Last week my husband and I visited Key West. As we were driving around the island we passed a brick wall and through an opening, I saw a beautiful bubbling fountain. Needless to say, I told my husband to stop. I found out it was the Key West Garden club located in the West Martello tower ruins dating from the Civil War era. It was amazing! If you are ever visiting Key West, this is a must-see garden. It is open every day but Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day from 9:30-5 and is FREE! (Always check the website for updates.)
West Martello Tower History
What is the Martello Tower? It was a Civil War fort; one of three on the island. The East Martello Tower is a replica, still intact unlike the west one and a museum. (We were unable to visit.) Though built at the time of the Civil War it never saw a battle, but they used it for target practice and fell into ruin. Parts of the fort built the Zachary Taylor fort, as well. During the Spanish-American war, it housed troops and during World War II it was a radio station and an anti-aircraft battery. In 1947 all military left the two towers and they gave them to Monroe County. The west tower fell into ruin, the islanders helped themselves to the loose bricks for many years, and plans were to tear it down in the early 50s.
Key West Garden Club
Representative Joe Allen rescued the ruins from demolition and in 1953 the Key West Garden Club took possession. After adding 18 inches of seaweed and street sweepings they had enough soil to plant the gardens. In 1976 the West Martello Tower became a National Historic Monument in the state of Florida. Above are pictures of some of the walls that still standing and last year all the walls were fixed and some of the roofs, as well. The historic aspect of this garden is amazing and the garden club volunteers take exceptional care of the gardens. Weddings, yoga classes, and much more now take place in the garden.
A lathe house protects a plethora of orchids and I loved the old fireplace containing a statue and orchids. A vanilla orchid was climbing a support, had a few flowers, and if pollinated, should make seed pods. Vanilla flavoring comes from those pods.
All the Orchids
There were so many more orchids and they were everywhere -in the pavilion, on the trees, and on the walls.
I had never seen the plant below, but the foliage resembles the spider plant (Chlorophytum), as do the flowers. I found out it was Dianella and isn’t even in the same family. It is a gorgeous little flower though, with its two-colored petals. It is throughout the garden as a ground cover.
Cactus and succulent garden
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’. I have one but I never knew they could get this big. It will never get this size in my home, but it was crazy! Look at the gazebo on the right side of it for comparison.
I love orange flowers and there should be more planted in the world, in my opinion. They were used in good numbers in the gardens.
The fragrance garden is filled with wonderful-smelling plants, including this beautiful gardenia, which I could smell before I saw it.
In 2012 and 2014 the gardens became designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Butterfly Habitat. The butterfly garden is gorgeous and I was so excited to see monarch butterflies flitting about in February.
The gardens I saw last week were beautiful and because it was my first visit I didn’t know anything was missing. After researching the gardens, I found out that 3 hurricanes (Georges 1998, Wilma 2005, and Irma 2017) have changed the gardens. After losing many trees, the garden has had to change to include more sun-loving plants. Things are different when you have to deal with hurricanes, but you would never know if you had never seen the garden that anything was missing. It is a remarkable garden.
I love this small garden taken care of by a dedicated group of volunteers. It is well laid out, has gorgeous flowers, and is steeped in history. The ambiance is the best part. If you are ever in Key West, make a point to stop by 1100 Atlantic Blvd. I know I’ll be going back!
Have a great week, plant friends!