Matt and Tracy Smith decided to cancel all landscaping work at their oceanfront residence on North Ocean Way in Palm Beach during the COVID-19 pandemic because they felt it would be best if no one trespassed on the property.
“We just leave it. I was raking leaves,” said Matt Smith, chairman of Shoes for Crews, which makes and sells non-slip shoes. “We noticed that we didn’t see that many birds and bees.”
Soon the grass died and her plants looked ragged and overgrown. That’s when they decided to completely redesign their landscape, using mostly native plants.
Their decision resulted in a dramatic redesign with more shade, less maintenance, a greater variety of plants, and a greener landscape with a natural look reminiscent of Old Florida.
The Smiths were honored with the 2022 Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award
On May 3, the Palm Beach Preservation Foundation presented the Smiths with the 2022 Lesly S. Smith Landscape Award for Excellence in Landscape Design. The award, which was first presented in 2011, is named in honor of former Mayor Smith, who is the founding trustee of the foundation.
Lesly Smith, unrelated to Matt and Tracy Smith, presented the award at an event at the foundation’s Peruvian Avenue office. More than 100 people attended, including Smith’s daughter, Palm Beach Mayor Danielle Moore.
“I was upstairs on one of those windy days we’ve had here this winter,” said Lesly Smith. “The palm trees flexed but we walked and looked at a beautiful, tranquil spot. I’m not a swimmer, but I thought, ‘I’d like to stay here.’ It’s really beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It’s a feel of old Palm Beach that we hope you’ll keep.”
Amanda Skier, Chief Executive Officer and President of the Preservation Foundation, said, “The award recognizes a landscape that reflects both the character and traditions of Palm Beach, but is also original and forward-looking. Preserving the landscape quality of our city is central to our mission and this award aims to recognize how landscapes influence our experience of the built environment.”
Quality of life challenges in Palm Beach are increasingly environmental, and landscape decisions play a critical role, she said.
Susan Lerner, the foundation’s director of horticulture, gave a presentation with before and after photos of the three main areas of the property – front, back and cabana gardens. She emphasized the native trees and shrubs such as silver buttonwood, sea plum, braceletwood tree, Simpson’s stopper, sea oxeye daisy, beach creeper and many more.
“This is a garden to experience, live, wander and discover,” said Lerner.
The clapboard style home and 1 acre beach cottage were completed in 2012 and designed in the typical manicured style seen on many oceanfront properties with lawns and coconut trees.
The Smiths were inspired by the Palm Beach Daily News columnist
The Smiths drew inspiration from Palm Beach Daily News columnist Kim Frisbie’s articles on native plants, the foundation’s all-native Pan’s Garden and its winding pathways, and conversations with City Councilman Bobbie Lindsay about native plants.
They learned that non-native plants and trees require pesticides that damage the environment and leak into the water system, and do not provide adequate habitat and food for birds and butterflies.
The Smiths hired the Lake Worth Beach-based Yates Burle Studio, owned and operated by Debra Yates and her son Benjamin Burle, to design the new landscape. The 80-year-old sea grape trees and coconut palms have been retained, but much of the grass has been removed, including artificial turf on the beach, Yates and Burle said.
Yates Burle completed the first phase and Armstrong Landscape, led by Doug Allard, completed a second phase of additional planting.
Burle said the Smith project is the only one his company has completed in Palm Beach, although they have completed others in the area. With more than 45 species of mature native trees and plants, including rare and endangered coastal native species, the property contains perhaps the highest concentration of native species on any private oceanfront property in Palm Beach.
“This is a good example of being ingenious about creating a natural habitat,” Burle said.
Yates and Burle personally selected each tree, and all plants and trees in the project were locally sourced. The rarest trees used are the joewood tree, bay cedar, seven year old apple, lignum vitae, cinnamon bark and white indigo berry. Rare palms include the buccaneer palm and the Florida silver palm. Sea Lavender and Limber Cape are rare plants that now thrive on the property.
Tracy Smith, owner of Gypsy Life Surf Shops in West Palm Beach, said planting sea oats and dune grasses on her beach helped reduce erosion. The whole family including son Ben and daughter Margot enjoys surfing.
“It looks beautiful,” said Tracy Smith. “You can still be beautiful and help the environment. Our house looks better.”
The Smiths, who have lived in Palm Beach for 27 years, hope more residents will choose a landscape with native plants.
“It was a big change. There’s more privacy and it’s more interesting,” said Matt Smith. “Depending on the time of day, you have more areas to read and the sun isn’t always beating down on you. My dogs have not complained.”