KEY WEST BOTANICAL GARDEN IS 85 YEARS OLD

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After a promising start in 1936, the Botanical Garden fell victim to the administrative needs of the city of Key West and the federal government. In response to World War II, in 1945 5.5 acres were ceded to the federal government for a war hospital, which in 1951 became the Monroe County General Hospital. Additional acres were ceded to the Aqueduct Commission for water storage tanks, Mosquito Control Commission offices and the golf course expansion. Post-war neglect took its toll, and by 1960 only 11 of the original 55 acres remained and were weeded up to the knees.

Led by the Monroe County Audubon Society, a restoration plan was presented to the city commission in August 1960. The restoration advisory board consisted of 10 organizations. Work began in December of the same year, cleaning up trails and buildings, as well as identifying and labeling plants. The formal “reopening” of the garden was celebrated on January 29, 1961. In January 1962, the Key West City Commission acted to protect the vulnerable landscape by formally designating the municipal garden “a permanent wildlife preserve, botanical garden and an arboretum under the direction of the city. park system.

For the next four years, the garden flourished and fulfilled its role as a local tourist and community attraction. Then, in September 1965, Hurricane Betsy, a particularly erratic storm, struck. Betsy became the first hurricane in the Atlantic Basin to cause more than $ 1 billion in damage. The damage suffered and the resulting loss of funds marked the beginning of another period of neglect, with the garden being referred to as a “weed garden” by the Miami Herald in a 1968 article.

Once again, concerned people sounded the alarm, and in 1972 the Key West Garden Club signed a lease with the City of Key West to become stewards of the garden. Relying on club members and volunteer groups, including the Marine Guard Unit at Naval Air Station Key West, serious clearing and replanting began in May 1973.

With the gardening club’s lease about to expire in 1991, planning began in 1988 with a new non-profit group to take over the management of the garden.

March 1991 marked what can be considered the start of the current era of the garden. With Betty Desbiens as president of the company and her dedicated volunteers in place, a new entrance, improved trails and possible guided tours of the garden were some of their top priorities.

The next 30 years saw the addition of a visitor center and waterfall in the courtyard, a boardwalk, two gardens specially designed for butterfly habitat, numerous plant identification signs , a nursery for the cultivation and propagation of native plants, the largest exhibit of Cuban palms and Cuban Chugs, and the dredging and landscaping of a freshwater duckweed pond.

The garden has suffered decline, neglect, hurricanes, flooding and extreme temperatures, as well as insect and plant infestations. But, in 2005, it was named the southernmost trail on US 1 and is an official stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Community events, weddings, dinners and dances were all celebrated under its green awning.


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