McKee Botanical Garden, 350 US Highway 1, Vero Beach, Fla. 32962 is a lovely place to visit.
McKee Jungle Gardens was the vision of land developers Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, who purchased the 80-acre tropical hammock in 1922 with the intention of cultivating citrus. The property’s natural beauty was deemed too special in its native state to disturb so McKee and Sexton identified a new purpose for the land. The two land developers employed landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, from the esteemed firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, to design the basic infrastructure of streams, ponds and trails while they focused their efforts on assembling one of the most outstanding collections of waterlilies and orchids – augmenting native vegetation with ornamental plants and exotic specimens from around the world. By the 1940s, more than 100,000 tourists were visiting the Gardens each year, deeming it one of Florida’s earliest and most popular natural attractions. The Garden’s award-winning orchid collection, unusual fly-trapping pelican flowers and exotic wildlife captivated visitors.
As central Florida developed in the 1970s, attendance at the Gardens waned and the family owned establishment was unable to compete with the lure of far bigger tourist attractions in central and south Florida. McKee Jungle Gardens closed in 1976 and was sold to condominium developers. All but 18 acres were developed. These 18 acres, once the heart of McKee Jungle Gardens, lay dormant for 20 years.
A group of community visionaries understood the imperative of preserving these 18-acres and in 1994, with the help of The Trust for Public Land, launched a fund-raising campaign to buy the land. Volunteers cleared the trails to reveal once again the jungle’s treasures. Nov. 18, 2001 marked the formal dedication of the saved, restored and newly named McKee Botanical Garden.
There are over 10,000 native and tropical plants to behold and one of Florida’s largest and most celebrated collections of water lilies. Several restored architectural treasures such as The Hall of Giants and Spanish Kitchen have been meticulously restored to Sexton’s original vision.
McKee Botanical Garden is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The Children’s Garden closes at 4:30 p.m. daily. Last admission is 4 p.m. The garden is closed on Mondays and major holidays.
The garden hosts special exhibits and events throughout the year.
The Garden of Glass Exhibit by master glass sculptor and glass blower Jason Gamrach will be featured in the garden through the end of April. This colorful and thought-provoking exhibit celebrates the beauty, wonderment, and power in the natural world through the medium of glass. This exhibition features stunning glass orchids, waterlilies, and plants standing anywhere from 6 to 14 feet tall on display throughout the garden. This is Jason’s first outdoor garden exhibit in Florida.
In May, visit the garden for Pirate and Fairy Celebration Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come dressed in your fairy best swashbuckling gear.
The 18th Annual Waterlily Celebration is planned for Saturday, June 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information online, go to mckeegarden.org.