McKee Botanical Garden is celebrating its 20th Anniversary since re-opening in 2001. In order to celebrate how far the Garden has come, we must first revisit its rich history.
McKee Jungle Gardens was the vision of land developers Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton, who purchased the 80-acre tropical hammock in 1922 with the intention of cultivating citrus. The property’s natural beauty was deemed too special in its native state to disturb, so McKee and Sexton identified a new purpose for the land and created McKee Jungle Gardens. In the 1950s, this exquisite piece of land was “hailed as one of the botanical wonders of the world, home to over 2,000 species of native and exotic plants.” As central Florida developed in the 1970s, attendance at the Gardens waned, and McKee was forced to close its gates. All but 18 acres were developed, and the heart of the Garden laid dormant for 20 years.
That could have been the end of the story. After a successful and unprecedented $9 million campaign, the remaining 18 acres were purchased and McKee’s restoration to its original grandeur began. With bare hands, basic tools, and unimaginable heart, volunteers of every age cleared the trails to reveal once again the jungle’s treasures.
In November 2001, McKee Botanical Garden opened its gates to a crowd of 700 curious and enthusiastic visitors. Since then, nearly 800,000 people have walked through the Garden’s gates to experience the magic of McKee. In addition, the Garden currently has over 4,500 loyal McKee members. Hundreds of educational classes, workshops, and camps have been held for McKee members and visitors of all ages. Thousands of people have come from across the state of Florida and beyond to enjoy the Garden’s annual special events including 11 years of the Annual Motor Car Exhibition, 19 years of Holidays at McKee, and 16 years of the Annual Waterlily Celebration. The Garden has garnered a national reputation for excellence and is known for its award-winning exhibitions including internationally renowned exhibits such as Guy Darrough’s Dinosaurs, or sculpture exhibits by Hans Godo Fräbel and Seward Johnson.
McKee is recognized as a Florida landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also recognized by the Garden Conservancy as a preservation project of national significance. In addition, the Garden is home to the first permitted, engineered bamboo structure in the United States and the world’s largest one-piece mahogany table. The Garden serves as an important haven for biodiversity with its renowned horticulture collection of exotic and tropical plants, one of the largest and most celebrated collections of water lilies in the state of Florida, and is home to two State Champion Trees.
McKee Botanical Garden has been featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine and was named one of “22 Secret Gardens – Soothing Places of Surprise and Sanctuary in the U.S. and Canada”. The Garden has also been featured in Better Homes & Gardens “Florida Treasures,” Coastal Living Magazine “10 Most Romantic Places in Florida,” and in Southern Living Magazine both on the cover and in articles “Take a Break for Sunshine and Flowers” and “Warm Getaways,” Home and Garden, Travel and Leisure Magazine, and the New York Times. The Garden was awarded the Hall of Fame Excellence Award by TripAdvisor.com in 2019.
In January 2020, McKee opened its new Children’s Garden. The Children’s Garden is a natural complement to McKee’s existing offerings and is being enjoyed by thousands of children of all ages who are exploring the land of pirates and fairies, reading in the Blue Crab Reading Circle, discovering nature and enjoying being outdoors and playing in the water features. Since opening the Children’s Garden, McKee has hosted hundreds of children’s workshops and activities.
In recognition of McKee Botanical Garden’s 20th Anniversary, the Garden is planning an exciting revitalization project which includes a new Hall of Giants interpretive exhibit which will showcase historical photographs, documents, and artifacts dating back to the 1930s, telling McKee’s magnificent story of past and present. A horticultural revitalization project will also take place which will enrich the visitor’s experience with diverse new plantings providing added beauty and inspiration. There are also plans to Include new landscape experiences where original features were lost due to previous hurricane damage. Lastly, the Palm Grove Folly area will be enhanced offering an additional inviting spot for comfortable small gatherings or solitary enjoyment of the Garden’s beauty.
The Garden is open Tuesday – Saturday (10 am – 5 pm), Sunday (12 pm – 5 pm). The last admission ticket is sold at 4 pm. Admission: $15 Adults, $13 Seniors (65+)/Youth (13-17), $10 Children (2-12). McKee members and children under 2 free. Come discover the many wonders of McKee.
For more information about McKee Botanical Garden visit www.mckeegarden.org.