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  • Ellen Mary

Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

A blistering hot day in Key West, Florida, I would usually take the walk for only 1.3 miles but the humidity was knocking me out so I took a lift over to the botanical garden to save the sweat fest! It was just so hot, to be expected…it is the tropics after all, so I was hoping to find some Palm Tree shade.

After a friendly greeting in reception and a video showing how the garden had been developed and its importance for protecting endangered species, I meandered around with the help of a map and numbered sign posts - just as well since I can get lost in any garden and my brain felt like it was going to burst in the heat. I covered myself in ‘Deep Wood’ bug spray for this garden walk to save my already bitten ankles from North Carolina a few days before.

Back in 1934 Key West was declared bankrupt, 40% of inhabitants had moved on elsewhere to find work. There was little to be excited about and a lot to be lost. 80% of residents were struggling to survive. It’s hard to believe this would have been the case because the Key is just simply beautiful now. It’s so full of colour, fun and friendly people. The garden was conceived by a group of women from the local garden club who put forward proposals to create a botanical garden, even securing funding so the garden could be opened in 1936. It was sometime later however that the garden really flourished, as war and money meant the landscape changed over the years.

However, to the present day! The courtyard area on arrival is both modern and tropical and there was even a model shoot going on in front of the gorgeous waterfall backdrop. Scooting out of there sharpish I followed boardwalks and mulched paths all around the garden. Some paths were covered with fallen palm leaves, left to nature, and there was no sound apart from the crunch beneath my feet - I was the only person there.

I found poisonous shrubs such as Poisonwood, huge champion trees (the largest known of each tree species in the US), including Wlid Dilly, Saffron Plum and Black Olive and even a Sausage Tree (you can look that one up)! There was plenty of shade I was craving for (although no escaping the humidity) as I wandered along with lizards, butterflies and bees. I spotted Hummingbirds, Heron and the Florida White Butterfly.

Areas around the freshwater ponds provided great spots to stop to see some Floridian wildlife. The Cuban Palms Exhibit was really fantastic. I have never seen such flamboyant palms, from the Cuban Petticoat Palm to the Old Man Palm with fibrous, thick beard like material (which had been platted in places). A Palm Tree is definitely not just a Palm Tree!

A historical and critically important garden in Florida with so many endangered species, I haven’t visited a garden like it before. Conservation, education and creativity seem to be ethos, aiming to inspire new people into gardening.

To see photographs of my visit to the garden on my Facebook page click HERE, for my Youtube video tour click HERE and to visit the garden website click HERE.

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