Vizcaya’s landscape architect, Diego Suarez (1888–1974), was born in Bogotà in 1888 to a Colombian father and an Italian mother. Following the death of his father, Suarez moved back to Florence, Italy, with his family. There he studied architecture at the Accademia di Belle Arti (the Italian equivalent of the French École des Beaux Arts). While still a student, he became interested in landscape architecture and his first experience was to help Sir Arthur Acton (1873–1953) to restore the gardens of La Pietra, his villa on the hills of Florence, to its original eighteenth-century design.
After collaborating with Acton, Suarez worked on many gardens for English and American expatriates in Florence. In June 1914, Acton asked Suarez to show two American guests—James Deering and Paul Chalfin—the best formal gardens of the region. A few months later, Suarez traveled to New York and found himself stranded there by the outbreak of the First World War. By chance, he again encountered Chalfin, who employed him to design Vizcaya’s formal gardens.
Initially, Suarez based his designs on those of a sixteenth-century villa in Viterbo. But when he visited Miami for the first time, he realized that the Italian design would not work at the Florida site. Suarez cleverly adapted his design and created the Mound as the focal point of the gardens, shielding the house from the harsh sunshine reflections of the adjacent lake, and lending drama to the vista from the small structure known as the Casino. Suarez created exaggerated perspective lines using low hedges, fanning out from the South Terrace, to dramatize the formal geometry of the gardens. He also incorporated motifs from various sites he had shown Chalfin and Deering on their visit to Italy.
Following a series of disagreements with Chalfin, Suarez left the project in 1917, and, for many years, Chalfin took credit for the garden design. Only in the 1950s, thanks to F. Burrall Hoffman, Suarez was acknowledged as the architect of one of the most significant formal gardens of the United States.