Meditation garden? Check. Dock leading to a boat? Check. Wall of succulents? Check. Outdoor kitchen? Check. No, this isn’t the punch list for your pimped-out fantasy home. Nor are these items at an exclusive “White Lotus”-style resort. They are just a few of the dreamy, jaw-dropping sights that locals can see during the Feb. 18 Garden Walk, now in its 42nd year of being run by the Garden Club of the Upper Keys.
As part of the 70-year-old club’s mandate to showcase the natural beauty of the Keys, tour-goers will be able to see the finely tended gardens of five Upper Keys homes, with monikers including Tropical Sanctuary, Tavernier Creek Tranquility, Bayside Bounty, Kocoville and Vetter Park.
Master gardeners will be on hand at many of the properties, happy to talk about bromeliads and vanilla bean orchids — which, by the way, can be seen impressively crawling up one of the gumbo limbo trees at Vetter Park.
But attendees may be excused if, when gazing at the 16 species of palms at Tropical Sanctuary, they simply want to plunge into the pool and take the afternoon off. Yes, that silver palm is spectacular. Can we have a cocktail, please?
“I want to call the cabana boy for a margarita,” said Kathy Holmes jokingly during a media preview day of the Garden Walk. She was looking at the half-submerged lounge chairs at the shallow end of the curvy swimming pool at Tavernier Creek Tranquility.
She also has a love for the distinct Florida Keys beauty. “We’re passionate about our plants and our gardens,” Holmes said.
Holmes is the Garden Walk 2023 house chairman and has been helping organize the tour for so long that she has it down to a science. She probably deserves that cocktail. Or two.
“C,” the homeowner of Kocoville, is thrilled to show visitors her gardens, lovingly tended over many years. “Why do you have these things if you don’t share them?” she said, a wide smile on her face.
“C” has had a green thumb since she was “a toddler in coveralls in Wisconsin” and has her outdoor space divided into sections, such as the Tea Garden and the Zen Garden. (We spied Green Bay Packers signage in her outdoor kitchen, but we’ll forgive her.)
When she bought the property, rocks and debris littered the ground, which was cleaned up and laid with pathways to create the sections. Native plants include mahogany, wild tamarind, gumbo limbo, Bahama strongbark and lignumvitae.
Other homeowners are just as passionate: Jim Vetter, who takes care of his garden Vetter Park with his wife, Nancy, is only too happy to talk about his 75 species of plants and palms, some nurtured for 37 years. The couple bought an adjoining plot to expand their plantings, which include a plethora of fruit trees that regularly supplement their mealtimes, such as starfruit, dwarf banana, Key lime and Meyer lemon.
Pat Uhl, who is in charge of publicity for the garden club, stole a moment to sit in a spot under a canopy of trees in Vetter’s yard. “Being in a garden transports me,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Bayside Bounty homeowner made sure to usher visitors over to see her husband’s coral garden. “Make yourselves at home,” she said.
Don’t mind if we do. The backyard has clusters of palms (fishtail, cabada, Christmas, Bismarck) to give the space a tropical-vacation feel. You go on ahead — we’ll wait here for that cabana boy.
The Garden Walk will take place on Saturday, Feb.18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Tickets are $25, the proceeds of which are used to maintain the Francis Tracy Garden Center.
They can be bought in advance until Feb. 17 at the following locations: Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, Mile Marker 106; Key Largo Flowers and Gifts, Mile Marker 100; Island Home Nursery, Mile Marker 88; and Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, Mile Marker 87.
Tours of the gardens are self-guided, and the Francis Tracy Garden Center at Mile Marker 94, bayside, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can enjoy an art show (Art Guild of the Purple Isles) as well as a market featuring the Cousins Maine Lobster food truck and assorted vendors: plants, crafts, artisan wares and art work.
Tickets and more information can also be found at gardenclubupperkeys.org.
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