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The Great Outdoors: Fernando Wong Crafts an Idyllic Retreat

SURFSIDE, FL—Enticing to the eyes, the newly reimagined Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club offers an expansive view of the ocean, white sands and nine acres of curated flora surrounding the property. Some might say the verdant landscape is the jewel in the hotel’s burnished crown. Take one look and you might bow in reverence.

Designed by Fernando Wong of Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design Inc., the landscape project began in earnest in 2012 and was unveiled just this year. The shoreline stretches along 815 ft. of the Atlantic Ocean and spans nine acres, serving as a massive blank slate upon which the artist could visualize and create his scenic masterpiece.

Architect Richard Meier and Nadim Ashi, CEO of Fort Capital Management, led the multi-year transformation of the resort and handpicked Wong to turn barren land into a tropical oasis.  

“Our design philosophy is simple. We consider ourselves a supporting actor to architecture landscape,” said Wong. “We are always trying to be or do something that is going to enhance the architecture or the beauty and keep the focus on the beautiful aspects of the property or house.” 

According to Wong, there was the ocean and a big sandbox to work with. “They wanted it to be lush, but they also wanted it to be understated and elegant. With those critical words, my interpretation is what you see there,” he said.

Wong and his team explored several design ideas, ranging from selecting palms for the ocean side to discussing whether to keep the sand or broaden the lawn. It was about how to be lush without obstructing the view. He got creative with flowering plants such as sea grapes to create a canopy, and coconuts to add dimension, and, as a result, layers were introduced. In addition, ornamental or dune grasses brought softness and movement to the design.

“A structural informality is what I keep going back to. The vegetation is very loose and grows naturally. Some palms may grow left or right and all of these components evoke three words: lush, serene and elegant,” he said.

Tim Johnson, managing partner at Fernando Wong Outdoor Living Design, chimed in on some of the intricacies of the landscape project, adding, “The owners allowed us to buy major signature trees. We put in a 90-ft. kapok tree and we also put a banyan tree in the courtyard that is 40-ft. high. There are four other banyan trees on the property.”

All in all, there are a total of 14 signature trees relocated from across the state and installed on the property’s grounds, which was no easy feat. Transportation required the coordination of three government agencies, a logistics team of 20 people, and six off-duty police officers to shut down roads in the middle of the night. Together, the signature trees traveled 800 miles to their new location at the resort. To give a sense of size, the landscape project took 240 palms, 250 trees and 40 different species of plants to cover the nine acres and beachfront. 

“We want people to feel that they are someplace else, but in the Caribbean, on an island in the middle of nowhere,” said Johnson. “One of the fantastic things about the big trees was that we got a completely blank slate and sand, so we brought in mature trees—some more than 100 years old—giving it a sense of permanence.”

Having the budget and creative freedom made this a dream project for Wong and Johnson.

“You had owners who cared very much about the landscape, gave us a large budget and let him do what he envisioned for the hotel,” said Johnson. “They had a lot of trust in the process. To work with Richard Meier, the world’s greatest living architect, and the top interior designers of the world made it an amazing collaboration. We were very lucky to be a part of it.”