Monday, 8 February 2010

A garden that rose around a reconstructed ruin

Some of you will recognise this picture because I've already used it on Life in a Day ... but now I'll tell you where it is ... and the extraordinary history surrounding this remarkable and little-visited garden in North Miami Beach, FL. This is the monastery of St Bernard de Clairvaux, which dates from the 12th century and started out in the tiny village of Sacramenia in Segovia, Spain and for almost 700 years it was occupied by Cistercian monks. So how, you might well ask, does this edifice come to be here in Florida?

The answer is quite bizarre - the buildings were purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1925 - dismantled stone by stone, packed into 11,000 cases with hay as protection, meticulously numbered and shipped to the United States. But unfortunately for Hearst, the shipment coincided with a particularly bad outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Segovia, so the entire shipment was quarantined by the Department of Agriculture. The crates were opened because hay was deemed to be a potential carrier of the disease; the hay was burned and the contents were randomly repacked!!

By this time Hearst had run into financial difficulty, so the crates were stored in a Brooklyn warehouse for some 25 years until Messrs Edgemon and Moss purchased them as a potential tourist attraction a year after Hearst's death. It cost them $1.5 million dollars and 19 months of labour to reassemble the buildings on the current site, but neither time nor money could overcome the problem of the mislabeling that had occurred during the hay burning! So although the monastery looks complete today, there are many stones that have never been fitted into the puzzle.

The formal gardens that are there today are quite enchanting, with a series of clipped hedges, brick walkways and statues. There is a canopy of live oaks and palms, as well as many bromeliads and orchids. But it is the ambience here that is really special - it is a very peaceful place, with plenty of open spaces. Well worth leaving the beaten track to visit and you'll be quite amazed when you get there. Prior to reconstruction of the cloisters, there was a nursery here, so there are more than 1,000 mature plants and trees in the garden that date from the 1950s. The Episcopal church on the site remains active and the gardens are open every day.

18 comments:

  1. What a fascinating story ! I can just imagine the headache of trying to fit the pieces back together. It's a miracle they managed ! What a wonderful place.

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  2. Wow, that is such an enchanting place! Makes me want to make a trip down to Miami. Such an interesting history as well. I really enjoyed this post and am still taking notes for when I find myself in other towns. Thanks for sharing your trips!

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  3. What an interesting story! I have to say I was instantly reminded of Smallville when I read this.

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  4. I am a Cistercian monk/priest living in the Southwest.Google alerts me whenever the word "Cistercian" is used on the web and this is a lovely and unusual surprise. What is even stranger is that I watched "Citizen Kane" last night for the first time! What odd little coincidences God creates to keep things interesting. Thanks for the nice photos and history of this place. God bless.
    -Br. Columcille, OCCO+
    www.cistercianmonks.org

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  5. Fantastic story. This is the kind of thing that really makes a garden special. The struggles and tribulations that go into creating something beautiful.
    By the way, I love the new header. It's gorgeous!

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  6. Wow..dismantle and re-assemble again with the hay burning and all the mess is like putting back the pyramid back again.
    (Or close to that)
    Its sure a great feat for a tourist attraction.

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  7. Dear Charlotte, What an extraordinary story and another fascinating garden. I am much enjoying sharing this tour of Florida which clearly has a wealth of interesting gardens open to the public.

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  8. I've just found your blog! As an avid gardener and traveler, you blog provides so much of interest. Such amazing photos!

    In the UK, I've seen only Kew and Hampton Court. In France, Giverny and Ephrussi. We're going back to France in May and will once again be on the Cote d'Azur. I didn't make it to the gardens at Menton on the last trip, but hope to have the time this year.

    I'm adding your blog to my blogroll. Come visit.

    Cheers,
    Cameron
    Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel blog

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  9. This is very interesting and is certainly a garden i would love to visit. It always amazes me when i discover that buildings have been taken apart and shipped to another part of the world. What a shame that so many pieces are left over.

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  10. That must have been one breathtaking visit. Those photos are so gorgeous.

    Jen

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  11. What an interesting story. I have been to the Hearst Castle in California, but had not heard this story of the edifice that he had to forgo. I am glad that someone else was able to purchase it and have it reassembled.

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  12. Awesome! I love when a blog post is peppered with history :D That tiled walkway in the second pic is beautiful!

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  13. What an interesting story! It's just beautiful there.

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  14. Very informative post. The walkway evoked some mystery and history. The photos are also beautiful.

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  15. Interesting story full of historic efforts. It sure went a long way to reach this. thanks for sharing another wonderful garden with us.

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  16. Fascinating story - thanks for sharing. The gardens looks so lush.

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  17. Hearst certainly liked to dismantle and reassemble treasures from another world. Have you been to Hearst Castle in California? It is full of Roman pieces and and 11th Century mosiac floor from Turkey. Amazing that this could be done. Don't know if we'd get away with it in this time. Beautiful photos.

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  18. Wot a great story and fabulous view through those gates with the palms etc. Yet another thing to thank Hearst for beside the wonder that is San Simeon!

    Best Wishes

    Robert

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