The Key West Botanical Garden is indeed a quiet spot from the crowds. Located on Stock Island, it is worth the drive over to explore the 15 acres of natural flora and fauna. The Garden officially reopened on December 1, 2017 after experiencing much damage from Hurricane Irma. Volunteers and staff worked for three months to restore the garden. Today there is still much work to be done (just like any garden) so consider volunteering your time to help while in Key West.
This is the only “frost-free” botanical garden in the Continental United States. It’s a tropical environment with ample rain that allows most trees to retain their leaves in the dry season (December through late May). Unlike traditional botanical gardens, this garden advocates the importance of natural plants and species. You won’t see fancy topiaries or lush floral gardens, rather beautiful plants and animals found in this lush tropical Caribbean setting. If you are a plant or garden lover, this botanical garden will provide many hours of exploring and learning.
When you enter the garden your first stop will be the visitor’s center. After you buy your ticket watch the short video which gives an overview of the history of the garden and what you can expect to see. Pick up the Garden Guide that describes the 8 self-guided tours, 2 wetlands habitats and the 2 butterfly gardens. Use your smart phone to learn more about the plants as you wander the garden with the available audio tour.
Check out the autograph tree near the visitor’s center. It is a one of a kind experience.
In the Beginning
The Key West Botanical Garden was founded and created by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration as a showplace for the tourists during the Depression in the 1930’s. During this time, Key West was also deemed bankrupt. The FERA brought in volunteers to work as well as tourists. The garden began with just 6 acres but quickly grew to 55 acres. It officially opened on February 23, 1936.
Under the direction of the the landscape architect, Ralph Gunn, 80 species were initially planted. It was originally deemed an experimental garden. Plants from all over the world were planted to see what would survive.
By 1939, an exhibition building and office, a potting shed, tool room and greenhouses were constructed. Flagstone walkways, stone walls and even an aviary was added. There was an onsite caretaker who collected entrance fees and oversaw the garden. The modern equivalent of $10 million was spent creating the garden. It was described as beautiful and filled with flowers and was a popular place for families to gather.
Period of Disrepair
During World War II, the garden experienced some neglect. Portions of the garden were transferred to government agencies. Those transferred lands were used for a military hospital, storage tanks for Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, and an additional 9 holes at the Key West golf course. The Garden’s land and the adjacent Key West golf course were both owned by the City of Key West.
By 1961, only 7.5 acres remained and all of the original buildings were gone. The City of Key West designated it as a permanent wildlife sanctuary, botanical garden and arboretum.
The garden was restored under the care of a blue ribbon Community Advisory Council. It’s official reopening was held in 1961 and many people enjoyed the garden until fell into disrepair again.
In 1972, the Key West Garden Club assumed responsibility for the garden under contract with the City of Key West. A major restoration project was launched with assistance from many groups including the United States Marines, the Girl and Boy Scouts, and the Key West High School Go Green Club.
In 1988 the Key West Botanical Garden Society was formed. Today the organization is overseen by a volunteer Board of Directors and managed by a staff of dedicated and talented staff.
Rent a Venue
Are you planning an event in Key West? Consider one of the venues available the the Key West Botanical Garden. It’s the perfect backdrop for a wedding, a reception or simply a gathering of friends and family to celebrate a special day. Choose from the Courtyard, the Lakeside Terrace or Butterfly Garden. Each has their own special qualities.
Imagine saying “I do” in this beautiful space?
The garden offers may events during the year. Check out their speaker series or the native plant sales. Interested in yoga? The garden has Hatha Yoga classes. Relax, breathe and take in all of the beauty around you while you work on your downward dog pose. Click here to see their calendar.
The Living Lab is a collaborative effort between the Key West Botanical Garden and the Monroe School District. Working with students in Kindergarten through sixth grade, the program allows students to become “scientists” and collect information. They can use that information to answer questions about the world around them. It’s very cool to see kids wandering through the garden asking questions and enjoying the environment around them.
Throughout the garden you will stumble upon interesting and unique pieces of sculpture. They fit perfectly into the Key West vibe and this garden … or at least I think so.
Since opening, the botanical garden has had over 79,000 visitors. Each visit to the garden is different. Different flowers are in bloom throughout the year. Birds use the fresh water ponds as a stopping point in their migration. Who knows what you will find or see. The butterfly garden has been home to over 23 different species. You might even spot a rare resident white crowned pigeon or even a bald eagle.
Head over to Stock Island and take some time to explore the botanical garden. It’s open daily from 10am to 4pm with modified hours for holidays. Learn more at their website.