Fellows Focus - Jorge Sánchez

Jorge A. Sánchez, Garden Conservancy board member and principal at SMI Landscape Architecture, recently released his latest book, The Making of Three Gardens. With gorgeous photography from his book and detailed descriptions of the design approach and processes, Jorge will present illustrated talks this fall in Charleston, St. Louis, and New York City. We recently spoke with Jorge about his book, SMI's guiding principles, and the cultural significance of gardens.

When did your interest in landscape architecture and design begin?

I have always had an interest in plants, in history, and in architecture. A few years after college, it dawned on me that the three things I enjoyed so much made up a career. Little by little I explored them and they eventually took me over and became my profession.

You recently released The Making of Three Gardens. What prompted you to write this book and what do you hope readers will gain from reading it?

Two things, really. On one hand, I wanted to document these three large gardens, each having gardens within gardens, and which could inspire someone else’s garden.

On the other hand, I wanted the writing to be educational for anyone considering my profession, showing the reasons why I followed this path and the pitfalls along the way. Only a small percentage of individuals read this kind of book. For those who do, I wanted them to feel the experience of this discipline.

St. Lucie Ranch. Photo by Andre Baranowski

SMI landscape’s philosophy incorporates a “botanical garden” approach with historic and classical garden design. What advice would you give a Fellow looking to design a modern landscape while still paying homage to classical European design?

Most of the charm of a garden is based on asymmetrical symmetry. The basic overall form can be extremely classical, but the mix should not be rigid. There is no rule that is not broken; this one is one I do like to maintain. The modern gardens we have designed follow this basic principle.

Your portfolio is comprised of a variety of landscapes—estates, public gardens, streetscapes—what types of projects most inspire you? 

I would safely say it would be the challenge, not the type of garden, that would most inspire me. There is a moment early on in some projects where one can sense that the stars have aligned. Most definitely, this is not the case on every project; but, once in a while, one is a thrill to develop.

Turtle Bluff. Photo by Andre Baranowski

You've poured a lot of energy into your personal gardens. Tell us a little bit about them; what aspects are you most proud of? 

At my ranch I design on the big canvas format. My constraint is more monetary than anything else. But the personal project I have enjoyed the most is my little house in Palm Beach. The property is all of a quarter of an acre. When I first started with it, decades ago, some thought I was crazy, yet I could see what the place promised. I have changed it a lot and it never bores me. I couldn’t see myself without it.

Any other thoughts or remarks you’d like to share with our Fellows community?

Gardens are a mark of a civilized culture. Teaching about them and passing this on to others makes our nation stronger. Our past is our future. Gardens reflect that basic cultural base. 

Once, putting together an orchid show for a major botanical garden, I commented to one of the heads of the institution that I felt embarrassed at the cost of putting the show together. After all, there were mountains of snow outside the greenhouses and piles of orchids and other material were being arranged for their final display. That individual told me I was wrong. He told me to wait until I saw the public come in the door. Sure enough, the thrill and inspiration it gave so many made it worthwhile.

To learn more, read Jorge Sánchez's book The Making of Three Gardens and join us, if possible, to hear from him in person at his illustrated talks in Charleston on October 10, in St. Louis on November 15, or in New York CIty on December 13.