Landscape Architect Mario Nievera designs garden escapes

With his new book coming out this month titled Forever Green, Nievera shares with us how to enjoy our gardens. By sense of composition, textures and colors homeowners can create the ultimate sanctuary to enjoy for years to come.

NYC&G: You’ve just published a brand-new book on your gardens [Forever Green, out this month from Pointed Leaf Press]. What did you learn from writing it?
Mario Nievera: The writing came pretty easily since I know the gardens so well. It was a reflective process that made me think about my life and how I got to where I am now in my career, what I was thinking when I designed the gardens, and that sort of thing. And shooting the gardens was great. I had a wonderful working relationship with the photographer, Michael Stavaridis, who sees gardens the way I see them. Over the course of a year we documented everything at the projects we were able to spend substantial time at, ending up with thousands of shots, and didn’t even touch the surface of so many other gardens. I realized how little time people have to enjoy the fruits of their labors, and it’s so nice to see something four or five years later, more mature and taken care of by other gardeners, including homeowners themselves.

You started your Palm Beach–based landscape firm in 1996. What draws you north, to such a different climate?
The time zone! I get a lot of work from my Palm Beach clients, and they often have homes or businesses in the Northeast, so it has been a natural progression for my practice.

Is your work “looser” in the Northeast?
There is a certain sense of composition that is less orderly, less high-maintenance, than in my Palm Beach projects. Even in the more “jungly” tropical gardens I have designed, there is always a very deliberate sense of composition, textures, and colors.

What are your main considerations when you first approach a landscape?
I’m the type who looks at a property and moves things around in my mind first, figuring out what I’m going to do, and which plants might be kept or moved or taken away. Once I make a decision, I stick with it.

“It’s so nice to see something four or five years later, more mature and taken care of by other gardeners,
including homeowners themselves”


Your work in Florida has sort of an escapist feel to it. What’s the ultimate garden escape in New York, particularly the city?
My New York fantasy was formed from Green Acres—the Zsa Zsa Gabor Park Avenue part—and Family Affair. I’m from the TV generation, and everything on the television was ingrained in my head. It wasn’t necessarily right or wrong, but it was the ideal. So I think of the glorious terrace off a grand apartment as the ultimate urban escape.

You’re no stranger to tropical-force winds. How do you deal with windblown urban terraces and roof gardens in the Northeast?
It’s really about dryness more than anything. Deciduous plants are easier on a planted terrace in a northern climate because they are dormant in the winter, whereas evergreens are still doing their thing and need a lot more attention to stay healthy.

What would you recommend to make New York City greener?
The city is doing all the right things, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s green initiative and efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. I was driving through Queens recently and thought, Wouldn’t it be great if every single building had a rooftop garden?

What can homeowners who want to change their outdoor spaces or improve their gardens take away from your book?
There’s been a surge of interest in horticulture and gardening in recent years, so homeowners are definitely thinking a lot more about their gardens—although perhaps they don’t think about gardens in the same way I think about gardens! For the book, I really wanted to show what people can do with their landscapes. There are grand gestures in some of my designs, but no matter what type of garden you have, you always have to consider scale, size, appropriateness, and built-in imperfections. Nothing about gardening is out of reach.