Villa Vizcaya is an Italian style villa overlooking Biscayne Bay. It was the winter residence of the Chicago industrialist, James Deering, of International Harvester Co. The mansion was built in two years (1914-1916). 1000 workers were hired for the labor which represented 10% of Miami’s entire population at the time!
Vizcaya seems out of place in Miami but, as the brochure points out, the inclusion of open-air rooms and courtyard, native plants and local materials connect the estate with its location. The mansion was built to look old, as if a family had lived in it for centuries. James Deering died in 1925 and the estate passed to relatives. After hurricane damage and other costs, surrounding parcels and outer gardens were sold. In 1952 Miami-Dade County acquired the estate. The villa is now a museum that features European decorative art and furnishings.
The estate originally consisted of 180 acres of Mangrove swamps and dense tropical forest. Deering, an early environmentalist, planned the estate’s development to run along the shore of the bay to conserve the forests. The 10 acres of formal Italianate Renaissance gardens were completed in 1922. 50 acres remain of the original estate.
A well done audio tour is available to guide visitors through the gardens and the house. Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the house.
The first garden we walked through was the Orchidarium which led us to the back of the house, which is really the front, facing Biscayne Bay.
The most unique feature at Vizcaya is “The Barge”. This island, built in the shape of a boat, protects the shore and east terrace from waves.
The Tea House
We wandered through small and large gardens, past hedges, walls, and pools. There are fountains and sculptures from Italy and France. Though the garden was designed in a European tradition, it was planted with sub-tropic and native plants that thrive in the South Florida climate.
The Secret Garden is in one corner of the formal gardens. It was built to grow orchids but there was too much sun here so those plants were moved to the north side of the house.
This is the terrace and south side of the mansion. The formal gardens fan out from this side of the house.
The Fountain Garden
The Garden Mound is a raised patio with a “Casino”, a garden pavilion. This is the ceiling of the open air section.
The stairs on the back of the casino lead down to the Mangrove swamp. There used to be elaborate lagoons for Mr. Deering’s guests to paddle through.
Grottos are lined with shells and small colorful stones.
Every garden needs a bit of whimsy.
And some wild life!