The extensive landscaped gardens at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens offer a fantastic day out, just 12 miles south of Miami. It is a very pleasant, if somewhat slow drive through the historic tree-lined avenues of Coral Gables to reach the gardens on Old Cutler Road. I would definitely recommend getting there early and making a day of it to get full value from the rather pricey $25 general admission price.
The gardens were established in 1938 and as you can imagine are now very mature and beautifully maintained. They were named after David Fairchild, a botanist and explorer, by his friend Robert Montgomery, a lawyer and passionate plant collector who actually established the gardens. Dr Fairchild brought many new and unusual plants to America including exotic fruits, bamboos and a giant baobab tree from Africa which is still one of the magnificent features of the gardens.
A good way to start your visit is by hopping on the Tram Tour which takes you all around the 83-acre gardens. It helps you get oriented while covering some of the furthest points of the gardens without the long walk in the humid heat! Stop off at the cafeteria for refreshments or return to the start and begin your own personal exploration in particular favorite spots you may have seen on the tour.
Botanical gardens are by definition plants that are arranged in family species and this is very clear at Fairchild Botanical Gardens. Groupings of palms, bamboos, climbers and other species can be found throughout the garden in a very pleasing manner. Although the gardens appear to be natural, they were actually designed by William Lyman Phillips, part of the Olsted partnership firm which designed many of America’s most famous urban parks in the 1930s.
Some of the highlights of Fairchild Tropical Gardens are the Windows to the Tropics conservatory which displays tropical plantings of ferns, orchids and exotic bromeliads on two different levels, and the Butterfly Garden. The narrow footpath winds between butterfly-loving shrubs and flowers and is a great place for taking a photograph of colorful butterflies sipping nectar from equally vibrant blooms of buddleia, oleander and milkweed.
One of my favorite attractions is the long pergola which stretches over 560 feet and is covered in the most amazing flowering vines with all sorts of brightly colored trumpets and flowers. Look for the Rainbow Eucalyptus tree which has multi-colored streaks down the trunk, as if a child has been let loose with fiber tip marker pens on it! It is truly amazing to see such a distinctive multicolored bark.
Succulents, cactus, euphorbia and agave from all four corners of the world all thrive at Fairchild Botanical Gardens. However, it is best known for its palm collection and is said to have more endangered species of palm than any other botanical gardens in the world. Add to that the 200 species of cycads, many of which are endangered, and you will appreciate not only the beauty of these gardens, but the valuable conservation work they are doing, leading the way in environmental research, education and preservation of these rare tropical plants.
You can further support their work by buying gifts in the well-stocked botanically themed shop and enjoying refreshments and lunch at the onsite cafeteria. Look out for some of the special events held at Fairchild Gardens for added value. They include the International Mango Festival in July and the Plant Sale in October.