Three tropical gardens within seven miles of each other are featured in the 37th Annual Upper Keys Garden Walk set for Saturday, Feb. 27. The event benefits the Garden Club of the Upper Keys’ historic clubhouse, local beautification projects, charities, scholarships and educational activities.
Entitled “Inspiring Island Gardens,” the self-guided Garden Walk has been switched from a Friday to a Saturday to “welcome our working community,” according to Jerri Grossman and Dee Dee Barreto, the Walk’s coordinators. The gardens range from Key Largo to Tavernier and can be visited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., rain or shine.
“This year’s walk showcases a tropical paradise, a Zen garden and an owner-inspired garden with many creative and artistic ideas to take home to your personal garden,” said Grossman. “Club hosts will be on hand to assure [guests] see everything and to answer questions. It is a wonderful opportunity to see unique private gardens in our beautiful paradise.” In addition to the gardens, Upper Keys Garden Club hosts a Garden Tea Party at the Francis Tracy Garden Center, mile marker (MM) 94, which features local arts and crafts, music, refreshments, and 35 exhibitor booths selling tropical plants, natural food and other items.
At the north end of the walk is a property in the Point Pleasant neighborhood at MM 99.5. Meandering paths, towering palms and conveniently located benches take guests past variegated ginger plants and a cedar tree from Georgia. Palms species include pakacha, Madagascar, buccaneer and date. A pie plate hibiscus shows off its huge flowers while a staghorn fern is staggering in its size.
In the back yard is a concrete boat docking area, and a tiki hut with an uninterrupted view of Florida Bay. Interesting coral shapes are part of the coral rock steps and terrace and a sod lawn is lined with small shrubs.
Joel and Kathy Janco said when they bought the home, there was coral rock and fewer than 15 trees on the property. They said they created the current garden through trial and error, while aiming for privacy. With so much shade in the front yard, they opted for artificial grass after trying numerous types of sod. They and their dogs love it.
Going south, the next garden is Zen-fandel, named for a small red Buddhist temple situated in the cozy streetside garden behind a white picket fence. Owner Karen Kovarik said her parents purchased the home and scarified lot in 1970 as a weekend home. The solo coconut palm was planted from a coconut stuck in the ground by her mother, Joan Replogle, who now is 97 years old. “She also planted the Surinam cherry hedge and the Carissa bushes in the Zen garden.”
Various arches, gates, benches, pottery and brick paths denote places to wander and sit a spell, as well as lead to the canal water view. Orchids in bloom and crotons add color. “The reason I have a Zen garden is my father was a career naval commander and our family lived in Bangkok, Thailand from 1958-1962… Spirit houses are common [there] and evoke special memories.” Kovarik also added Old Chicago bricks to add to the texture and charm.
Next is a six-lot property, Villa Verde, off of Burton Drive in Tavernier that belongs to Richard and Dee Dee Barreto, which likely will take visitors the longest to explore due to its expansive size and segmented ornamental sections. Coral lined pathways, a cactus garden, bromeliads, palms, plum and pigeon pea are among the species guests will encounter.
The hand-built barbecue area and fire pit was built in the 1940s using bricks salvaged from a shipwreck off Tavernier, and eclectic artwork pops out from various crannies including a monkey, moose and deer. The Barretos’ family roots harken to early Key West. Found items are re-purposed by Richard to create seating and tables. DeeDee credits her husband with being the creative gardener and chief tinkerer.
A natural grassy path leads to Dove Lake also known as Lake Cory, where a mangrove-lined waterway meanders to the ocean. A touching plaque pays tribute to Cory Barreto, killed by a drunk driver at age 18.
A visit to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary is included in the tour. Created by Laura Quinn in the late 1980s, the center has been renovated and offers a native habitat walk and a menagerie of beautiful birds in natural settings. Grossman said, “Be certain to view the salt pond,” which is a special feature shaped by tidal flow near bayfront views of mangrove islands. Ian Martin, the sanctuary’s education coordinator, along with trained technicians and handlers will be on hand to answer questions.
Garden Walk tickets are a $25 donation to the Garden Club and can be purchased in advance at the Key Largo and Islamorada chambers of commerce (MM 106 and MM 87 bayside); Key Largo Florist and Gift Shop (MM 99.5 oceanside); and The Banyan Tree (MM 81.2 oceanside). Tickets also are available Feb. 27 at the Francis Tracy Garden Center and each of the properties included in the Walk. For more information, call Grossman at 305-453-4590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website www.gardenclubupperkeys.org.