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2013 Award of Excellence - Casey Key Pagoda Garden
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Project Category:  Residential

Project Name:  Casey Key Pagoda Garden

Project Location:  Casey Key, Florida

Date of Completion:  December 2012

Landscape Architect:  Michael A. Gilkey, Jr. - Michael A. Gilkey, Inc.


 Owner:  Mr. and Mrs. Faulhaber

 Landscape Contractor:  Michael A. Gilkey, Jr.

The Casey Key Pagoda Garden is nestled on 1.2 acres overlooking Blackburn Bay on Casey Key, an exclusive Gulf Coast barrier island with a single narrow roadway. Across the street from the Garden is the Gulfview home of the owners, world travelers with a desire for a retreat suitable for private use as well as large scale entertaining.

Prior to renovation, views were obstructed from the home to the Bay. The site was unkempt and overgrown, and contained a fountain, existing bamboo, and an unruly rose garden. The owners initially requested a traditional Chinese garden, a formal rose garden, a koi pond, and a cistern for irrigation. The program evolved to include Chinese pavilions, Moongates, a Conservatory and an edible garden. The landscape architect designed all elements of the project, engaging in constant structural guidance from the building contractor. Together, through true collaboration, they pushed the envelope of design as well as construction methodology, assembling a team of subcontractors and artisans that informed their process. 

The design intent was to appropriately site the three major destinations—the Rose Garden, the Conservatory, and the Chinese Garden—while making the garden feel contiguous with the home, despite the narrow roadway dividing the two. The Pedestrian Terrace and Rose Garden, inspired by the owners’ trips to Italy and France, were informed by the axes and viewpoints of the home. Strong sight lines and a cohesive material selection make the house and garden feel like one property. The transition from the Rose Garden to the Conservatory is created through the Arbor and Edible Garden, incorporating herbs, vegetables, and fruit and nut trees (over a third of the more than 200 plant species on the property are edible or medicinal).

The Conservatory, which houses not only tropical plants but exquisite custom artwork and intimate gatherings, hides a 40,000 gallon cistern below that collects the rainwater from the home and uses it to irrigate the site. Behind the Conservatory lies the Bamboo Garden, where eight species of bamboo envelop an intimate, secluded space including a meditation deck, a focal "Scholar’s Rock,” and a gentle water feature. 

Once the user crosses that threshold of the traditional Moongate, inscribed with the dedication "Mother’s Garden,” the home, the Conservatory, and the Rose Garden begin to disappear. The Chinese Garden was inspired by the eastern design concept of creating different scenes or vignettes. While the elements were informed by history and tradition, the design is a modern interpretation of an ancient methodology, insisting on a cohesion and consciousness of Southwest Florida conditions and context. The rocks throughout the garden were selected and handset to create points of focus and frame the water elements without obstructing views.

As the rocks in traditional Chinese gardens are eroded over centuries and therefore highly valued, finding the right rocks for this project was an important task; the answer was found in the alluvial forces of the Mississippi River on limestone. One perfectly shaped rock formed a bridge from the pavilions to the custom concrete walkway behind a focal waterfall. This walkway was top-dressed with river bed aggregate that was hand-tossed into the concrete by the landscape architect, the building contractor, and the owners. Three pavilions, inspired by tradition but designed and built by innovation, anchor the Chinese Garden and are connected by tile walkways flanked with limestone seatwalls on all sides. 

The pavilions appear to be built of wood, but were constructed by poured-in-place concrete in order to withstand Gulf winds and weather. They are finished with rich wood detailing, traditional cobalt blue roof tiles, and symbolic figures and finials. Beneath the pavilions is a Koi Pond on one side and a Refugium on the other, giving the structures the appearance of floating. The natural waste from the fish feeds the collection of lilies, lotus, and other aquatic plants in the Refugium. A matching Moongate takes one out of the Chinese Garden and onto a deck overlooking the Bay, and to the dock where the family’s boat is anchored.

Although the garden is comprised of many unique moments, cohesion is achieved through the use of the same palette of materials in varying applications. Limestone, shellstone, concrete and aggregate are used in different sizes and scales to give a different sense of place to each experience within the garden. Wood elements reference each other in the Arbor, the Conservatory, the Bamboo Garden and the pavilions. Flowering trees are placed throughout the entire site at careful focal points to give a backdrop reminiscent of cherry blossoms. This project epitomized the design-build process, and could not have been possible without true collaboration from concept through construction between the landscape architect, the building contractor, and the owners.  

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