Day One: South Miami and Homestead
I traveled to Florida this week to attend a board meeting of the Garden Writers Association, but hey! A guy’s allowed to have a little fun, right? That’s why I was pleased to be able to add onto the intial trip a 3-day media tour linked to the TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition), a major foliage and tropical plant show held annually in Fort Lauderdale.
As a result, I spent Tuesday January 17 touring gardens and plant suppliers in the Miami/Homestead area with a group of other members of the Gardener Writiers Association, plus the tour’s organizers, Jennifer Nelis and Sylvia Gordon of the FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscapers Association).
It turned out to be a beautiful day: sunny and warm with some clouds, about 75ºF (24ºC ) with a gentle breeze much of the time.
Here are some of the highlights of this exceptional day:
This fabulous botanical garden is not well known to the general public, even though it is located within the boundaries of the highly visited city of Miami, just off Biscayne Bay. It’s the former estate of David Fairchild, a botanist and plant explorer who traveled throughout Southeast Asia and other tropical locales in the early to mid-twentyth century to gather exotic plants and introduce them into the United States.
The Kampong wasn’t originally planned to be a botanical garden, but rather a private residence: it’s built on a very narrow strip of land, stretching from Old Cutler Road to the ocean, but it’s jam-packed full of plants, mainly trees and shrubs, including many unusual fruit trees.
You can’t just drop by and visit The Kampong unannounced: it has limited car parking and reservations are required. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 442-7169. You can also visit their website at ntbg.org/gardens/kampong.
Patch of Heaven Gardens
This is both a very old and a very new garden. The 20-acre estate was once the home of the Matheson family, rich land-owners in the Miami area, then passed through several hands. Indeed, it was once a petting zoo! But much of the installations and plantings had been long abandoned when the Chesney family purchased the land in 2008. They have since set about restoring the environment – a South Florida hardwood hammock, home to a number of threatened species – as well as the structures. With the help of horticulturists Frederick Hubbard and Roberto Del Cid, they have also installed extensive and indeed very striking gardens. It’s amazing how much as been accomplished in just 8 years!
Among the many projects, the Chesney family is developing a cacao plantation. Agriculturists have never considered cacao (Theobroma cacao) to be hardy enough for Florida’s climate, but with global warming, it’s winters are becoming warmer and the Chesney think the situation has changed. If this project works out, it will be the first cacao plantation in the continental United States.
The owners live in the main house and are working on projects to make their venture sustainable, such as producing and selling their own chocolate and cacao plants as well as opening their gardens to visitors and leasing the facilities for TV and film shoots, weddings, receptions, etc. You want to visit Patch of Heaven Gardens, send an email to email@example.com or phone 786-719-9903. Their website is www.patchofheavengardens.com.
Costa Farms Trial Garden
Costa Farms is a third-generation, family-owned farm, one of the largest wholesale growers in the United States, with facilities in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Dominican Republic. They’re best know for their houseplants and tropical plants, shipped throughout the United States and Canada, but the 2-acre Trial Garden, featuring new annuals and perennials, is a more recent venture: it’s in its 7th year.
We were able to visit during the “Season Premier”, a chance to see new varieties even before they are unveiled at the California Spring Trials. More than 1200 varieties were on display!
Here are few samples:
Costa Farms also offered our group a delicious lunch. The soup, especially, was to die for!
You can find plenty of information on Costa Farm products at www.costafarms.com.
This world-renowned orchid growing facility celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010… and it’s been in the same family from the very start: the current owner, Bob Fuchs, is the grandson of the founder, Fred Fuchs Senior.
Bob showed us around the gardens that surround the private home and nursery. He had plenty of anecdotes to share, including one about how Hurricane Andrew essentially obliterated the gardens and nursery in 1992, leaving only the house (specifically designed by grandpa to resist hurricanes) standing! All the trees were blown over, but Bob worked hard to save them and replanted the fallen giants: most are still alive to this day!
The gardens are gorgeous, full of beautiful plants, and not just orchids: bromeliads, aroids, palms and native plants as well. We did see orchids everywhere though, including (indeed mostly) in the trees. Many were vandas and vanda relatives, the specialty of R.F. Orchids.
Of course, the sales area is vast and clean, with literally thousands of choices. I was only able to resist because you would need a CITES certificate to transport an orchid back to Canada and that meant I couldn’t bring any back with me.
R.F. Orchids, Inc. is located in Homestead, Florida, and open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. For information, call 305-245-4570 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.rforchids.com.
Montgomery Botanical Center
After the visit to R.F. Orchids, our bus drove us back to southern Miami where yet another great garden awaited us: Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC). This non-profit botanical garden is located not far from The Kampong. I have to confess that this was my favorite garden of the day!
This 120-acre Coral Gables estate is the former property of two serious palm- and cycad-enthuiasts, Colonel Robert and Nell Montgomery, and was founded in 1959. It now houses one of the most complete collections of palms and cycads in the United States: more than 1,200 species.
Executive Director Patrick Griffith personally took us on a tour of the gardens, with its splendid vistas, ponds (where an American crocodile had been seen that very morning) and limestone ridges. Every possible care is taken to place each plant in an environment appropriate to its needs. Several plants on display are nearly extinct in the wild and are being preserved at the MBC not only for display and study, but also to produce seed so they can eventually be reintroduced into their native land.
A delicious supper in the main house – with an outstanding view of the garden! – followed the visit.
You can find further information on the Montgomery Botanical Center on its website: www.montgomerybotanical.org. Visits are possible by appointment: contact Tracy Magellan at 305-667-3800 ext. 114 or email email@example.com.
Miami Beach Nightscapes
By time our meal was over, it was already dark and time to head back to our hotels in Fort Lauderdale. We did stop along the way in Miami Beach for a few of nightscapes at 1111 Lincoln Road, but I’m afraid none the photos I took really render this beautiful spot justice.
It was a most glorious if long day and we such beautiful gardens and businesses, not to mention incredible plants: certainly a day to remember!