A toast to all gardeners.
Someone once said, “Good things come in small packages.” I may not be positive about who should get credit for the phrase, but I’m pretty sure he or she must have been referring to Key West.
Measuring just 7.4 square miles, there’s a lot crammed onto this legendary Florida paradise — from Ernest Hemingway’s house to Fantasy Fest to the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens to the daily sunsets, often met with a liquid toast.
Tucked away among the touristy attractions is one of the last free admissions on the island: the Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower. Since 1955, the garden club, through strokes of luck and vision, dedication and hardwork in the tropical sun, transformed a Civil War-era fort into a walled garden filled with native and exotic trees and plants.
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.
There was a time, not too long ago, when this part of South Florida — east of the Everglades and west of the Coast — was nothing but white sand, scrub vegetation, saw palmettos, and sand pines. Development and expansion, with all of its blacktop and gated communities and non-native plants, soon overran the place.
Fortunately, the city of Oakland Park thought to preserve this slice of Florida’s natural history with the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve, a pristine 5.6-acre site nestled between two lakes. This location, in addition to the abundance of native plants, means the park is home to countless birds, anole lizards, and even gopher tortoises, an endangered species. It’s also a place where the community can come together — volunteers are responsible for the preserve’s upkeep.
I arrived at the preserve after a brief morning shower. As I stepped from my car, I was struck by the silence and solitude in a place that is literally just down the street and over the fence from the trappings of the modern world.
A few posts ago, I lamented the fact that I was to be a garden blogger without a garden. Imagine my delight, though, when I read in the local paper that Oakland Park, FL, has a weekly Farmers Market. In fact, it’s just one of the many towns in south Florida with a Farmers Market. Suddenly, I’m a garden blogger among gardeners.
Join me for a sunset stroll among the stalls, when the warm light and aromas helped turn what’s usually a vacant field into a painter’s palette of home-grown, home-made, organic food.
Joe and I live in the center of Long Island, give or take a mile. That means that our climate is usually a bit different from the rest of the Island. Autumn arrives sooner, spring a little bit later, and the cool ocean breezes just can’t reach us during the summer.
It also means that if we drive west, we can enjoy the sites, sounds, smells, and flavors of New York City and its boroughs — but for a more rural excursion, we can drive east to Long Island’s East End.