After taking last year off, the Garden Club of the Upper Keys has once again planned a day when the we can satisfy our curiosity to peek beyond the garden gate, and explore some truly interesting properties throughout Tavernier and Key Largo .
Set for Saturday, Feb. 17, this year’s tour features a self-done artistic garden, a fabulous Mediterranean home on the bay, a collection of palms and varied hardscapes, a tropical Eden of a small resort, and an outdoor living paradise with a view.
Here is a preview of the gardens on the tour:
At Palm Corner in Key Largo, Steve Organ has used his talents in resort landscaping and maintenance to create a postcard-worthy corner filled with specimen palms surrounded by unusual hardscaped walkways. He proudly shows off his use of limestone to come up with some unique fountains and fire pits — even one feature that is both!
“I did this one for my wife, with the lions, because she is a Leo,” said Organ showing a fountain with water gently gurgling from the mouths of four lion heads. He has run electricity under the hardscaping for fountains and lanterns atop limestone columns. A collection of signs of the bygone Key Largo restaurants he worked for, and stained glass panels from one of them, decorate the tiki hut.
Best of all, Steve Organ will be on hand the day of the tour, to guide you through his place, and he is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to landscaping in the Keys.
At Artist’s Trail, everyday items are turned into works of art in this “Keysy” home and garden. “I find things at fairs or at MARC and I bring them home and try to love them,” says owner Lisa Rufft. Her dog Twitch is at her heels when she works mornings in the garden. “I check every orchid to see who is blooming today,” said Rufft.
Staghorn ferns encircle old growth native trees, and splashes of color, from blooming shrimp plants and Chinese hat, brighten corners.
“The pace was overgrown with bananas, bromeliads and ferns when we moved in,” said Rufft. She gradually cut back and shaped a beautiful garden.
Don’t miss the courtyard area featuring built in fireplace, sink, counters and grill, all atop a colorful tile floor.
Coconut Bay/Bay Harbor
As owner Peg Laron tells her garden tale: “When my daughter was getting married here in 2006, my son said: ‘Mom, you have got to do something about the front area.’ So, I got together with a friend, and Etienne (Anikel) the gardener, and we spent a week pulling weeds, ripping out all the overgrowth, digging, and creating a new garden.”
The result is a tranquil garden, lining the long driveway, featuring mature gumbo limbos and palms, surrounded with lush plantings of native and brightly colored tropical plants. A few special nook areas pop up here and there, including “Juan’s butterfly garden.” Cottages and rooms are flanked with lush plantings, even some roses (rare in these parts), tended by Anikel.
On the bay-front beach, mature coconut palms sway in the breeze and a lawn gently slopes back toward the buildings.
If you are lucky, Laron will have her custom designed food truck open on the day of the tour so visitors can sample the mouthwatering scones she bakes. Try the mango, coconut, pecan.
An impressive bay-front Mediterranean house sits atop a high point in Key Heights, surrounded by old growth native trees and recently landscaped gardens.
A wall of coral rock boulders, each covered in moss and baby ferns, slopes and curves toward the water where a stand of old buttonwood, gnarled and twisted with years of wind and weather, stand guard between lawn and bay.
A pool extends out from a back deck and spills over a wall of cobalt tiles, and a domed pavilion tops the hot tub.
Raquel Plyer has done the designs, along with Troy Johnson of Artistic Landscape and Nursery, and they will be on hand for questions on the day of the tour.
It’s a pleasant surprise to turn off the average looking paved street and find the panoramic view that opens up behind the Ihrig home in Tavernier. San Pedro Lake lies just beyond their dock. “The view from our deck is great at sunset, a nice time to sit and watch,” said Meghan Irhig.
The front and sides of the home are planted with palms and lined with curving paths of smooth river rock that crunch gently as you make your way to the back. “We tried grass and that didn’t work, but we had to do something. Pea rock? No! We went with river rock instead and are happy with it,” said Pete Ihrig.
“The best decision we made was to use NO non-natives — things iguanas won’t eat,” he continued.
Outdoor living at it’s best is exemplified in the covered area under the stilt house. Wide open sides keep the view, while adding protection from weather when cooking , dining or just relaxing on the rattan loungers
Back at Francis Tracy Garden Center, mile marker 94 bayside, club members will host a tea party, serving up liquid refreshment and homemade goodies in the garden. An art show will be on view, and vendors scattered throughout the garden will be selling plants, artisan wares, crafts and food, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Tickets for the self guided walk through the five properties are available for a donation of $25 per person (cash or check) at the Tracy Center on the day, or can be picked up at Key Largo Chamber of Commerce (mile marker 106 bayside), Key Largo Florest (mile marker 100 oceanside), Island Home Nursery (mile marker 88.7 bayside), Islamorada Chamber of Commerce (mile marker 87 bayside) and Wild Lily Boutique (mile marker 82 oceanside).
For further information, the Club website is: www.gardenclubupperkeys.org