Field Trip: Audubon House & Tropical Gardens


Key West

Something strange happens to Florida as you drive toward the Keys. It begins to break apart.

At some point along US 1, the southern tip of the peninsula becomes a mosaic of land and water until it eventually becomes the Keys, a stretch of islands that geologists say are the visible portions of an ancient coral reef. A handful of these islands are linked together by a single highway — and the road leads to Key West.

It’s been twenty years since Joe and I last visited Key West, so we thought Joe’s birthday was a good reason to see what’s changed. While areas of the island do seem more developed to accommodate cruise ships and the crowds, it remains a place where locals and tourists can “waste away in Margaritaville.”

It’s also a place where things aren’t always what they appear to be — and gardens are no exception.

Take, for example, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, a restored mid-19th century residence. Although John James Audubon may have illustrated his share of birds, he never struck me as a parrothead — and so I never realized that he had lived on Key West.

The front yard at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens.

The front yard at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens.

That’s because he never did. Instead, it’s believed that Audubon spent time at this home when he visited Key West to paint 22 local birds for The Birds of America, including the white-crowned pigeon in the branches of a Geiger tree, a Key West native.

In other words, Audubon slept here.  Maybe.

Still, that fact does nothing to take away from the tropical garden that surrounds the Audubon House. Although we arrived after the house had closed, we were still able to look over the fence like a couple of nosy neighbors. There, brick paths disappeared into the jungle . . .

The backyard.

The backyard.

Brick paths bring visitors everywhere.

Brick paths bring visitors everywhere.

. . . and leaves and orchids were illuminated by the setting sun.

Ginger.

Ginger.

Orchid.

Orchid.

Orchid.

Orchid.

This Audubon visit was at sunset — and on Key West, that means it was time to make our way to Mallory Square with the other tourists and street performers and colorful characters to witness the end of the day.  Even clouds on the horizon couldn’t dampen the sense of calm and peace.

Sunset on Key West.

Sunset on Key West.

Who knew that an island this small would result in a two-part post?

Up next, a visit with the Key West Garden Club.

19 thoughts on “Field Trip: Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

    • Hi Ann. I think I just caught that orchid at the right moment. Much of the garden was already in deep shade at sunset, but when I looked upward, the light had hit the orchid. It looked like a botanical lightbulb!

  1. Not a bad set of photos for an over the fence visit. Have you ever considered a second career with the paparazzi?
    You’re right about Key West. For such a small island it does seem to hold onto a lot of magic.

  2. I spent one afternoon in Key West and loved it. I would just love to return one day. I think the Audubon House would definitely be on my list of things to see. Your photos are lovely. I used to grow orchids and ginger. Then the water stopped falling from the sky! LOL! Looking forward to part two!

    • Hi Debra. Come on back to the Keys. Let me know, and I’ll gladly meet and greet you down there. 🙂 I wish there was a way we could send you some of the rain we’ve received in this rainy season — although, judging how quickly the lawn grows, I have a feeling the plants are enjoying every drop. Be well!

  3. This is so delicious. I’ve never had a desire to visit Florida until I saw this post. I would just want to come to Key West and no where else. I could sit for days under those trees.

    • Hi DK. The Keys have a flavor all their own — so unlike the rest of the state. If you do make the trip, I would recommend landing in Miami. Although Key West does have a small airport, the beauty of the Keys is the drive to get to Key West. Along stretches of the highway/bridge, there is nothing but aqua water to the horizon. 🙂

    • Hey Indie. Key West is a very interesting place. The peak season is in winter, of course. Summer months are super hot and humid, with a daily rain shower or thunderstorm. If you do decide to visit, most of the action takes place along Duval Street. Also, because the Keys are part of a coral reef, there aren’t any real beaches. Many of the resorts have trucked in sand — or, they have built piers into the ocean, where swimmers can step out in to the water. One of the coolest aspects of the Keys is the water — it’s only about 3′ to 4′ deep for some distance. And once out that far, swimmers can find a sandy bottom. Enjoy!

  4. Pingback: Field Trip: Key West Garden Club | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

  5. I’ve never been to the US, but these images reminded me of the beautiful film and novel, Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton – when Newland Archer gazes out over the bay with the white sails in the distance waiting for Ellen to turn around. Beautiful!

    • Flavia — what a wonderful image! I must admit, though, I’m not sure how people survived the Key West summer without air conditioning. It’s one humid place.

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