Martha Stewart knows how to make a home’s landscaping shine, and she’s had plenty of help from a new face on reality TV: Fernando Wong.
In May, Wong joined Stewart as a judge on the new Discovery+ show “Clipped,” featuring seven topiary artists working hard to show off their skills, hoping to win the $50,000 prize.
But long before serving alongside the doyenne of domesticity on screen, Wong had made a name for himself designing yards for many big-name clients and resorts after moving to the U.S. from Panama in 2001.
Curious to learn more about his rise to fame and his top landscaping tips, we chatted with Wong about what it’s like to work with Stewart, and how we can all make our lawns look their best this summer.
These days, you’re well-known in landscaping design, but your career had humble beginnings. How did you start?
I studied architecture and interior design in Panama, and in 2001, I had the opportunity to move to the United States. I took a job working on the landscaping crew for a well-known landscape design firm in Miami. By chance, the owner of the firm saw me sketching while I was taking a break on a job site, and that quickly pivoted my work to the design side of his team.
In 2005, I opened my own firm, and today we serve an elite client roster that stretches from the Bahamas to South Florida and all the way up to Southampton.
It’s been a surreal turn of events to come back and work on properties where, years ago, I was watering the lawns, and now, serving as a guest judge alongside Martha Stewart. It’s a “pinch me” moment, to say the least!
What’s it like working with Martha Stewart?
She is a remarkable woman with seemingly endless energy. She also made shooting really fun because of her sense of humor, and the fact that she was constantly baking cookies and cakes and bringing them to the set.
We were staying at a small hotel owned by her friend Richard Gere when, at around 9, when I was already in bed, I got a text from her asking if we were still up and if she could come by for martinis to gossip about the show. We of course said yes, and ended up having a ball.
What have been some of your most challenging projects over the years?
My work spans the residential and hospitality space, so the most challenging would have to be the Four Seasons at the Surf Club (in Surfside, FL). It was a four-year, multimillion-dollar transformation that, when it comes to scale and grandeur, was truly one of a kind. We relocated 100-year-old trees from across the state and planted over 500 trees across the 7-acre stretch of waterfront property to bring the vision to life. It was a career-defining experience, far from easy.
What advice do you have for homeowners wanting to make the most of their outdoor space?
Your home’s landscaping should reflect the architecture of your home to create a cohesive design story. So I always find ways to draw the eye to the home’s most striking features. Even as we emerge from the pandemic, more and more home buyers will look to backyards that provide experiences and escapes from the indoors.
I approach my design through an experiential lens: How can I create and define different moments, if you will, to be discovered outdoors? It creates a sense of intimacy when you create different experiences.
When it comes to flowers and plants, I advise keeping your palette in different tones of green. It serves as a stunning canvas to highlight pops of color as they bloom and blossom.
Any advice for people with small yards on making the most of their space?
Some of my favorite projects are those on the smaller side, where we’ve found ways to utilize green space on the side of the property to make sure we’re maximizing every inch we have.
If a backyard skews smaller, the right architectural elements through hedges and tall plantings can transform a yard into an intimate outdoor space that you can actually use and enjoy.
Are there any particular plants that are trendy these days that you’d suggest people get?
The fiddle-leaf ficus is certainly having a moment right now. I think its architecture and form is just stunning and perfect for smaller spaces. Vine plants are also lovely for smaller spaces because they completely transform a bare wall into a lush design detail. I love a creeping-fig ficus, but you can never go wrong with jasmine!
Got any landscaping advice specifically for home sellers?
For those looking to sell, it’s also so important to find ways to carry foliage, preferably foliage that complements what’s found outside, in your interiors. It instantly creates a sense of cohesion and flow between the two spaces, while also adding softer elements that breathe life into the room.
What are some of the biggest landscaping mistakes you’ve seen homeowners make during your career?
When my clients don’t have a master plan. A well-designed yard or garden is a slow process and can sometimes take years, based on the goal. It’s no quick flower arrangement!