Feature: Garden Delights
"That garden is like his child," says JR Ridinger of the parterre on the grounds of his Miami Beach estate, and of the man who planted, nurtured, and sculpted it. When Ridinger and his wife, Loren, first viewed their house, Casa de Sueños, they were enchanted by the garden, which, they learned, had been designed and maintained by Stanley Matz of the local landscaping firm Majestic Gardens.
Classical sculptures and keystone coral adorn the formal gardens and the new poolhouse of the Ridingers’ 1930s estate overlooking Biscayne Bay. (Click images to enlarge)
Matz’s connection with the garden is truly personal. From the age of 22 to 29, he lived at Casa de Sueños, which his parents had purchased in 1993. The designer had attended film school at the University of Miami, where, by peering through a camera lens, he learned to compose and frame views. Matz’s avocation, as well as that of his mother, was gardening, and his film training came in handy when working on the grounds of his home and, later, when he began designing landscapes professionally.
The parterre—an ornamental garden with paths between the beds—was little more than a miniature citrus grove when the Matzes acquired Casa de Sueños, or House of Dreams. Recognizing the parterre’s potential, young Stanley perused books on garden design. "My eye is fast," he says, noting that he is completely self-taught as a designer. Italian and French formal gardens intrigued him, so he set about creating a blend of those styles that employed only a handful of plant species: Eugenia myrtifolia "Globulus" compacta (a low-growing myrtle), Podocarpus macrophyllus "Maki" (a yew abundant in Florida), Ilex vomitoria "Stokes Dwarf" (commonly called Stokes Dwarf yaupon holly), and other ilex varieties.
"It took five years of trimming to get those hedges to look like that," recalls Matz, who worked eight hours every Saturday to sculpt the swirl, crisscross, globe, and cone shapes. He surrounded the parterre, which contains a central fountain, with a grand ficus hedge. And he defined all of the garden’s archways, windows, and doorways with Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides). His father helped select stones for the walkways.
Landscape designer Stanley Matz extended the parterre to link the main house to two newly acquired lots. (Click image to enlarge)
In the late 1990s, the Matzes placed Casa de Sueños, a Mediterranean Revival–style mansion set behind a 14-foot ficus hedge on North Bay Road, on the market. The Ridingers viewed it then, but the price was too high. A year later they were surprised when the real estate agent contacted them to report that the 13,000-square-foot residence, which was built in 1930, was back on the market. Following negotiations with the Matzes, the couple acquired the property for $5.3 million. Soon after completing some renovations, the Ridingers and their daughter celebrated the turn of the millennium in the house.
Eight years earlier, in 1992, the Ridingers had founded Market America, a product brokerage and Internet marketing company that they ran, Loren says, "from our little 1,600-square-foot house in Greensboro, North Carolina." She characterizes the enterprise, an online seller that employs distributors across the country, as a combination of Amazon and QVC. JR explains that the firm customizes the shopping experience by "connecting people with product and product with people, rather than blasting one message to everyone." After about five years, the concept took off, and the Ridingers began to search for a Miami retreat.
After purchasing Casa de Sueños, they expanded the property by acquiring two adjacent lots. On that land they constructed a 10,000-square-foot guesthouse that Loren calls "our five-star boutique hotel." They now own 750 feet of Biscayne Bay waterfront and a dock for JR’s two boats, Utopia II, a 118-foot classic Feadship, and Utopia III, a 157-foot Trinity yacht.
The couple also built two pools on the property: one for the family and the other for visitors staying in the guesthouse. For the former, they commissioned J. Wallace Tutt III—who designed Gianni Versace’s Casa Casuarina—to create a poolhouse that referenced the Mediterranean Revival style and keystone coral of the main house. The structure, which contains seating areas, a wet bar, and a dinner table for eight, recalls the archways and Corinthian columns of the main house’s front loggia. Eight classical urns modeled after existing vessels on the property punctuate the terra-cotta-tile roofline.
A fountain punctuates the center of the parterre, while a 14-foot-tall ficus hedge delineates the garden’s various areas. Matz tamed the intricacy of the formal design by using only a handful of plant species.
To relate this newer structure to the guesthouse and a clubhouse that contains an arcade, gym, dance space, theater, lounge, bar, and atrium, the Ridingers asked Matz to "continue the formality of the gardens throughout the property," says Loren. She still is searching for classical sculpture to place around the outdoor rooms.
The process of creating the new gardens has proved instructive for the designer. During a hurricane two years ago, a 30-foot-tall Podocarpus landed on a balcony of Casa de Sueños, and after the storm the columnar ilexes growing around the parterre’s fountain looked more "like feather dusters" than plants, he says. (Metal rods now support the ilexes.) Although Matz still plants Podocarpus because of its saltwater tolerance, he says that he no longer uses ficus hedges "because their roots grow outward, not down, which means they fall over easily."
The gardens remain a work in progress. Currently Matz is designing another parterre for the front of the house, within view of the Ridingers’ bedroom. "Every single plant is [selected] by me," he says proudly. "My workers don’t even know where I buy them. And I’m not one of those designers who doesn’t get dirty."
Matz still finds the original garden mesmerizing. "I walk in there nowadays, and it just [transports] me," he says. "I feel like I’m in Europe."