Sunday, November 6, 2016

Stop to Smell the Flowers in the Fairchild Botanical Gardens of Miami, Florida


In late October of 2016, my husband and I had the chance to stay in sunny Miami for a week or so. This was mainly achieved because Joey’s company was holding their annual general meeting, or AGM, down there for three days, and spouses were invited to tag along. (Even if we hadn’t been invited, there was no way Joey was going without me!) So for three of the days I was in Miami, Joey was unable to explore the city with me due to the AGM, leaving me to check off items from my list on my own.

One of the places I explored independently was the Fairchild Botanical Gardens. Located in the northern part of the city in the area of Coconut Grove, it was a bit of a drive from South Miami Beach where we were staying. In fact, it was my first solo Uber drive ever, which was an adventure unto itself. (Stay tuned for a how-to article on Ubering! A few friends have requested it.) 

The gorgeous grounds of the Fairchild Botanical Gardens in Miami

I had originally wanted to visit Villa Vizcaya, but I got my dates mixed up and ended up going on a day when it was closed. After a gruelling hour and fifteen minute drive with an Uber-Pool driver who probably shouldn’t have been driving any vehicle in the first place, we made it to Villa Vizcaya (a twenty minute drive at the most according to Google Maps). And it was closed! My driver, who also did not speak English, dropped me off and left, leaving me on the side of the road to figure out what the heck I was going to do with myself. 


Holding a beautiful rainforest flower in the Fairchild Botanical Gardens greenhouse
I didn’t want to waste that extremely long drive, and since I was in the relative area, decided to go just a little further into Coconut Grove and hit up the botanical gardens. So I summoned another Uber, this time specifying ‘no carpool’ just to save time, and made it to the gardens in a decent amount of time. (We did get lost once, as the access road to the gardens can be a little tricky.) Look for 10901 Old Culter Road - NOT the Old Culter Road sign, which is where my driver first turned accidentally. There is a sign on the road indicating which correct driveway to use to access the gardens. 


A Haitian palm tree - apparently the Fairchild Botanical Gardens have more of them than Haiti itself!

I was dropped off finally at the gift shop and admission building, and made my way inside. Admission fees are $25 for adults, $18 for seniors, $12 for kids 6-17, and free for kids 5 and under. Luckily, the gardens are open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so I knew I wouldn’t be turned away at the door. I didn’t have much time to explore, due to my ridiculously long journey to get there, so I hurried out of the gift shop and to the trolley pick-up area so I could get a good overview of the gardens before setting out on foot. 


Riding the garden trolley around the park

The Fairchild Botanical Garden offers up a trolley service that takes you on a full loop around the generous grounds. It is a free, guided ride, led by enthusiastic and knowledgable garden enthusiasts. Every now and then, the trolley stops and your guide will point out certain plants, discussing their propagation, growth, and history to help you learn about a variety of species. 

We drove around the entire circumference of the park, past groves of internationally acquired palm trees, cacti, edible plants, and more. To be honest, the majority of trees were palm trees, from seemingly every nation possible, with hundreds of different varieties. My favourite palm tree was the Petticoat Palm, which doesn’t shed its leaves once they die like every other palm, but instead pushes them downwards in an effort to protect the trunk, making it look like the tree is wearing a very bushy hula skirt, hence the name. 


The unique Petticoat Palm at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens

I loved the large Baobab tree, even though it was considered small in comparison to those that grow in countries such as Yemen. I gave it a big hug!


Hugging a Baobab tree

Another tree that caught my eye was the colourful and aptly named Rainbow Eucalyptus, with its trunk looking like it was in the middle of a paintball battle. 


A gorgeous and vibrant Rainbow Eucalyptus tree at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens

In the edible garden, I learned that papayas do not grow from the branches of trees like most fruiting plants, but instead pop out of the trunk like little buds. It makes the tree look like it is covered with gigantic aphids!


Papayas growing from the tree's trunk

Before I visited the gardens, naturally I had looked them up online (if you are a regular reader, you will already be familiar with my OCD method of trip planning). A year ago, when I first learned that we would be visiting Miami, I had attacked Pinterest enthusiastically looking for ideas on things to see and do. The glass art of Dale Chihuly at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens caught my eye instantly. So I was really disappointed to read that his art in the garden had only been a temporary instalment and that it had been removed several years ago. 


Glass art from Dale Chihuly in the rainforest greenhouse

Therefore, I was extremely excited during the trolley ride to see that some of Chihuly pieces had been gifted to the gardens and were still in place. As soon as the trolley ride ended, I hustled across the garden grounds to check them out. There was a gorgeous chandelier piece in the rainforest greenhouse that dipped into the koi pond, sending rainbows of light dancing across the water.  There was also an outdoor lily pond filled with vibrant purple glass ‘flowers’ that seemed to glow when the sun filtered through them. 


More beautiful glass art from Dale Chihuly at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens


I only ended up staying at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens for about an hour, maybe a little more, due to time constraints. I could have stayed there for a few hours longer, wandering through the various ‘groves’, stopping for a snack at the cafeteria, and perusing the gift shop, which had some really pretty items for sale. However, my husband’s AGM had lunch plans for us, and I had to get back to South Miami Beach. If you find yourself at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens, I do recommend you plan your trip to last at least two or more hours.