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 it was built in the time of the Civil War it never saw battle, but was eventually used for target practice and fell into ruin. Some of it was torn down to use in the Zachary Taylor fort, as well. It was used in the Spanish-American war to house troops and during World War II it was used as radio stations and as an anti-aircraft battery. In 1947 all military was pulled out of the two towers and they were handed over to Monroe County. The west one fell into ruin, the islanders helped themselves to the loose bricks for many years, and it was slated to be knocked down in the early 50s.
Key West Garden Club
Representative Joe Allen rescued it 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 was declared a National Historic Monument by the state of Florida. Above are pictures of some of the walls that are left standing. Just last year all the walls were fixed and some of the roofs, as well. The historic aspect of this garden is amazing. The garden club volunteers take exceptional care of the gardens and it is used for weddings, yoga classes, and much more.
A lathe house protects a plethora of orchids. I loved the old fireplace containing a statue and orchids on the outside. The vanilla orchid was climbing the support and had a few flowers. If it is hand-pollinated, it should make seed pods, from which vanilla is made.
All the orchids
The orchids were amazing! And everywhere. In the pavilion, on the trees, and walls.
I had never seen this plant, but the foliage resembles the spider plant (Chlorophytum) as do the flowers, but 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 was used throughout the garden as a groundcover.
Cactus and succulent garden
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’. I have one that I’ve had for years and mine is large, but I never knew they could get this big. Obviously, it would never get this size in my home, but this was crazy! Look at the gazebo on the right side of it.
I love orange flowers and there should be more planted in the world, in my opinion. They were used in good numbers here 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 a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Butterfly Habitat respectively. 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. It was my first visit and I didn’t know anything was missing. But after researching the gardens, I found out that 3 hurricanes (Georges 1998, Wilma 2005, and Irma 2017) have significantly changed the garden. After losing numerous 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!