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Luis Llenza Sees Artistry In His Landscapes . . . And So Do Others

The Outdoor Canvas The Seed Was Planted Long Ago When He Was A Boy. Now, Oakland Park's Luis Llenza Sees Artistry In His Landscapes . . . And So Do Others

By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub Home & Garden Editor

November 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved.

While other children were hitting balls on the playground, little Luis Llenza spent hours playing with orchids and bromeliads in his family's greenhouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

At age 11, he won third place at a local garden show for his exhibit of black olive seedlings and other plants he dug up from his mother's garden.

And his life course was set.

"I always liked plants," said the 44-year-old who lives and operates Luis Llenza Garden Designs in Oakland Park. "My family is a plant family. My mother collected orchids. At that time, you couldn't buy them in stores or nurseries. In the Latin culture, it was a sign of friendship to give someone a cutting. I have orchids from my grandmother and grandfather, who I never met because he died before I was born. I always kept plants."

His love of plants and hard work have paid dividends. Now, after 20 years in the landscape design business, one of his creations is featured in the December issue of Architectural Digest. The gardens surround a 6,000-square-foot house, a contemporary structure that sits on more than an acre of land 10 minutes from San Juan in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. The streamlined design of the front garden was a challenge for Llenza, who prefers a lush, tropical look, using plants that are sculptural in form, like the agave or colorful, like the heliconia.

But the architect, Solis Betancourt of Washington, D.C., had a specific look in mind. He wanted the garden to enhance the house, not dominate it. Everything in the design of the house appears straight lined -- from the series of squares and rectangles that comprise the house to the elongated entrance pool in the front yard.

"The beauty of working with Luis is that he takes a very academic approach," Betancourt said in a telephone interview. "He understands the tropics. In this case, I wanted the landscape to be very manicured, trim and tailored. The house is very powerful. I wanted to keep the severity in terms of the lines of the house. Luis did a very nice job integrating the house into the landscape so the house grows out of the lawn."

In contrast, the back yard is very wild and junglelike.

"It's the country in the city," the man who commissioned the house and landscaping told Architectural Digest. "I feel like I live in a park." His wife described the living room as "my indoor terrace" because of the lush planting that can be glimpsed through the glass doors on the far wall.

"I love the contrast between the very manicured and tailored front that doesn't compete with the house and the kind of wild, junglelike area in the back with lots of flowers, lots of different materials, all mixed together in a tropical landscape" Betancourt said.

Llensa had to redesign the front of the house three times to achieve a minimalist look in keeping with Betancourt's design. Like the house, the plantings appear straight lined. He used three heights of hedges -- Jamaica capers as the highest, variegated pittosporum next and, finally, liriope to soften the hard edges.

"When someone hires you, you have to work with them," Llenza said. "You won't always have artistic freedom."

He was given more artistic freedom with the back garden, which he designed in keeping with the lush plantings in the rest of the neighborhood. The focal point is an Angel Botello sculpture of a little girl, which the owners already had. As a backdrop, he used a variety of green hues -- emerald Zoysia grass, dark green monstera, the lettuce-colored Sweet Potato Vine as well as Ponytail palm and Rhapis "Lady Palm.' Color accents come from plants such as red gingers (Alpina purpurata) , the reddish purple Red Banana tree (Banana zebrina) and Heliconia angusta `Holiday Christmas.'

"The homeowner had plants in pots, but the architect said no plants in pots," Llenza said. "Everything had to be in the ground, but it worked out because we bought mature plants and the garden looked good immediately."

One of the reasons Llenza's gardens look so good is because of his background, a combination of studying environmental design, which gave him the knowledge of plants, and art courses, which gave him the artistic sensibility. The garden is his canvas.

Nothing represents this marriage of science and art better than the front yard he created for a single-story home in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The owner, Bernard Suster, is a retired radiologist who loves to garden and collect orchids. He instructed Llenza to get rid of the grass and the circular drive in front of the house.

Not only did Llenza get rid of the grass and the driveway, the house almost disappears in a wonderful jungle of foliage with pathways woven through it. The only original plantings left are a 30-year-old Senegal Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata), a large schefflera, a large cactus and a few of the pittosporums that originally dominated the front garden. A wonderful burst of color comes from the aechmea blanchetiana, a large bromeliad with flame-colored blooms that last for three or four months. Sculptural interest comes from the thorny spikes of the blue agave, the plant used in the production of tequila. To the left of the house is an area dedicated to sculptural plants, with a huge Crinum Lily as the focal point.

"I call this my tropical dry forest," Llenza said.

Aside from tropical and exotic gardens, he also designs monochromatic and oriental-style gardens, xeriscape, drought-tolerant gardens and native plant gardens.

Llenza believes that more of us should expand living spaces by transforming traditional yards into garden rooms that offer privacy and shade. He loves pergolas and orchid-filled arbors that enhance the experience of al fresco dining.

No matter which style garden he creates, his design philosophy remains the same.

"I want to create garden spaces that are pretty to look at but also spaces that work," he said. "They should be attractive to look at and usable so that you can go outside and sit and enjoy the garden."

SOURCES: Here's how to contact the sources in our story.

Solis Betancourt: 1739 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 202-659-8734;

Luis Llenza Garden Design: 1833 NE 33rd Court, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33306; 954-630-2181;

Luis Llenza Garden Designs Capitalize On Warm Climate To Create 'Living Rooms' For Clients Needing More Space

December 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
PR Newswire Association LLC. All rights reserved.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- For homeowners in warm climates, landscape designer Luis Llenza transforms traditional yards into garden rooms that can serve a variety of purposes, add value and enhance the home's appearance. Llenza's approach appeals to homeowners wishing to update or expand their homes without undertaking the headache and costs of conventional remodeling.

Compared to building costs, landscaping can be the best value in property renovation, says Llenza, a classically trained artist and landscape designer. He uses plantings to define play or pool areas, highlight an outdoor dining space or conceal potting or work areas for the hobbyist gardener. The possibilities are unlimited, according to Llenza.

"It all depends on the interests of the homeowners," he says. "For example, a private garden off a master suite adds a romantic touch on one property while a garden for meditation meets the need for privacy for another." (See

Llenza's repertoire includes original water features, decorative rock gardens, xeriscaping with native plants for water conservation and use of fragrant tropical and sub-tropical plants.

"I like to concentrate on creative designs instead of high volume work," says Llenza, who concedes his custom installations are not inexpensive. His innovative designs can be seen in residential and commercial projects throughout Southeast Florida and in Southwest Florida and Puerto Rico.

Several of Llenza's custom garden designs have been published, most recently in Architectural Digest, as well as other publications.

Luis Llenza Garden Designs, Inc. offers complete services including individualized, site-specific custom design, innovative selection of plant and hardscaping materials and professional oversight through completion of installation.

To review other projects by Luis Llenza, go to

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