” in Spanish), a historical gem built by Kiehnel & Elliott – prolific architects during the 1920’s. The property, home to Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart since 1961, was built to be enjoyed inside and out.
Aptly named “El Jardin,” it features an open floor plan, indoor courtyards, interior and exterior fountains, and a reflecting pool. The southeast facade facing the bay boasts three elliptical arches with an open loggia on the second floor. Above the loggia, carved on oolitic limestone, is a verse by Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932) that states, “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s Heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” The words are prophetic as one takes in the beauty of the natural landscape.
Built in 1918 along a ridge of oolitic limestone, El Jardin expresses the broad training of its architect, Richard Kiehnel of Kiehnel and Elliott. Kiehnel, in a September 1928 article for Tropical Home and Garden, referred to the house as a “progenitor of the Modern Mediterranean style home.” The landmark house is considered the first real Mediterranean Revival building still remaining in South Florida and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The architects conceived a property harmonious to its natural environment – a concept also prevalent in gardens in Coral Gables and Pinecrest and interwoven with the need to preserve our natural resources and history.
Soon after El Jardin was built, Coral Gables Founder George Merrick envisioned not just one home, but a city of gardens. In 1921, he hired Frank Button, a well-renown landscape architect with the firm of O.C. Simonds. Button played an instrumental role in the design and planning for George Merrick’s City Beautiful-inspired town of Coral Gables. His master plan and design for the Mediterranean-influenced garden city included plans for parkways, canals, gardens and recreational facilities. His planting plans incorporated native plants that he skillfully integrated with tropical and imported specimens, a design concept which he espoused in his 1921 article Suburb Beautiful.
In the 1930’s, the Pinecrest area evolved around one of the first tourist attractions established in the Miami vicinity – Parrot Jungle and Gardens. Parrot Jungle was founded in 1936 by Franz and Louise Scherr. It was built as a winding nature trail dug through the coral rock and hammock land, and the garden is indigenous to the area. All the natural plants were left undisturbed. Today, the Village of Pinecrest continues to preserve this lush land as the site of Pinecrest Gardens.
The Village of Pinecrest, not only benefits from the historic Pinecrest Gardens, but also boasts sprawling ambitious private gardens with diverse themes and foliage. This past March, The Villagers, a volunteer nonprofit organization that raises funds through house and garden tours in support of restoration and preservation of historic sites in the Greater Miami area, offered a garden tour that featured the amazing and varied gardens of South Miami and Pinecrest. It celebrated the many different perspectives on tropical garden architecture and design.