Arroyo Quad Series: Copernicia Palms Winner of 2020 Florida American Society of Landscape Architects

Peter Strelkow RLA, ASLA | Landscape Architect | Contributing Writer


To all the Belen family, we wish you the best for 2021. With the beautiful winter weather, it is the perfect time to get outside. City Parks and places like Fairchild Tropical Garden are open for us all to reconnect a bit with nature.


Bailey Palms frame the Goizueta Innovation Center by Zyscovich Architects at Belen Prepratory School

As part of the botanical gardens at Belen Preparatory, an incredibly special Cuban palm, the Copernicia Baileyana, has become the highlight of the area adjacent to the new Roberto C. Goizueta Innovation Center by Zyscovich Architects. These rare and striking palms were donated by the Cabrera family for their appreciation of the Belen teachers, staff, and Jesuits who educated their children. These stately and majestic palms now stand proudly overseeing the main drop-off entry to the school and frame the view of the dramatic Innovation Center façade.


Palms offset the dramatic modern architecture by Zyscovich Architects

The story begins in early 2020, when Tony Cabrera reached out to Father Willie. He proudly told him about the amazing Copernicia palms he had grown in his Homestead nursery. Several trips were made to identify three perfectly sized specimens to fit the space. To best complement the design, I decided to use an irregular triangular arrangement and tagged specimens with 22 feet, 16 feet, and 8 feet of visible wood.


Father Willie and Tony Cabrera at his Homestead nursery.

The go-ahead was given and the process began immediately. Muni Farms of Homestead was chosen to do this difficult installation job. Their first task was root pruning to acclimate the palms for the upcoming transplant. Massive and heavy root balls were cut in the marl soil; this proved beneficial later when the palms were installed without any signs of transplant shock.


Heavy equipment moved the massive palms to the planting site.

Summer arrived and the big day came to do the installation. The area was cleared, and utilities and irrigation were relocated by the Belen team. The palms were brought in by semi-truck and were lifted and carefully unloaded. The moment was tense: if a palm this size is dropped, the bud breaks, and the palm dies. Very slowly the palms were driven to the spot, and one by one the giant palms were gently slipped into place and braced firmly. Everyone took a deep breath and stood back in admiration.


The Copernicias are gingerly installed at the entrance.

The design moved forward. The next contractor up was the stonemason: The Castle Maker. Danny Daniel quickly built all the oolite (keystone) curbing and installed eleven large monoliths. Over the following weeks, Muni Farms came back and planted all the other palms, shrubs, and groundcovers to finish off the design. I broke out my bonsai tools and styled the Desert Rose plants in the monoliths. Lastly, mulch was applied, and the garden was complete.


Peter Strelkow prunes the Adenium planted in the keystone monoliths.

HS2G offers a hearty “Thanks!” to all who helped make this installation a success: Father Willie and the Belen Jesuit team, the Cabrera family, Muni Farm, and the Castle Maker. Thanks also for another opportunity to make a beautiful garden! Happy New Year to all!


A plaque commemorates the Cabrera's generous gift to Belen.

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