Grotto Haven

A Magic Space in the Merrick-Built Home of Rolando & Sonia Benitez

By Karen F. Buchsbaum

September 2018

If you ask homeowner Rolando (Roly) Benitez what his garden means to him, he says it brings him “balance.” After busy, stressful days as a mortgage banker and developer, Roly’s garden is his passion and refuge.  

Roly moved into his historic George Merrick-built Gables home near Venetian Pool in 2002, and began serious renovation and additions that more than doubled its size. But with nearly half an acre of land, there was plenty of space left for a series of European-inspired green areas. He and wife Sonia can now enjoy formal gardens with fountains, as well as Roly’s favorite, his grotto orchid garden. 

Roly designed the planted spaces himself, explaining that “in my past life I must’ve been a gardener.” An avid fan of both history and travel, he takes his inspiration from the great homes of Europe and the United States – from Paris’ Versailles to Asheville’s Biltmore. He describes their formal gardens as the “finishing touch on the house.” 

In the end, Roly had to consult with experts from Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden to help identify the scientific names of the rarer plants he installed. Even armed with their IDs, it’s hard for him to select favorites, but plants from Indonesia, Cuban petticoat palms, and Medjool palms are at the top of his list.