Monday, July 23, 2012

Snorkeling In The Gardens

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai has a great new garden that, along with the octopus orchid in the previous blog post, might make you do a double-take after your snorkel trip. Although it is definitely a garden of terrestrial plants, it looks like it's been lifted right out of the ocean from one of Key Largo's spectacular coral reefs. The new garden goes by a number of names including "aquascape garden," "undersea garden," "coral reef garden," and "totally awesome garden" but we'll go with aquascape garden for simplicity in this post. Coral stone forms the foundation of the garden and along with the plants, which are meant to resemble a diversity of aquatic organisms found in reefs, there are a number of sea creatures interspersed throughout.

Our new "reef!"
Can you spot a few of the sea creatures?
Veronika, our grounds manager, came up with the idea for this garden a couple years ago and began trying out different plants and rock designs by the pool. About a year ago, we found out that Keri Leymaster had put together an "aquascape" garden at Discovery Cove in Orlando. Keenly interested to see the garden for some inspiration and ideas, Veronika and her husband René visited Keri and the garden on their way up north for vacation. Keri kindly took time to give them a tour of the garden, which helped Veronika form a vision for what was taking shape at Kona Kai.

Part of Keri's garden at Discovery Cove.
After visiting Discovery Cove, Veronika gained confidence that she could make her vision a reality and quietly but excitedly made plans for the garden at Kona Kai. Whenever she was out, she took notes on any plants that reminded her of something found underwater, eventually coming up with a great list of plants, then narrowing them down based on functionality (e.g. how big they grow, what conditions they prefer). With all the pieces in place, Veronika looked for just the right opportunity to put things into action, which came last month while Joe and Ronnie were away for vacation. During this time, she and her husband RenĂ© went all-out - designing, moving big rocks, buying plants, coaxing sea creatures onto the land to take up a new residence, etc. - installing the rest of what you see today in the aquascape garden. One lucky family of guests, some of whom were staying in the Pineapple Suite with a front-row seat on the porch, was staying on the property during the building of the garden, often coming out to enjoy watching the Gardens evolve in dramatic and beautiful ways before their eyes.

The Harris family witnessed Gardens history in the making during their stay.
Below are a couple of up-close teaser photos of what you might see while "snorkeling" around the aquascape garden. Check out the Aquascape Garden photo album on our Facebook page for more pictures as well as comments on each (including plant names) by Veronika, the master aquascaper herself. While you're there, check out the rest of our page and "Like" us if you haven't already for more great tropical pictures and to keep up with not only what's going on in the Gardens, but at the Resort as well.

Pretty "totally awesome," right? Be sure to take a "swim" and explore the aquascape garden during your next visit and learn more about the plants on a tour with me!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director


  1. What an amazing concept & you all executed it so well! It's a spectacular representation of a coral reef, so beautiful!!! Great job! :)

    Happy Gardening and best wishes,