Field Trip: Tree Tops Park

When I first heard of Tree Tops Park, I imagined a public park with treehouses and tree walkways to give visitors a bird’s-eye view among the branches and canopy. In reality, the only thing to climb is an observation tower — otherwise, visitors keep their feet on the ground and look upward. No matter how you look at them, though, the trees at Tree Tops Park are tops.

Located in Davie, FL, the park surrounds Pine Island Ridge, which is — at a little over 29 feet — the highest natural land formation in Broward County. As the Everglades formed some 7,000 years ago, the ridge became a natural and ideal place for native peoples to live. For the Seminole Indians, the site remains sacred.

Over the years, the land has been used for raising cattle, farming, and a citrus grove. Remnants of the grove still remain (above). In 1989, Florida purchased the land, and it has been allowed to become what it is today, an oasis in Broward County’s rapidly encroaching urban jungle.

I used the panorama option to get this fallen trunk, which looked to me like a dinosaur bone. Although fallen, the tree is still very much alive.

The view from the observation tower.

Ferns and bromeliads sharing a massive limb.

The photos for this post were all taken with my new iPhone 6S. (Yes, I know the iPhone is into double-digit territory now — but as much as I like toys, I can’t bring myself to purchase the newest model when it will be obsolete within a week after I purchase it.) Normally, I use a Canon digital camera, but I was curious to see how the iPhone, very convenient to carry along, would translate to the blog.

A Cure For The Wintertime Blues

This is the time of year when I feel the most out of step with my fellow gardeners and the readers of this blog. You see, this is the start of South Florida’s growing season — the orchids (above) are currently blooming in my garden. Nurseries are overflowing with plant selections and cold fronts bring delightful weather rather than snow and ice.

While there aren’t any wintertime blues here (I had to go back years to find the snow photo below), many other gardeners are buried in ice and snow, just waiting for my weather to reach them.

As a former northern gardener, I understand cabin fever and having to madly hunt for a gardening fix. That’s why I embarked on a search for quality gardening shows that offer more than a host ambushing a homeowner in a parking lot, smarmy comments between cast members, an army of workers transforming a yard into an over-the-top creation, and the homeowner’s surprise.

If all gardeners are like me, they crave real gardening shows, sort of like the classic “A Gardener’s Diary,” which aired on HGTV long before it became overrun with home buyer and home makeover shows.

The answer to my quest came in the form of Monty Don, Great Britain’s favorite gardener and gardening author. Many of this blog’s readers from England are already familiar with him, but he’s a new discovery on this side of the Atlantic — at least for me. I found three of his series on Netflix, and each is a binge-worthy cure for the wintertime blues.

Big Dreams, Small Spaces

Big Dreams, Small Spaces” is the show that gave birth to my bromance with Monty — although I’m not sure it really counts as one since we’ve never met. Unlike American garden makeover shows, this show requires the homeowners to do the labor, with Monty not only guiding them but also rolling up his sleeves.

With each episode, Monty is able to slip in helpful and practical bits of knowledge about plants and pruning, design and landscaping, while the homeowners are sent on inspirational field trips to get even more questions answered.

More than anything else, though, it’s Monty’s enthusiasm that’s charming and infectious. I often found myself rooting for the homeowners to finish their work before the big reveal to Monty — and I couldn’t help but be as proud as Monty of their accomplishments.

Monty Don’s Italian Gardens

When I discovered this show, I thought Monty would bring that same “Big Dreams, Small Spaces” format to Italy. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Monty Don’s Italian Gardens” is like going on a whirlwind tour of some of Italy’s most enchanting, historic, and beautiful public and private gardens. With Monty as the guide, his enthusiasm brings garden and history to life.

A good rule is to keep a pen and paper nearby so you can make a list of travel destinations. One such place for me is Ninfa, the remains of an Italian village that has been transformed into a garden.

Monty Don’s French Gardens

Photo courtesy of

Similar to his trip to Italy, “Monty Don’s French Gardens” is a homecoming for Monty since he once lived and worked in France. Each episode highlights a specific aspect of French culture, with public and private gardens used as an illustration.

One show, for example, celebrated French cuisine, with a visit to some extraordinary gardens where potagers and espaliered fruit trees were on full artistic display. My personal favorite, though, was the episode on French artists, with a visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny.

In addition to hosting these wonderful gardening shows, Monty Don is also the author of several books. Whether you curl up with a blanket and a cup of hot tea to read his words or to watch his shows (on Netflix or YourTube), Monty is a cure for the wintertime blues — no matter your gardening zone.

Field Trip: Fern Forest Nature Center

Hidden beneath the asphalt and manicured communities, the condo towers and man-made canals of southeastern Florida, there is Old Florida — very, very Old Florida.  It’s the Florida that existed long before Henry Flagler built the railroad that opened this region of the state to developers.  It is, perhaps, the Florida that greeted the first settlers.

That idea is what inspired a group of scientists from Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College.  It was 1979, and their article, “A Tropical Fern Grotto In Broward County,” was published in the American Fern Journal.  That 247-acre grotto was actually a remnant of how Broward County once looked.  More than 30 species of ferns were found living among  200+ species of other plants, all of which inhabited swamp forests, hammocks, pinelands, and prairie ecosystems.

As a result, the land was made a Designated Urban Wilderness Area and named Fern Forest Nature Center.  Walking through the habitat, on both boardwalks and natural paths, allows visitors to take a step back in Florida history.

Much of Florida sits on limestone. Here, large moss-covered chunks make up the floor of the habitat.

The prairie habitat is adjacent to . . .

. . . the swamp habitat, where the leaves of swamp plants resemble leaves on the reflected branches.

Just about ready to bloom.

A convict caterpillar, which will eventually become a Spanish moth.

Cypress trees make up a large number of the plants growing in the swamp forest. They’re easy to identify because of their “knees.”

A close-up of cypress knees.

Air plant colonies are well established along the branches of many of the trees.

More air plants.

The habitat provides food and shelter for wildlife, either alone . . .

. . . or the whole family.

Fern spores on the underside of a frond.


Vines are quite happy here.

I’m not sure of this plant’s identity (it could be the invasive Brazilian Pepper Tree) — I just thought it looked like it was ready for the holidays.

Fern Forest Nature Center is located at 201 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, FL 33063. It’s open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week, except for some holidays. Check out their calendar for various events.

A Tale Of Two Women (And A Book Giveaway Treat)

This story of two women begins in 1961. That was the year Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the daughter of the founder of Warner-Lambert and the Gillette Safety Razor Company and wife of banking heir Paul Mellon, hosted an August picnic for some close friends at her home on Cape Cod. Two of the guests were President and Mrs. Kennedy.

Continue reading

Bloomin’ Update 60: An Autumnal Interlude

If the transition from winter to spring in South Florida is subtle, the one between summer and fall is practically invisible. While autumn is already a few weeks old — according to the calendar and posts from northern gardeners — the weather forecasters in Zone 10 say that anything resembling fall (temperatures below 70) will not arrive until sometime in November — and that will most likely happen while I’m fast asleep.

Continue reading