Twice tranquil: Inspired by Japan, created for Marco, the Johnsons’ garden is their home

Walk way into the fruit tree garden.  Photographed on March 2, 2011.  Kelli Stanko/Special to the Daily News

Photo by KELLI STANKO // Buy this photo

Walk way into the fruit tree garden. Photographed on March 2, 2011. Kelli Stanko/Special to the Daily News

Her garden is first and foremost to Lavonne Johnson of Marco Island. Living space is ancillary.

Situated on three tip lots overlooking Marco River with views of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge, Lavonne’s home blends Asian-inspired construction with a Japanese-style garden.

“The inside is secondary while the outside should be beautiful,” explained Johnson of her home and garden, which she shares with her husband, Glenn, and her 102-year-old mother, Elphie Kettner.

Lavonne Johnson had a specific idea of what the home and garden — which she began to develop in 1980 — should look like. Originally from Pittsburg, Pa., Lavonne found inspiration in Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home designed by architect Frank Llyod Wright in the 1930s. That home is constructed over a 30-foot waterfall; it has balconies and picture windows on nearly all sides, and incorporates what Wright called organic architecture.

“I’ve always loved Wright’s clean lines and simplicity … it unfolds as you proceed through,” Johnson said. Her own home design has a similar “indoor-outdoor” pull.

Other inspiration came from “Katsura, a Princely Retreat,” a book of photographs of the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, Japan.

But Johnson never sought to replicate. Rather she incorporates features from typical Japanese gardens — straight lines carried throughout, varied rock and stone arrangements — and used other materials, such as bamboo and teak. She added her personal touch by using flowering plants and trees, which are not common in Japanese gardens.

“I’m mostly all about the gardens… Without them would be horrible,” said Johnson who likes to tour the Naples Botanical Garden often. Her own garden is constantly evolving because the Johnsons’ landscaper, Busk and Associates of Naples, visits once a week to prune, pluck and pick up fallen branches and dead leaves. In the near future, each plant will be labeled and identified.

Guided by her gardener, Johnson “tries to plant plants that will acclimate to the environment” with specific focus on tropical and subtropical plants that are not necessarily native to Florida but are drought-tolerant.

“I like specimen plants, where I may only have one in the garden,” she said.

Orchids are another of Johnson’s passions. With approximately 80 plants of different types, the gorgeous flowers can be seen tucked into corners and crevices scattered throughout the property inside and out. An onsite greenhouse provides necessary workspace to care and store the budding orchids.

The Johnsons have lived on Marco full time for 20 years but have had this home since 1980. They are continually looking to improve or update their property. After Hurricane Wilma, the screened lanai was destroyed and never replaced. Instead, natural barriers and additional fencing were added to contain the open-air pool.

More recently, the couple had the guest pool converted to a wet garden, with a fireplace and a shallow, pool-like pond.

No Japanese-inspired garden would be complete without a Koi pond, which is situated just outside the front door. Lavonne Johnson also has a fondness for butterflies and a special alcove was built to grow butterfly-attracting plants.

A reference book stored near the garden allows Johnson to easily identify the flying creatures as they come into view: “I love to watch the butterflies.”

The couple’s five grandchildren grew up playing in the garden; climbing a gumbo limbo tree that was moved from Goodland to the Polynesia Court property; and enjoying a tire swing that hangs nearby.

While the grandchildren are no longer tree-climbing age, Lavonne sees that tree as a reminder of how much her garden has evolved over the years.

“We expect to stay here until we are carried out,” said Lavonne of future plans. “This is our home, our family compound.”

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