Secret Garden

by | Apr 16, 2019 | Recent Spotlight

Landscape architect. What does that really mean? The word landscape suggests green, lush, flowering, organic elements that have a life of their own, yet a dynamic wildness that has to be trained. Architect conjures lines, materials, structures, ambitious feats of wrangling the elements. So what does it really mean when the two meet?

Suzanne Spence, one of Jamaica’s premier landscape architects, sets the record straight. “Landscape architecture has many facets. The misconception is that it is just focusing on plants and gardens. There is planning, design from golf courses to paths and parks and also the aspect that looks at environmental impact,” says Spence.

After receiving her first degree in finance from Florida International University (FIU), Spence returned to Jamaica to work in her family’s hotel business. After hurricane Gilbert, the lush landscape favored by the jewels of the hospitality industry on the north coast were decimated. Spence remembers, “everything went and the hotels brought in all these landscape architects from Florida and that is what sparked my interest and initially I was interested in architecture, but my feeling is that when you build a building it’s just four corners, it’s static. I am one of those people that moves the furniture around every day. I thought landscape architecture would give me the opportunity to be a little more flexible.”

It wasn’t long before Spence escaped the four corners and began connecting with spaces in a special way. “This may sound strange,” Spence says, “but usually I go into a space and try to connect with the personality behind the space and I let the space speak to me.” Spence’s portfolio is an impressive array of spaces around the island, including renowned hotels, private residences and some public spaces.

“I prefer doing public spaces; the impact on people is incredible and while you are doing it is even more rewarding when people, especially children, who are not used to green spaces start to enjoy what you have created,” Spence says and adds, “that is the part that is motivating.” Of her public projects, the Earthquake Monument, installed under the leadership of the former Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller, is the one that she holds dearest. The timeline for the project was only one month which serves as a memorial to the victims of the earthquake in 1907 and provided a dramatic transformation of a park located in the volatile Greenwich Town community.

Growing up in the resort town of Montego Bay had a big influence on Spence. “I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors on a lush five-acre property that had a view that overlooked Montego Bay,” Spence said. And today, Spence continues to spend time outdoors on her many projects such as the GoldenEye in St Mary, Hidden Bay Villa in Runaway Bay, Aqua Bay at Tryall and Breathless, back in her original stomping ground of Montego Bay