The stretch of Florida coastline around Vero Beach is known as the “Treasure Coast.” The name is derived from a fleet of Spanish galleons that sunk just offshore during a hurricane while transporting a treasure of gold back to Spain.
For a small town, Vero Beach is decidedly upscale and kinda swanky. Part of the town’s treasure on the Treasure Coast is McKee Botanical Garden, 18 acres of lush temperate and tropical vegetation.
An Annual Celebration Of Water Lilies
Each year starting in June, McKee’s summer showcase is the Waterlily Celebration. This year it begins on Saturday, June 18, and runs for several months during the summer season. In its 17th year, the celebration displays more than 80 varieties of water lilies, some in pots, some in ponds around the garden. They have been a part of McKee’s flora since the 1930s.
There are day- and night-blooming varieties of water lilies. Horticultural experts will be on hand when the celebration ceremonies take place to explain the different species.
Throughout the celebration, there will be artists creating beautiful works of art. Vendors will be on hand selling water lilies for you to take home. There is also a popular water lily photo contest.
Visitors will enter the garden through a shrouded canopy of ferns and greenery. And while there are many botanical gardens in cities around Florida, at McKee, they’ll find themselves in one heralded among the state’s finest.
A Hundred Years Of History
McKee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This year, 2022, marks the centennial anniversary of when the land was set aside for the garden in 1922. It was originally named the McKee Jungle Garden and started out as an 80-acre tract of land that was purchased by developers Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton.
They originally intended the land to be used for citrus groves. They soon decided the land was not suited for citrus and planned to open a public garden to attract snowbirds visiting Vero Beach from up north. McKee and Sexton hired landscape architects from The Olmsted Brothers company to design the garden. Frederick Law Olmsted is noted for designing New York’s Central Park and other parks in cities around the country.
As Central Florida’s theme parks arose in the 1970s, attendance at the Jungle Garden began to wane. It closed in 1976, and much of the land was sold to condominium developers. Only 18 acres remained, and it lay dormant for 20 years.
In 1994, local visionaries, with the help of The Trust for Public Land, began a fundraising campaign to buy and restore what was left of the land. The campaign was met with widespread support in the community. It was reported that children even donated their allowances to help buy the property. The fundraising was successful, and the Jungle Garden reopened as McKee Botanical Garden in 2001. Today it attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year.
In addition to the main garden, there is a children’s garden, award-winning art exhibits, educational programs for adults and school children, and special events throughout the year, including the Waterlily Celebration.
From Flowers To A Culinary Delight
After you work up a thirst and appetite at the garden, take a trip beachside to Ocean Drive.
Right on the water where the road meets the sea, you will find fine dining at the Ocean Grill, noted for its fresh seafood. Just across the parking lot is Mulligan’s, which is more laid-back with a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Other eateries can be found along Ocean Drive as you head south.
The 2022 Waterlily Celebration begins June 19 and runs throughout the summer. The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday. Check the garden website for hours and admission prices.