Memberships allow free or discounted access to partner gardens across U.S.
By Jessica Creagan
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- Looking for something new to explore while friends and family are visiting, or before children go back to school? Check out area botanical gardens for some fresh scenery.
The Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens is the youngest of the three gardens on the Treasure Coast and while it does have some "growing" to do, it is a lovely place to visit, said Stephanie Alessandrini-Giarraffa, president of the Friends of Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens.
While paying for a one time visit to the gardens is available, a better value and extra benefits could be obtained by purchasing a one-year membership, staff said.
A family membership to the garden is $50 and includes garden specific perks as well as reciprocal admission to other gardens through the American Horticultural Society.
With membership, members are given free or discounted admission to gardens in more than 40 states, including quite a few in Florida and a total of three on the Treasure Coast, Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce and McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach.
"With membership, you can see all three gardens in one day if you wanted," Ms. Alessandrini-Giarraffa said.
The Port St. Lucie garden views include wetlands and mangroves on the banks of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River as well as a lake and fountain, and beautiful gardens.
Bamboos and bromeliads are featured in various sections of the garden, as are cacti and succulents, hibiscus, orchids and native Florida plants.
"We're the newest kids on the block, but I think it's great for people to get to see a garden grow from its infancy into maturity," Ms. Alessandrini-Giarraffa said.
The garden is constantly being added to and that doesn't just mean with plants, she said.
Recently, the garden held a special unveiling for a new art sculpture that will be added to the garden's permanent collection and will be a part of the outdoor display.
Miriam Charles, director and gardener of Heathcote Botanical Gardens, said the summertime garden is constantly in bloom.
Seeing guests come from different parts of the state and country because of their reciprocal admission is exciting, Ms. Charles said.
"Membership is a great advantage for guests, and for us as a nonprofit, memberships help us to stay open," she said.
Family memberships to Heathcote are $50 and include the reciprocal admission benefits as well as others specific to the garden.
The garden has several areas for guests to visit, including a children's garden, a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden and a Bonsai pavilion and gallery.
"We have the largest sub-tropical display of bonsai in the United States. Three years ago, Jim Smith, a bonsai master from Vero Beach, donated 100 bonsai trees to Heathcote. They're all very spectacular trees," Ms. Charles said.
Some of the activities held within the garden include weekly tai chi and yoga instruction, as well as a Spanish class.
Other notable items in the garden include a recreation of a Florida pioneer house, a Seminole Chickee Hut and the Heathcote family house.
The Heathcote House is a two-story Victorian-style home built in the 1920s and is used as the garden administration offices. While it is not available for tours, its architecture is definitely visible and is another memory of Fort Pierce's history.
McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach has waterlilies, pineapple, bromeliads and more blooming during this time of the year, creating a kaleidoscope of color peeking out from among the lush green plants that thrive year-round.
Many garden paths have a canopy of shade protecting guests from the sun's strongest rays. There are benches, pavilions and other resting spots along the way should guests want to rest during their exploration of the 18-acre garden.
From time to time, McKee hosts outdoor art exhibits and recently announced that the 2015 exhibit will feature works by certified professional LEGOŽ artist Sean Kenney.
The exhibit "Nature Connects, a LEGOŽ Brick Exhibition" will feature 27 individual sculptures including a 6-foot tall hummingbird.
McKee Botanical Garden is located at 350 U.S. 1, Vero Beach. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call (772) 794-0601 or visit www.mckeegarden.org.
Heathcote Botanical Gardens is located at 210 Savannah Road, Fort Pierce. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (772) 464-0323 or visit www.heathcotebotanicalgardens.org.
Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens is located at 2410 S.E. Westmoreland Blvd., Port St. Lucie. Hours of operation are Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call (772) 337-1959 or visit www.pslbotanicalgardens.org.