Wednesday 1 February 2012

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens

For all of us in Europe - and elsewhere in the world - who are shivering in this cold late January, let me spread a little sunshine and warmth.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in balmy Florida, the scent of the frangipani in your nostrils and the sound of the sea in the distance.

Image from Bonnet House Museum website
Would that I were visiting Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.   Nestled by the sea and amongst natural vegetation, the 35-acre beachfront property is but a stone's throw from downtown Fort Lauderdale.  The house and garden began life in
 1895 when the plot was purchased by successful Chicago lawyer and early Florida settler Hugh Taylor Birch who gave it to his daughter Helen and her artist husband Frederic Clay Barlett as a wedding present.  

The house and garden took shape in the 1920s and was used primarily as a winter retreat from chill Chicago winters.  Helen sadly died in 1921, and in 1931 Frederic married Evelyn Fortune Lily, who in 1983 gave the property to the Florida Trust for Historic PreservationIn May, 2008 The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the building on their list of America's Most Endangered Places.

Photo attribution: Leonard J. DeFrancisci
The landscaping is sympathetic with both site and architecture.  Complementing the natural vegetation it the Desert Garden composed of arid plantings, a hibiscus garden, and the main courtyard planted with tropical species.  Evelyn was also passionate orchid collector and the varieties she left to Bonnet House comprise one of the largest collections of orchids in the Southeast United States. 

Image from Bonnet House Museum website
While the grounds are a vital natural habitat.  Here is to be found one of the last examples in South Florida of a native barrier island habitat. Here also are five distinct ecosystems:  the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a fresh water slough, the secondary dune, mangrove wetlands, and a maritime forest.

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