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Entrepreneurs and horticulturalists Arthur G. McKee and Waldo Sexton established the McKee Botanical Garden in 1929 to preserve and promote the site's natural beauty. One of the oldest botanical gardens in the state, it was originally much larger than its current size of 18 acres. It contributed significantly to Vero Beach's economy and became one of the most popular natural attractions in Florida by the 1940s. It was known for its water lily and orchid collection and was the first garden to grow hybrid orchids outdoors year round. It also operated a successful nursery business. The garden features over 10,000 plants as well as ponds, trails, streams, stone bridges, and rock waterfalls. There are also several buildings including the Hall of Giants (originally used as gift shop and dining hall) and an open kitchen structure called the Spanish Kitchen. The garden also offers exhibitions and various classes and programs.

McKee Botanical Garden was established in 1929.

Plant, Property, Plant community, Terrestrial plant

The Spanish Kitchen

Plant, Shade, Tree, Leisure

The garden features several ponds such as this one.

Plant, Water, Plant community, Natural landscape

The garden is a haven for wildlife including birds and butterflies.

Plant, Water, Sky, Water resources

To help revive Florida's economy after the real estate bubble burst in 1925, attracting tourists was a main focus throughout the state and this included botanical gardens. Initially, McKee and Sexton, who formed the McKee-Sexton Land Company in 1922, did not intend to establish a botanical garden. They bought an 80-acre hammock on the coast of the Indian River to use it as a private retreat and to practice horticulture (they also wanted to protect the land from development). Three years later, they started a nursery.

In 1929 they made the decision to create the botanical garden, which was completed in November 1931. It was first called McKee Jungle Gardens, after McKee, who was the garden's main financier. The word "jungle" was chosen to sound attractive to tourists. The garden officially opened on January 1, 1932 and admission was free of charge but was eventually raised to one dollar. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a petting zoo, aviary, and monkey cages were added. The cages, aviary and animals pens are no longer used.

McKee Jungle Gardens operated for several decades until competition from larger attractions, such as Disney World, forced it to close in 1976. Most of the property was sold to developers except for the present 18 acres, which were essentially abandoned for the next two decades. In 1994, efforts to revive the property began in response to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center. During the next several years volunteers worked to remove the overgrowth. Finally on November 18, 2001, the garden—renamed the McKee Botanical Garden at that time—opened to the public. The garden was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

"Mission & History." McKee Botanical Garden. Accessed April 6, 2021.

Piland, Sherry, & Shiver, Carl. "McKee Jungle Gardens." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. January 7, 1998.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

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