Category Archives: North American Experience

August 19th – Day 4: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

With the forecast calling for storms, we headed to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG) just down the street from where we are staying in Coral Gables. When we arrived at the Garden, we were greeted by former Longwood Graduate Fellow Ms. Christie Leiva. Recently promoted to Horticulture Supervisor, Christie oversees the maintenance of the Garden’s extensive plant collections, spanning over the institution’s 83 acres.  The FTBG mission is, “…to save tropical plant diversity by exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants…” Dr. Carl Lewis, the Director, and Christie discussed how this vision is communicated through the institution’s tremendous plant collections, conservation initiatives, and innovative educational and research programs.

Group shot in front of the lakes.

Group shot in front of the lakes.

Close up of dragon fruit cactus flower (hylocereus undatus).
Close up of dragon fruit cactus flower (hylocereus undatus).

The Garden was founded in 1938 by Col. Robert H. Montgomery, who named it after his plant explorer friend Dr. David Fairchild. As part of their partnership, Dr. Fairchild embarked on the first plant collecting expedition for FTBG in 1940 to regions of Southeast Asia. This trip would turn out to be Dr. Fairchild’s final collecting voyage. To commemorate his legacy, the Garden is currently developing a Southeast Asia collection, uniquely and appropriately sited on an “island” within the grounds and representing species collected on his final trip.

Chihuly glass artwork in conservatory.

Chihuly glass artwork in conservatory.

The garden was originally designed by William Philips, student of notable landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead. Unlike other historical estates FTBG was intended to be just a garden, and never a residential estate. Therefore, Philips’ design was simple and, as Christie explained, follows a traditional museum layout, with long “hallways” of turf leading to gallery-like spaces. Even today this layout holds true, with plant additions placed in the beds like paintings on gallery walls, lining the edges of the turf corridors. The design allows for better plant growth providing ample space and sun exposure for the diverse plant collections.

Close up of the cannon ball tree (couroupita guianensis).

Close up of the cannon ball tree (couroupita guianensis).

The Garden hosts a wealth of remarkable taxonomic and geographic collections representing species from tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.  The most significant of all the plant collections at FTBG are palms and cycads, representing over 500 and 120 species, respectively. One palm of particular significance that was highlighted during our tour was a species in the genus Carpoxylon. Through the mid 1980s the species was only known by a single seed that was held in the London Natural History Museum, but had never before been described in the wild. Knowing nothing about the appearance of the plant, researchers pieced together a possible description of what a mature specimen might look like, based only on the single seed in collection. In the late 1980s, the species was finally identified in the wild by researchers on an expedition to Fiji. Remarkably, the description that was developed from the single seed closely matched the plant’s actual appearance.

Bismarckia nobilis in the palm garden.
Bismarckia nobilis in the palm garden.

Another amazing specimen was that of Zamia pseudoparasitica, the only epiphytic cycad species, which is native to the high canopy in the cloud forest of Panama. The Garden also features an extensive collection of tropical fruit trees as well as a tropical fruit breeding program.  Responsible for many new introductions each year, the Garden holds over 500mango (Mangifera) varieties.

Shari and Andrew hanging out under the fig tree.

Shari and Andrew hanging out under the fig tree.

In the end, our visit to the Garden and discussions with staff was a tremendous experience and opportunity. So much so, that we will be returning tomorrow afternoon for round two at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden!

August 18th – Day 3: Naples Botanical Garden

This afternoon, we drove across the state to visit the up and coming Naples Botanical Garden. Brainstormed by local residents in the mid 1990s, the Garden is currently completing construction and will open to the public on November 14th, 2009. Executive Director Brian Holley and his staff graciously invited us to visit the 160-acre site, which was an invaluable experience to learn more about botanic garden creation and construction.

The new (and colorful!) Visitor Center at the Naples Botanical Garden

The new (and colorful!) Visitor Center at the Naples Botanical Garden

A view of the entrance garden with its beautiful mosaic wall and lively plantings

A view of the entrance garden with its beautiful mosaic wall and lively plantings

A close-up of the Naples Botanical Garden's mosaic wall

A close-up of the Naples Botanical Garden's mosaic wall

While a typical South Florida rainstorm passed by, we had the opportunity to hear the perspectives of Jill Barry, Director of External Affairs, and Joyce Zirkle, Chief Operating Officer. We then boarded golf carts to get an overview of the site, stopping to see the progress on some of the notable garden locations, including the Children’s Garden, the Brazilian Garden, and the pond system. We had the expertise of Brian Galligan, Horticulture Manager, who pointed out some of the notable plant specimens along the way.

Executive Director Brian Holley telling Dan and Andrew an exciting tale

Executive Director Brian Holley telling Dan and Andrew an exciting tale

Dan on the boardwalk near the Caribbean Garden

Dan on the boardwalk near the Caribbean Garden

Both Brians then sat down with us to discuss the garden structure and history. The purpose of this garden is to reflect landscapes and cultures within 26 degrees of the Equator, and there are already locations for future Asian and African inspired garden areas. We all agreed that this will be a fantastic new botanic garden and a great resource for tropical horticulture.

Before heading back to the east coast, we couldn’t resist stopping to dip our toes in the Gulf of Mexico, and arrived just as the sun was about to set. It was a good thing we stopped, or Bob never would have met his feisty dolphin friend.

Behold: the Gulf of Mexico!

Behold: the Gulf of Mexico!

Bob training for the Dolphin Rodeo

Bob training for the Dolphin Rodeo

August 18th – Day 3: The Kampong

This morning the Fellows traveled to the edge of Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, Florida to visit The Kampong, of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Upon arrival, the Fellows met Director, Ms. Ann Parsons, and Head Horticulturist, Mr. David Jones, who provided an overview of The Kampong’s unique past. The history of horticulture on this property can be traced back to Dr. David Fairchild, who purchased the property in 1916 and named it The Kampong – a Malay word for a village, or a cluster of dwellings for an extended family.

Curator David Jones shows Bob, Andrew, and Keelin a unique seed

Curator David Jones shows Bob, Andrew, and Keelin a unique seed

At the time, Fairchild was serving as Head of the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture. In this position, he traveled extensively throughout the world in search of plants suitable for introduction into the United States. In particular, Fairchild was interested in new varieties of economic plants, such as mangos, Mangifera sp., and avocados, Persea americana, whose unique characteristics might make them especially valuable. He developed The Kampong as an “introduction garden” for the plants he collected on these expeditions, many of which remain on the grounds today. Although he lived in Washington, D.C. most of the year, Fairchild also built a house on the property and made it his permanent home upon his retirement in 1928.

Dan and Keelin hiding behind some seriously jumbo-sized elephant ears

Dan and Keelin hiding behind some seriously jumbo-sized elephant ears

This little guy is just checking the sprinkler head!

This little guy is just checking the sprinkler head!

Almost 10 years after Fairchild passed away, Dr. Catherine Sweeney took over as the guiding voice of The Kampong in 1963. She had the financial means and the scientific expertise to preserve Fairchild’s unique plant collections. In 1984, Sweeney entered The Kampong into the National Register of Historic Places and, later that same year, gifted The Kampong to the then Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden. This organization was primarily based in Hawaii and, with the addition of The Kampong as its only mainland property, was renamed the National Tropical Botanical Garden in 1988. The mission of the National Tropical Botanical Garden is, “to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.”

The mask of a woman gazes out from the aerial roots of a banyan tree

The mask of a woman gazes out from the aerial roots of a banyan tree

The Kampong is in the midst of an interesting transition from private family estate to public garden and, during a tour of the grounds, the Longwood Fellows learned about some of the inherent challenges. For several years, the staff has been making a concerted effort to add landscape amenities to enhance the visitor experience. There has also been a stronger focus on documenting the collection through mapping and accession records. Today, much of the emphasis at The Kampong is education and each year the institution holds a variety of educational programs for college professors, physicians, and others using its living collections as an outdoor classroom. During their tour of the plant collections, the Longwood Fellows saw and sampled a number of famous “Kampong” introductions, including some unusual fruits such as Antidesma bunius, a member of the Phyllanthus family, that has dark purple, juicy, edible berries. The group concluded its tour with a relaxing walk from the heritage collections, through Fairchild’s research laboratory and home and out to the eastern edge of the property. Enjoying the view over the Bay, the Fellows were able to reflect on the unique history of The Kampong as well as the expert information and hospitality of their hosts.

Sampling some tasty fruits off a specimen tree in the Kampong's collection

Sampling some tasty fruits off a specimen bignay, Antidesma bunius, in the Kampong's collection

A view of Biscayne Bay from a bluff on the Kampong's grounds

A view of Biscayne Bay from a bluff on the Kampong's grounds

August 17th – Day 2: The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

Today the fellows toured and experienced the only frost-free tropical forest garden in the continental United States. Located off the coast of Florida, The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden has an extensive collection of native plants of the Northern Caribbean Rim. The largest portion of their plant collection is endemic to the Florida Keys, containing approximately 60 endangered species. These collections preserve and protect important germplasm, while also serving as an important educational tool. The Garden currently runs educational programs for all school age children on Key West, reaching over 3,000 children annually. The Garden also has five docent led tours highlighting different ecosystems and plantings throughout the institution.

Entrance to Garden

Group at Garden entrance

Palm frond with fallen Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) petal

Florida thatch palm (Thrinax radiata) frond with fallen Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) petal

Our group was guided by docents Beryn and Rick Harty, who shared their extensive knowledge of the Garden’s history and plant collections. Beryn explained that the Garden was established in 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration to foster jobs and tourism throughout the Keys. After opening, the Garden quickly became the #1 tourist destination in Key West. During World War II, part of the Garden was turned over to become a military base. The Botanical Garden was initially started with displays of tropical plants from around the world, but in 2000, the collection became focused on natives. However, many large exotic specimens remained from early periods, like the huge Barringtonia (Barringtonia asiatica), the beautiful Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), a few large autograph trees (Clusia rosea), and an impressive sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata). Of the few other non-natives that can be found in the Garden are several nectar and host plant species for native butterflies.

View of Butterfly Garden host and nectar plants from below. Giant Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea) with light-purple bloom, Firebush (Hamelia patens)

View of Butterfly Garden host and nectar plants from below. (giant milkweed (Calotropis gigantea) with light-purple bloom, firebush (Hamelia patens) with orange bloom)

Jon investigates blooming ground-cover

Jon investigates blooming ground-cover with interested audience

Beryn and Rick proudly told us that the Garden now has collected 72% of all shrubs and 80% of all trees native to the Keys. Two particularly impressive native trees found throughout the Garden were the pigeon plum (Cocoloba diversifolia) and the sea grape (Colcoloba uvifera).  We were all given good advice to stay clear of one native tree during our stay on the Keys. This tree was the poisonwood (Metoplom toxiforum), whose wood and foliage causes a reaction similar to poison ivy, but is also able to exude toxic sap during a downpour.  One other plant that surprised the fellows was the endangered semaphre cactus (Opunita corallicola), which is reduced to only one male population found on Key West Island.

Beryn shows Dan interesting bloom

Beryn shows Dan interesting flower structure

Firebush (Hamelia patens) in full fruit

Firebush (Hamelia patens) in full fruit

After our delightful tour, we met with board members Richard Keefe and Carolann Sharkey who shared many new and exciting plans for expanding the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. One new project that we saw being installed was the new pond. This pond is built on top of an aquifer and plans to showcase native fresh water flora and fauna. Another new construction project is a LEED certified visitor center, for which the Garden will begin a capital campaign this year. A few other projects that are on the horizon include: a scenic by-way, an internship program, more educational tours, a Miami blue butterfly garden and a Cuban forest garden. These plans are only made possible thanks to dedicated and passionate volunteers, staff, and board members. The Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical garden is truly fortunate for them and is a must see destination when in the Florida Keys.

Keelin bares her Limber caper (Capparis flexuosa) fruit

Keelin bares her limber caper (Capparis flexuosa) fruit

North American Experience – Day 1: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a beautiful Renaissance-style estate located on the outskirts of Miami, was the first stop on our week-long journey to the public gardens of South Florida.  When we arrived at the front gate this morning, we were welcomed by Ian Simpkins, Vizcaya’s Chief Horticulturist, who oriented us to the garden’s history and spent the next several hours touring us around the 54-acre estate.

One of the first views we saw as we entered Vizcaya.

One of the first views we saw as we entered Vizcaya.

Vizcaya was built between 1914 and 1916 as the winter residence of James Deering, native Chicagoan and Vice President of the International Harvester Corporation. Deering initially purchased 180 acres of land upon which to build his estate, paying the then-exorbitant sum of $1000 per acre. At the time, Miami was little more than a wilderness outpost, with a population of only 10,000 living among extensive black and red mangrove swamps.

The mansion as viewed from Biscane Bay.

The mansion as viewed from Biscane Bay.

Vizcaya has been a public garden and museum since the mid-1950s, when Miami-Dade County purchased the estate from Deering’s nieces. Today, the garden welcomes 180,000 visitors per year, and serves as one of Miami’s most well-regarded public horticulture institutions.

Our host, Ian Simpkins, shows Jon part of Viscaya's orchid collection, which includes over 4,000 specimens.

Our host, Ian Simpkins, shows Jon part of Viscaya's orchid collection, which includes over 4,000 specimens.

Vizcaya’s natural beauty owes much to James Deering’s ethic of environmental conservation. Unlike most other wealthy landowners of the era, Deering chose to preserve much of the native woodland located on his estate. To this day, the tropical hardwood forest, known as a rockland hammock, lends Vizcaya’s landscape a unique and beautifully lush quality. The Miami Rock Ridge, a coral-based limestone formation, forms the area’s geological substrate and enables this locally-endemic forest type to thrive.

A blue crab peeks out from behind cascading fountains.

A blue crab peeks out from behind cascading fountains.

Deering hired several experts to direct the design and construction of his estate. F. Burrall Hoffman, architect, designed the mansion and other buildings; Diego Suarez, noted garden designer, created the landscapes; and the landscape architect Paul Chalfin served as artistic supervisor of the entire endeavor. The mansion and its surrounding gardens were built in a style reminiscent of French and Italian late Renaissance design, and were furnished with European artifacts and statuary Deering collected on his trips abroad.

Apollo posing with Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).

Apollo posing with Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).

The Center Garden, located just to the east of the mansion, serves as a main focal point in the landscape. Its central feature is an elongated central pool flanked by an allee of stately live oak (Quercus virginiana) trees and twin parterres of orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata). At the far end of the garden is a multi-tiered fountain behind which is an Italianate garden structure known as a casino.

Stairway

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Vizcaya, and only wish we could have stayed longer! As it was, we had to get on the road to travel to our next destination, the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden.

2009 North American Experience Blog

Welcome to the 2009 North American Experience Blog! For this year’s North America Experience the Class of 2010 and Program Director, Dr. Robert Lyons, will embark on a week-long journey, from August 15th to the 21st, to discover the horticultural wonders of the Sunshine State. The trip features six amazing public horticulture institutions including Vizcaya, Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, The Kampong, Naples Botanical Garden, Fairchild Botanical Garden, and the Montgomery Botanical Center. Click on the institutions above to check out their websites.

Check back soon to catch our first Blog post and feel free to stay in touch by posting comments of your own!

To learn more about the Program’s North American Experience (NAX) and previous trips visit the Program’s Web site at the following link:

http://ag.udel.edu/longwoodgrad/northamerican.html