Ann Norton’s monumental, silent, mysterious sculptures built in situ over a period of 15 years were intended to be discovered as surprises amidst the dense, jungle-like vegetation. The Gardens, at the request of Ann Norton were designed by world-renowned botanist Sir Peter Smithers as a rare palm garden, to represent her commitment to conservation and the preservation of a quiet retreat in the midst of a burgeoning city. The Gardens’ assemblage of over 250 rare palm species, cycads and unusual tropicals is recognized as one of the largest public collections in Florida. It is a rare gift to experience the union of this powerful art and the naturalness of the landscape.
Principles for the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens
1. The purpose of the garden is to provide an appropriate background for Ann Norton’s sculptures for viewing by the public. The plantings, mainly beautiful green foliage, should display the sculptures to the best advantage, and not compete with them for attention.
2. With this provison, the planting and design should be in itself a thing of beauty, interest and distinction, different in character from the usual Palm Beach garden. The creation of an outstanding Palm collection amongst an assortment of beautiful native plants should ensure this special character.
3. The design and planting of the garden should be such that maintenance is reduced to a minimum. In the modern minimum labor garden, the plants live in an ecosystem and do most of the work themselves, as they do in nature. When the plantings are mature, it should be easily possible for one man to do everything required on the property.
4. The garden falls into three sections running east to west:
a. Section 1, south, fronting on Barcelona Road, contains the house with the brick sculpture in the pool. This is essentially a reception area and needs to be kept neat and tidy in conformity with its social function. The planting should consist mainly of the Palm Collection around the sides, leaving the center spaces open. The Palms have grown well, and all that is required is the elimination of as much Ficus and other weeds as possible, the thickening of the Palm plantings here and there and a solution for the confused south-west area adjoining the house and the street.
b. Section 2, middle. This area should be dominated by and a logical consequence of the giant figure sculptures, which are different in spirit from all the other work. It should be re-designed and replanted in relation to them. Behind them, it should provide a barrier of foliage between the observer and section 3, heightening the suspense as one progresses through the garden. This area requires careful study on the spot and the reduction and final elimination of Ficus, which is a source of much work and is far too invasive.
c. Section 3, north. This is the largest tract and contains the great brick sculptures. The layout is almost all Ann Norton’s design and is highly satisfactory. If the planting is thickened up very considerably maintenance will be much reduced and the element of surprise as one comes upon the sculptures one after another, will be increased. The atmosphere here should be tranquil, withdrawn and meditative, in contrast to Section 1(south) which is essentially cheerful and sociable. The planting materials should be native trees and shrubs including native Pine native mahogany where possible, and native and exotic palms, and a dense and luxuriant display of subtropical vegetation. Problem areas are the lack of screening along the northern boundary towards the north-east corner and the well-intentioned but poorly designed and executed mirror pool.
Each of these three areas thus has its own distinctive function and corresponding “atmosphere” which should be served by the design of the garden and the nature of planting. Provided that we are not in a hurry, none of the above should give rise to considerable expense.
Sir Peter Smithers – May 1988