Early-morning sunlight coated the flowers, shrubs and bushes throughout Vizcaya Museum & Gardens as Bryanna Jomolca posed for her quinceañera pictures.
Holding her deep lavender ball gown by the sides, Bryanna, 15, glided in and out of Vizcaya’s Secret Garden as photographer Jesus Fernandez snapped away.
“When I was little, I had always wanted to take pictures in the Secret Garden,” Bryanna said. “It brought back a lot of good memories.”
Recently, the Secret Garden went through a meticulous, three-week, $30,000 restoration project that repaired and re-leveled the limestone floor pavers.
“The focus was to retain the historic pattern and restore the original grade in earnest,” said Lauren Hall, the museum’s conservator. “Over the course of time, due to washout and differential settlement, the garden floor became uneven.”
Weathering and heavy foot traffic also caused the soft limestone pavers to sink and break.
In 2013, industrialist James Deering’s Vizcaya estate received 184,000 walk-in tourists and 20,000 visitors for special events like weddings, filming and Bryanna’s photo shoot.
Originally known as the Orchid Garden, the two-story, 3,400-square-foot section of the garden, created in 1917, was inspired after Italy’s Villa Gamberaia — a large, 14th-century house outside Florence.
When the orchids didn’t grow, garlic vines took over, crawling up the rustic wood trellises and covering two cypress doors and an iron framework attached to the top of the building.
As the vines overtook the building, house guests on the terrace could not see anyone below them, and those on the ground floor could not see anyone above.
“You could be anywhere in this garden and you would feel like you were by yourself,” said Ian Simpkins, chief horticulturist at the gardens. “That was one of the reasons they called it the Secret Garden. The family had a place to retreat to where they could be by themselves while the head of the house did all of the entertaining.”
The recent restoration gave Simpkins a chance to do something unusual with the Secret Garden’s agricultural space.
“We took the opportunity to bring in a lot of critically endangered pine rockland species,” said Simpkins, who worked with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens to obtain rare plants. “We wanted to show people that you really can use them as ornamental plants in your gardens, while conserving native plants at the same time.”
Scattered around the landscape are plants like the Pineland Heliotrope, Yellow Geiger and “Lignum Vitae” — Latin for “Tree of Life.”
Maintaining the impression that the house and gardens were built centuries ago was something James Deering aimed for when he built his winter home.
Almost a century after its construction in 1916, the staff at Vizcaya has worked to keep his dream alive.
“It’s beautiful,” Bryanna said. “I feel like if I was there when it was actually built.”