McKee Botanical Garden
Wauchula, FL - Events of Tuesday, April 11, 2017
We took advantage of our extended time in Florida to do some sightseeing. The weather was beautiful last Tuesday so we took a day trip to Vero Beach over on the east coast. Our destination was McKee Botanical Garden which was about 2½-hour drive.
McKee Botanical Garden was opened in 1932 as McKee Jungle Gardens by Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, who were land developers. By the 1940s, over 100,000 tourists a year were visiting the garden with its extensive collection of water lilies, orchids and other tropical plants from around the world. In those days, no jungle garden would be complete without also having monkeys and alligators.
Paul doesn't remember visiting McKee Jungle Gardens when he vacationed in Florida as a kid with his parents. However, he definitely remembers seeing their advertising signs along the road. The garden is located on US 1, which was the main north-south route along the east coast of Florida back in the 1950s.
Like so many old Florida roadside attractions, McKee Jungle Gardens fell victim to the development of interstate highways and to the opening of Disney World in the 1970s. The gardens closed in 1976, and all but 18 acres of the original 80-acre plot was sold off for condominiums. The remaining 18 acres lay dormant until the Indian River Land Trust raised enough funds in 1994 to purchase the property. After additional fund raising and much restoration effort, McKee Botanical Garden was opened to the public in 2001.
We arrived at the garden a little before noon. Out in the parking lot there is a stump of a huge cypress tree that was retrieved from a swamp in the 1930s and hauled to McKee Jungle Gardens on a flatbed truck by Waldo Sexton. The tree from which the stump came was 2,000 years old and over 100 feet tall when it was cut by loggers back in the day.
We headed to the entrance building where we paid our admission fee. Admission is $12 for adults and $11 for seniors over 65.
We entered the garden through the archway that can be seen between the two buildings in the above photo. The dozen or so orchids that are on display under the archway pay homage to the very extensive orchid collection that was part of the original gardens.
The archway opens out onto an oval-shaped lawn. The lawn is surrounded by palm trees and exotic, tropical foliage.
Several paths radiate out from the oval. They all twist and wind their way through various areas of the garden. Fortunately, the maps that are handed out are nicely done and it's hard to get completely lost.
We started out on the first path to the right leading to the Royal Palm Grove. Royal palms are majestic trees that can reach heights of 80 feet. Their straight, smooth, gray trunks are topped by green palmshafts and luxuriously-full palm fronds. They are Paul's favorite palm tree; but unfortunately, they are too big and not quite cold-hardy enough to be able to plant on our site in Wauchula.
In the area of the Royal Palm Court there is a stickwork sculpture by Patrick Doughtery. We have seen his work before at several other botanical gardens. The title of this work is "The Royals" in honor of the adjacent palms.
The fun part of Doughtery's work is you can walk all around it and even into it.
A temporary exhibit at the McKee Botanical Garden when we were there was "Nature Connects," which is a series of sculptures made from over 300,000 Lego blocks. One was a life-sized rototiller located near the Royal Palm Grove.
The Lego sculptures are scattered around the garden. Shown below are several of our favorites.
We continued our way around the garden enjoying the lush, tropical growth lining the paths and surrounding the many ponds.
The Sleeping Tree is a Toog Tree that was blown over by Hurricane David in 1979. With some of its roots still intact, it continued to grow in its new prone position.
The garden has hundreds of shade-loving bromiliads that add color to the garden. The one shown below not only has colorful foliage, but it is also just starting to bloom. You can see one small, pink, triangular flower in the center. That one flower will soon be joined by many more on a stalk that will eventually rise about a foot above the leaves.
One unusual plant we saw was a red pineapple which is native to South America. Although its fruit is edible, it is less fleshy than commercially grown pineapples so the red pineapple is grown primarily as an ornamental. They are also sometimes used as barrier hedge because their spiny leaves discourage trespassers.
We enjoyed our visit to the McKee Botanical Garden. We knew we would be hungry after our walk around the garden so we scouted out several places to eat beforehand. There were a couple places in Vero Beach that got good online reviews, and the there was also one called Squid Lips that was located about a half hour to the north of Vero Beach in Sebastian. Although Squid Lips was farther away, the name definitely caught our attention that's where we headed.
We arrived after the lunch rush so they weren't very crowded. We were able to get a window table overlooking the marina beside the restaurant.
Squid Lips has sandwiches that include chips and a soft drink for $8 to $14. You can substitute fries for the chips for $1. They have baskets of fried seafood for $9 to $14 that include fries and slaw. Dinner entrées are about $15 to $27 and include potato and a vegetable. You can add a side salad to your dinner for $3.
Margery had a fried clam strip basket ($10.99), and Paul had fried shrimp ($12.99). The clams were sweet and tender, the shrimp were fairly large and were lightly breaded, the slaw was excellent with a little celery seed added for extra flavor, and the seasoned fries were nice and crisp. Everything was delish, and the portions were fairly generous.
After our nice day of sightseeing and great meal, we headed back to the co-op for an evening of TV. See you next time.