Naples Botanical Garden
Photo by Stefanie Plein

Staff Report: Visiting Florida's Botanical Gardens

Staff Report: Visiting Florida's Botanical Gardens

Feb 9, 2018|GardensHolbrook in the Field| by Lindsay Taulbee

Members of the Holbrook team recently visited several gardens in our home state of Florida, where they met with garden staff, learned about the gardens’ projects and collections, and saw firsthand the progress of recovery efforts following Hurricane Irma. President Andrea Holbrook and Director of Product Development Federico Perez visited three gardens in Miami, while Specialty Travel Consultants Sandy Schmidt and Stefanie Plein went to Florida's west coast to visit Naples Botanical Garden.

Montgomery Botanical Center

The other side of Miami, Florida: A tropical paradise of gardens, global research and conservation, report by Andrea Holbrook

As a North Floridian born and bred, my experiences in the Miami area have been mostly limited to the busy Miami International Airport as I was en route further south or perhaps on an occasional jaunt to a commercial office on Brickell Avenue. In January, my colleague Federico Perez and I decided to pay a visit to three of the most important tropical botanic gardens and research centers in the United States. Holbrook Travel has the great pleasure of working extensively with the garden community throughout the US in assisting them to put together unique programs designed for this audience. 

The Kampong

Our first visit was to The Kampong, where we were graciously hosted by Garden Director Craig Morell.

Craig Morell and Andrea Holbrook

This nine-acre botanical garden in the Coconut Grove neighborhood was the former estate of Dr. David Fairchild, the renowned botanical explorer who traveled throughout the world, particularly the tropics, collecting plants and bringing them to the US. It was fascinating to see the famed botanist's workshop, which has recently been restored displaying the equipment, writings, furniture, and photographs of Dr. Fairchild.

Andrea Holbrook and Craig Morell in Dr. Fairchild's workshop

Craig Morell and Federico Perez in Dr. Fairchild's workshop

A short drive from The Kampong, we arrived at the Montgomery Botanical Center, a 120-acre estate in Coral Gables that protects the largest and finest private collections of palms and cycads in the world. Here we were hosted by researcher Dr. Tucker Lima (Living Collections Manager), who talked with us as we gazed out of the living room window from what was once the estate of Colonel Richard H. Montgomery and his wife Eleanor (Nell). 

With Dr. Tucker Lima

Their beautiful but relatively modest home (compared to many in present-day Coral Gables) was perfectly preserved in time, with the 1950s style conjuring a bygone era. Outside of the Montgomerys' home, which today has an administrative function, it is clear that this enormous site is first and foremost a research and conservation facility. Here you don’t see tourists and visitors, but instead you get a glimpse into what botanists and researchers really do. The quiet expanse is dotted with plots and greenhouses, seed banks, and labs. I could not help but admire the foresight and vision of the Montgomerys. Today I believe it would be nearly impossible to set aside that amount of acreage for research and conservation in the heart of Miami, not only Montgomery but also the 83 acres of the public garden that today is the nearby Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

And this was our last stop visiting a trio of amazing botanical treasures. Also founded by Richard and Nell Montgomery, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is in many ways a sister institution to Montgomery; both institutions are globally important botanical research and conservation centers, and both have the same founder. However, Fairchild has a decidedly public education and engagement mission that distinguishes it completely. Its 83 acres are full of paths, garden areas from endless habitats from the around the world, and of course, restaurants and gift shops teeming with visitors. Here we were hosted by Amy Padolf, Director of Education, who shared with us the extensive programs of Fairchild in this arena. 

Statue at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

I was stunned to learn that together with the local school board, Fairchild is also a high school, with a magnet program for over 400 students with a focus on conservation biology. Imagine the opportunities for young people to learn side-by-side with the curators and researchers at the garden! Amy shared the garden’s deeply embedded philosophy that every program must connect to the public in a meaningful way, and indeed, many have components of citizen science, such as the Million Orchid Project, in which schools participate in submitting data and helping researchers understand why some orchids do so well in large cities such as Singapore. Amy also shared the Growing Beyond Earth project, in which students and researchers globally are involved in helping NASA decide what food plants should be grown in the International Space Station. 

I left Miami with an entirely new vision of Miami and of the role of gardens in our society. As I thought about the huge challenges facing our planet in terms of biodiversity conservation, population growth, and climate change, I realize how important these spaces—all three gardens—are for our future. 

Sculpture at Naples Botanical Garden

Recovery in Naples: Bouncing back from Hurricane Irma, report by Sandy Schmidt

On February 7, my colleague Stefanie and I visited Naples Botanical Garden, where we enjoyed a visit with Cindy Learned, Director of Development.

Naples Botanical Garden

After Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10, more than 230 large trees were lost, according to the garden's website, and more plants, shrubs, and displays were damaged or destroyed. But just three weeks later, the garden re-opened, thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers. During our visit, it was wonderful to see firsthand how well the garden has recovered from the hurricane and to hear the heroic stories of accomplishment by the staff and volunteers who came to the aid of the garden during its time of need.

Orchids at Naples Botanical Garden

Cindy let us know that they just reached a milestone—10,000 family household membership as of February 4! That is incredible, and I/we/Holbrook wish them all the best! One other noteworthy item—she also told us about three staff members who went to Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago to assist an arboretum there, and that they accomplished a great deal in up-righting trees, providing tremendous support, and generally getting a great deal done for them—how fabulous is that?!