If you could plan out an ideal location for a botanic garden, you would no doubt place it near a major conglomerate of plant nurseries. Fortunately for us, we are just 30-45 minutes from such an area: Homestead, FL. Although I had been told Homestead has a lot of nurseries, I had not been up to see for myself. So last week, I decided to take a trip up with Veronika, our grounds manager, to get to know the area a bit better. I also hoped to better grasp the offerings of some of the nurseries we had been purchasing from in the past, which would come in handy as we continue to enhance our ethnobotanical collections with new plants. We accomplished what we set out to do and more; it was a great trip. Meeting many of the individuals who run the nurseries and grow the plants was an especially big plus and helps us to build important relationships with growers. Veronika has been to Homestead a number of times to pick up plants, so it was great to have her along to guide me through the maze of nurseries in the area. You can get an idea of the coverage of nurseries in the area (esp. northern Homestead) from the dark green colors (from lots of plants and shade cloth) in the Google Maps image below:
As Veronika put it, Homestead is an area where you find "nursery on top of nursery on top of nursery." It is indeed quite overwhelming. Fortunately, as can be seen from the image, streets in the majority of Homestead nursery territory are conveniently laid out in a grid-like orientation. The streets are numbered to correspond with how far north, south, east or west you are, so you can get general bearings pretty easily, although having a GPS unit along for the ride was a great help. In this area, giving directions using landmarks can be quite ineffective due to the area's homogeneity and lack of topography: "So you'll take a left on this road and you'll go a few miles 'til you see this big nursery on your right....hm, no, no wait....ok so there will be this group of tall palm trees....uh, well.....it's just after this big field with, uh....aw heck....do you guys have a GPS??"
Each nursery has its own character, size and specialty. We visited an extremely large operation selling orchids and bromeliads by the crate with a minimum purchase of $250 and a feeling more of a factory than a nursery. On the other end of the spectrum lies a nursery we visited that specializes in succulents and cacti, seeming to only have one employee, the owner, on not much more than an acre of land where service is about as personalized as you can get. Along the way we found plenty of places in between, most of which employed very cordial staff who were more than happy to show us around or offer us a golf cart to tour the property ourselves. Even though golf carts provide a very effective method of transportation around nurseries, it was strange for me to see them buzzing in and out of the nursery rows, having spent lots of time in golf carts where they "belong" (on golf courses), where I both played and worked for a number of my younger years. They were out of their native habitat, ecologically speaking, and I felt, well....maybe kind of like how you'd feel if you were to see tigers roaming around your neighborhood...minus the whole fear-of-being-eaten part.