Small is beautiful! Two petite botanical gardens on Florida's Treasure Coast!

Giant turtle on display at McKee as part of the current Dr Seuss exhibition
Have to say I'm in plant heaven here on the East Coast of Florida! Set off from Sarasota at seven this morning and drove across to the Atlantic coast - a glorious drive where the only traffic I saw was huge trucks carrying citrus fruit; and the only factory smell was that of crushed oranges! But life got even better when I got to the coast because my first stop was Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce.
Heathcote was once a nursery, but today it provides a tropical plant oasis in Fort Pierce
This is a glorious 3.5 acre plot that was originally started as a commercial nursery by Jim and Milly Crimmins. But as time moved on they planted trees; made a Japanese garden; attracted a lot of local interest and sowed the seeds for the delightful garden that is there today. It may be small, but there's lots going on and May 2011, the new James Smith Bonsai Collection will open its doors to the public.
But life at Heathcote hasn't always been so idyllic, because it was only 25 years ago that this charming garden faced extinction from developers and bulldozers during the great Florida property boom. In 1985 the Botanical Gardens were founded as a non-profit organisation, following the heroic efforts of Gloria Moore, who led a citizen's group to save the plot and bonsai enthusiast, Jim Smith, who vowed to save the Japanese garden that had been created by the former nursery owners on site. Jim Smith went on to become a Bonsai Master and it's his collection that will reside permanently at Heathcote from May.
Part of the charm of this garden is that it's still growing. It's tended by volunteers who clearly love their work (we talked to several of the gardeners who were hard at work as we walked around), and I was  enchanted with the wonderful sculptures, like the one above, made from garden implements. This is definitely a garden to watch because it's set to go great places in the next few years! There are plans for further development because Heathcote has acquired more land adjacent to the existing plot, so watch this space!
A watery scene at McKee Botanical Garden
Heading north up the coast, you come to Vero Beach where you'll find McKee Botanical Garden, which was established in the 1930s by wealthy local citrus grower, Waldo Sexton and millionaire engineer, Arthur McKee. These two businessmen shared a love of plants and wanted to create a jungle garden that would open to the public. They worked through Dr David Fairchild (of Kampong and Fairchild Botanical Gardens fame) and commissioned William Lyman Phillips to design the gardens.
This one made me take a second look - but actually it's a sculpture at McKee!
But even McKee nearly fell to the developers in the 1970's and it was only thanks to the efforts of local campaigners and volunteers that the gardens were saved. When the theme parks started opening in Orlando, it seemed that few visitors were interested in visiting gardens. Mickey trumped over nature and the opening of the Florida Turnpike meant that few visitors used US1 any more and by 1978, it looked as though McKee was going to become yet another golf course.
But McKee is the story of a garden that refused to die and local residents spent 20 years campaigning to save the site that is there today, which re-opened in 2001. The fantastic collection of palms and the large watery spaces are reminiscent of the vistas at Fairchild Tropical Gardens further south on the East Coast of Florida. But just like Heathcote, this is a garden to watch and certainly one to visit when the lilies are in bloom.


  1. gorgeous gardens and I love the garden art

  2. Dearest Galloping Gardener,

    I just love your blog. It's wonderful. I was looking at your recent posts and had the question, "I wonder what kind of camera she prefers?" ? So I thought I would ask.

    (I am hoping to head to the Jardin Botanico in Rio de Janeiro this year. I lived in Rio for a year and a half, and wondered if you have been to Brasil at all?)


    ~ Red Clover

  3. You're right. Your posts about U.S. gardens are just as interesting and lovely as the posts about England and India. Thanks for the glimpses of all these great botanical hot spots!

  4. It is only recently that I came to visit your garden visit postings. I also, get more pleasure from visiting gardens and working in my own than anything else. I was born and grew up in England and this summer will visit for the first time as a serious visitor. I joined the Royal Oak Foundation and have planned the whole trip around the National Trust. Some, like Sissinghurst and Snowshill will be a re visit. Can't wait. We will be there rain or shine. Scrolling through your garden visits has helped me with my plans.

  5. Charlotte, what an exciting life you do lead, and yes the US gardens really are just as interesting as the English ones.Hmm, think I will copy that work of art and hang it on my new fence.

  6. The alligator made me look twice too. It looked so real. The garden art is wonderful.


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