In 1932, Arthur G. McKee and Waldo E. Sexton opened McKee Jungle Gardens on an 80-acre tropical hammock in Vero Beach, Florida. The two land developers employed landscape architect William Lyman Phillips, from the esteemed firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, to design the basic infrastructure of streams, ponds and trails while they focused their efforts on assembling one of the most outstanding collections of waterlilies and orchids – augmenting native vegetation with ornamental plants and exotic specimens from around the world. By the 1940’s, more than 100,000 tourists were visiting the Gardens each year, deeming it one of Florida’s earliest and most popular natural attractions.
With a renewed focus on native horticulture, the Garden remains true to its jungle heritage, featuring 10,000 native and tropical plants as well as one of the area’s largest collections of waterlilies. The Hall of Giants and Spanish Kitchen, historic to the Garden, were both meticulously restored to Sexton’s original vision, and in 2002 the United State’s first permitted bamboo structure was built on site.
McKee has garnered national attention in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens, Coastal Living, House and Garden, Southern Living and The New York Times, and was named one of “22 Secret Gardens – Soothing Places of Surprise and Sanctuary in the U.S. and Canada” by National Geographic Traveler. In 2018, McKee was recognized by Coastal Living as “One of the Ten Most Romantic Places in Florida”. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and endorsed by The Garden Conservancy as a project of national significance.
MCKEE BOTANICAL GARDEN: STATEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
McKee Botanical Garden strives to be at the forefront of environmental sustainability. All horticultural requirements are strictly enforced by the Director of Horticulture. They include:
• Selection of sub-tropical and tropical foliage based on best fit for the native Florida hammock environment while keeping environmental concerns such as cold tolerance, invasive tendencies and appropriateness for site conditions in mind. McKee discourages annual planting.
• Reuse of all vegetative debris for mulch and other organic needs.
• Recycling of all non-vegetative materials through appropriate methods. The Garden maintains recycling receptacles throughout its public spaces. i.e. Shredding and recycling of office paper, bottles, newspapers and other recyclable materials.
• Employment of low-emissions technology and equipment whenever possible. This includes application of low-power use alternatives.
• The Garden uses rainwater to supplement the shallow well irrigation water. We apply strict irrigation management techniques, automatic rain shut off sensors and continuous monitoring of irrigation system are used to reduce excessive watering of the landscape. The waterway system is part of the irrigation system reservoir and utilizes submergent vegetation as a biological filter that captures nutrients in the water.
• Minimal use of chemicals such as herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides, applied on an as-needed basis only as approved by the Director of Horticulture.
McKee’s role in horticultural stewardship, now and historically, is to ensure that the Garden’s collections support plant biodiversity, that educational programming encourages environmental stewardship beyond our grounds, and that environmental sustainability is at the forefront of our work. We continue to improve our operations by remaining open to new ideas and practices as they are introduced.