The Florida Keys & Key West

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CONNECT & PROTECT: Discovering ‘Secret’ Gardens of the Florida Keys

FLORIDA KEYS — The wildly diverse ecosystems of the Florida Keys can perhaps best be discovered in hidden gardens, tucked off main thoroughfares and the Overseas Highway throughout the 125-mile-long island chain.

Names of Florida Keys subtropical trees, plants and flowers often are mysteriously lyrical, with monikers such as “gumbo limbo,” known as the “tourist tree” because of its peeling red bark, and “lignumvitae” — Latin for “wood of life,” whose dense bark contains a medicinal resin for treating arthritis.

Subtropical natural and re-created habitats, cultivated and enjoyed by residents year-round, are open to the public during winter garden tours, giving visitors behind-the-walls access.

Hidden gardens protect and preserve rare and exotic trees, plants and flowers of the Florida Keys; exploring them enables visitors to make a meaningful connection to the island chain’s natural world. 

In the Upper Keys, the Garden Club of the Upper Keys’ 39th annual Garden Walk unveils five distinctive private gardens via self-guided tours Saturday, Feb. 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Located between mile markers 89 and 100, the gardens include Croton Color, Big Palm, the 4-acre Indian Mound Estate, Living History Grove and Orchid Cottage.

Tour participants can attend a complimentary tea party between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the grounds of the Francis Tracy Garden Center in Tavernier, mile marker 94 bayside. Attractions include an exhibition by the Art Guild of the Purple Isles and a Garden Market featuring plants, food, artisan wares and crafts available for purchase. Garden Walk tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the gate. Visit gardenclubupperkeys.org or call 305-451-8137.

In the Middle Keys, the Marathon Garden Club’s Annual House & Garden Tour is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2, showcasing gardens that range from eclectic to elegant.

Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased at the club, 5270 Overseas Highway at mile marker 50 bayside, or the Marathon Chamber of Commerce at 12222 Overseas Highway. Visit marathongardenclub.org/house-and-garden-tour/ or call 305-743-4971 or 305-743-5417.

The 15-acre Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden — celebrating its 83rd anniversary as the only frost-free tropical moist forest garden in the continental United States is to host GardenFest Key West: The Green Market Place 2019 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17.

This year’s theme is “Re-greening the Keys.” Marjorie Townsend, owner-operator of the Townsend Family Organic Farms, discusses organic gardening Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Visitors can browse and buy tropical and native plants including more than 150 species of native plants in the garden’s nursery. The event also features arts and crafts, eco-friendly products and services, a children’s program, live music, refreshments and an on-site beer garden.

Located at 5210 College Road, the garden is rich in biodiversity and home to plants native to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the Caribbean. It has two wetland habitats, two butterfly gardens, seasonal flowers and national and state champion trees. Exploration is via eight self-guided tours. GardenFest admission is free. Visit keywest.garden or call 305-296-1504.

The Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower presents tours of four private gardens from 10 am. to 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, Feb. 23. Tickets are $20 per person.

A tranquil respite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at 1100 Atlantic Blvd., the Key West Garden Club has a white perfume garden with fragrant jasmine, gardenias, sweet almond and Chinese perfume plants; indigenous plants, rare palm trees and plant exhibits

The historic red brick West Martello Tower, a never-used fortification built during the Civil War era, was declared a National Historic Site in 1976 and today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The club’s tours include gardens created by noted landscape designer Patrick Tierney at the home of a former U.S. Navy commander in the Truman Annex neighborhood. Other private venues showcase butterfly gardens, orchid collections and fruit trees. Visit keywestgardenclub.com or call 305-294-3210.

Also in Key West, two upcoming weekends of historic home and garden tours are presented by the not-for-profit Old Island Restoration Foundation. The tours, established in 1960, are among the longest-running such tours in the United States.

Scheduled Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15-16 and March 15-16, the tours are offered from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Volunteers share details about the homes’ history, architecture, gardens and décor.

Tickets are $35 per person in advance or $40 on the day of the tour, and do not include transportation. Funds raised help to maintain Key West’s Oldest House Museum and support activities to preserve Key West’s historic district. Visit keywesthometours.com or call 305-294-9501.

By exploring Florida Keys gardens, visitors can discover the island chain’s horticulture and outdoor foliage, hidden natural beauty, unique ecosystems and exotic plants — adding fragrant memories to a winter vacation in the subtropical island chain. 

Florida Keys green travel information: fla-keys.com/greentravel

Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS

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