Marilyn Rogers, president of the club, takes in the lush brush. CHARLES FULCO/Keys Weekly

By Charles Fulco

In mid-February, the Garden Club of the Upper Keys will present “Really Groovy Gardens,” a walking/driving tour showcasing five local homeowners’ spectacular plantings and landscaping. All the gardens are conveniently located on Plantation Key, some right down the road from each other. In addition, a tea party, art show and garden market with vendors will be held in Key Largo at the Frances Tracy Garden Center, MM 94, bayside.

On Jan. 17, a small group of the club’s officers and I had the opportunity to preview five of the homeowners’ properties. We were impressed not only at the variety of the plantings, but with the owners themselves, each having interesting stories of how their houses and gardens came to be. While the hosts had widely varied backgrounds and careers, the bond among them was their love of botanicals and the history behind the different plants each owner was showcasing.

Mark Gregg of Living History Grove on left; Beverly Middleton, Garden Walk Chairman. CHARLES FULCO/Keys Weekly

Mark Gregg, a sixth-generation descendant of the Pinder family, showed us his Living History Grove (featuring a Key lime mini-orchard), explaining how the Key lime originated as a cross between the Persian lime and the Calamondin fruit. Happily, his trees were in bloom and attracting a variety of pollinators, including monarchs and honeybees, which unfortunately are in short supply in the Keys after Irma. Johnny Brush Pinder was an original homesteader, and his family is still a thriving part of the Keys community; it was obvious from his talk and his flourishing property that he knows he is part of local history and does his best to preserve and display it to the public.

The next stop was Indian Mound, with a natural hammock surrounding an original 1942 house, with a gorgeous large main house, patio, pool and dock. A chicken coop, fruit trees and myriad native landscape ornamentals surrounded us in the backyard, with shoreline trees framing the dock.

We were greeted by Rich Brown on the third house of our tour, who owns Brown and Crebbin, a local landscape design company. He specializes in Balinese architecture, which was evident upon seeing his backyard, replete with statuary, orchids growing along the fencing, Burle Marx philodendron, and a cozy, South-Seas patio with stone hot tub, an enclosed bar area, and of course a tiki hut. This is the place you want to be to relax amid lush, exotic vegetation on all sides.

Adjacent to Brown’s home is a property that would feel at home in Santa Fe or Tuscany. A profusion of large Crotons greeted us at the entrance, “iguana resistant” plantings that many homeowners could benefit from, according to Andrea, our host, who is a talented graphic designer. Vividly colorful Monkey Bottlebrush ornamentals immediately caught my eye on the way to the compact yet ornamental and shady back yards, a perfect place to host an outdoor gathering.

Our last stop was at South Coconut Palm, where two tall, silvery Bismarck Palms framed the entrance to the house. The kidney-shaped pool surrounded by buttonwoods in the rear complemented the whimsical bar area, with mile marker signs to all over pairing with a one-of-a-kind mirrored mural created by one of the homeowners. 

Beverly Middleton on left; Coconut Palm homeowner and mural creator, who wished to remain anonymous. CHARLES FULCO/Keys Weekly

Come support the vendors at The Garden Club of the Upper Keys (MM 94, Bayside), just north of the wild bird sanctuary. It comprises almost two acres of native hammock given to the club by Dr. Frederick Bond, in memory of “Angel of the Keys” Frances Tracy, who in the 1940s offered virtually the only medical services available in the Upper Keys.

Want a reason to join the Club? “How about friendship and companionship with people who can help you with any plant issues,” said Beverly Middleton, Garden Walk chairman. “We learn from one another, have great speakers taking on all sorts of subjects, networking of knowledgeable folks, and joy-based gardeners. They try to share their bright bounty with everyone.”

The “Really Groovy Gardens” event will be held Saturday, Feb.16 from 10 a.m. to 4p.m., on Plantation Key (gardens tour) and Key Largo (tea party/art show/garden market), rain or shine. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 the day of show; they are available at the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, MM 106; Key Largo Florist, MM 99; Wear With All Boutique, MM 101; Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, MM 86; and Wild Lily Boutique, MM 82. More information is at www.gardenclubupperkeys.org and [email protected]

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