Landscape Architect Mario Nievera has a natural touch for gardening

With his brand new book Forever Green, out this September, Mario Nievera talks of his natural gardens and approaches to creating unique landscapes.


HC&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 an interesting, 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?
MN: 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.

What are your main considerations when you first approach a landscape?
MN: I’m the type who walks onto 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.

What should Hamptons homeowners concentrate on most?
MN: I have one client who wants to keep going on his garden, but we’ve done a lot already and it’s time to say no. Some people don’t like to hear “it’s fine,” so I try to show them how to relax and realize they’ve already achieved something beautiful and lovely. Also, summers in the Hamptons often involve families, so I always suggest family-appropriate landscapes. Sometimes the jungle gym stays front and center because the kids will be playing on it for the next 10 years.

“I love seeing the change in the landscape from Southampton to Montauk as the trees open up to the sky”

Your work in Florida harks back to an earlier era of grand estates. How are the Hamptons different?
MN: It’s important to retain the agricultural feeling that has been such an integral part of this region. As opposed to Palm Beach, I don’t particularly love when there’s too much formality in the Hamptons; every day should feel like a weekend.

Do you enjoy working with different plant materials in the Hamptons?
MN: Definitely. I just did this perennial border for a client in Sagaponack, which I haven’t done in a long time. But the client knew what she wanted, and so I tried getting plants that would flower and look great over long periods, including lamium, phlox, hardy geraniums, different varieties of Nepeta, Thalictrum, hollyhocks, and stachys. At my own house in East Hampton, I lost a huge linden tree during Hurricane Irene, which opened up the whole yard. So I did a big flower garden in pink, white, and purple cleomes sprinkled with Verbena bonariensis, and it looks great! Up here, I see plants almost as paint, as opposed to Florida, where the material is more sculptural and visually interesting for a much longer season.

Do you have a favorite natural landscape on the East End?
MN: I love it all. I used to think I hated the woods, but then friends moved there and now I love it. I love the farms by the ocean. I know the traffic on 27 is terrible, but I love seeing the change in the landscape from Southampton to Montauk as the trees open up to the sky. One of my favorite moments is when you drive west, just past Town Line Road, and see the meadow, farm fields, and sky all coming together. I love that moment, and I’m proud of being a part of the Hamptons and Long Island in general.