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by Monica Brandies


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Mounts Botanical Garden Is Ever Beautiful

It had been over a decade since I visited Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. All gardens change constantly, and this one was hit hard by both Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, but reopened to the public in early 2005. The birds and butterflies returned.

Mounts Botanical Garden has a more tropical feeling than local public gardens. The paths are wide enough for wheelchairs or strollers.

"We lost 150 trees," one of the workers told me on a recent visit. "Now we have more flowers."

The garden is located right behind the County Extension Office at 559 N. Military Trail, only about 3 miles from the Southern Blvd Exit on I-95 or Exit 99 on the Florida Turnpike. If your get to that area make it a must-stop place. With 14 acres, it is the largest and oldest public garden in Palm Beach County, large enough to spend a day if you want, but small enough to see a great deal in a quick walk if you come with a group of non-gardeners. Picnic tables and benches within the park make good places for lunch breaks.

The fact that it is across the Trail from the West Palm Beach Airport and the planes fly right over the treetops as they take off just adds to the interest. Perhaps it is the contrast that makes the garden such a place of tranquility.

Mounts began as a 3 acre county site for pasturing 4-H horses and was named in honor of Marvin "Red" Mounts who was the county extension agent at that time and for some 40 years.

Planting of tropical fruit trees started in 1954 to determined how best to raise them in South Florida and to provide families with a food source that helps prevent or overcome vitamin deficiencies. By 1964 they had 69 fruit producing trees.

A plane in the treetops is common at Mounts and more interesting than disturbing. Kids love it.

Today Mounts includes 18 plant collections, tropical and subtropical plants from six continents, over 2,000 species from cacti and succulent land plants to water lilies to edible landscapes, herbs, citrus and palms. The garden has about 50,000 visitors a year and provides education and inspiration through tours, classes, and special events.

Of course, one of my favorites parts is the herb garden. That was the reason I visited it in the first place and featured it in my book Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens. The herb garden seems smaller to me now and it is in more shade, but even in full summer it had many interesting herbs.

Not far off the main trail, it was designed and is maintained by two very active herb societies in the area. The raised beds are made of concrete with sides high enough to sit on. The four beds are marked: tea, culinary, folklore, and potpourri and planted accordingly. Many of the plants would be familiar to herb growers anywhere, but there are some like the curry bush and star anise that are larger or taller than the same plants would be farther north in the state and a few like cinnamon and mace that can only grown in this warmer climate. Their Ibosa or African moth plant was much fuller than mine since it probably doesn't get nipped by frost every winter, but mine always comes back.

Gene Joyner, who was urban horticulturist there for 35 years and just retired at the end of 2007, showed us all around the last time we were there.

There is a Specialty Book Shop and Gift Store. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. A $5 donation per person is suggested. If you go on a holiday, check first to be sure if they are open, or for more details go to www.mounts.org or call 561-233-1757.

Containers decorate the Book Store. That is peperomia up on the wall and ornamental sweet potato in with a rex begonia.