By Louise Clarke
For the second year, garden communicators were invited to the Tropical Plant Industry Expo (TPIE) held in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, January 18 – 20. This mid-winter event is produced by FNGLA, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.
This year Association members Sylvia Gordon and Jennifer Nelis rolled out the red carpet for GWA. Glowing reports from first year attendees and the alluring promotional materials we received enticed 40 garden communicators to attend this year, up from 2016’s 18 attendees. Timed immediately after the GWA Board meeting, TPIE provided opportunities for two days of GWA-exclusive tours before and after the trade show.
On Tuesday, prior to the opening of TPIE, Sylvia and Jennifer hosted a special morning-into-night tour for GWA. We stopped first at The Kampong, winter home of the famed plant explorer David Fairchild and now part of The National Tropical Botanical Garden. Situated on beautiful Biscayne Bay, it is home to many of the plants Fairchild introduced to U.S. soil.
Passing under the enormous Baobab tree at the Kampong gates with its dark tangle of aerial roots, we entered an earthly paradise of lush greenery and birdsong. There we enjoyed swaying palms, prehistoric cycads, flowering trees, and exotic fruits, including over 50 varieties of mangos. The early morning light was perfect for the photographers among us.
Next we boarded our bus for the secluded Patch of Heaven Gardens in Miami-Dade County. We toured the property with Owner Bruce Chesney and horticulturist Fred Hubbard. Upon entering Bruce’s house, we crossed a wooden bridge over a meandering piscine stream, with trickling waterfall walls on either side. Orchids, ferns, and bromeliads perched on the native rock. Asian furnishings accented the tropical ambience. The indoor pool had views out to the endangered tropical hammock forest.
We next visited Costa Farms for a tour of the trial gardens and a delicious buffet lunch. Justin Hancock, Costa’s Consumer Marketing and Digital Specialist, gave us an overview of Costa and highlighted the trial garden features. There were many photo opportunities as we viewed row after row of annuals, perennials, and succulents, and garden vignettes. Armed with our swag bags and a Costa-grown houseplant, we departed for another nursery visit.
Robert Fuchs, owner of R.F. Orchids, greeted us at his Homestead property. Amazing blooming orchids festooned the trees, among them the rare Florida native ghost orchid. In the retail nursery hung hundreds of Vanda orchids in a rainbow of hues. Our schedule prohibited us from lingering, so we did not get to sample Bob’s scorpion-infused liquor.
Late afternoon found us visiting Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables. Executive Director Dr. Patrick Griffith led us on a tour of the grounds. Palms and cycads from around the world, some critically endangered, are grown and studied here. Then we were treated to a buffet dinner inside the Montgomery’s former residence. As evening descended we said our goodbyes amid the cacophony of crying peacocks.
Our final stop was South Beach’s Lincoln Road, an historic shopping and dining promenade. Dating from the 1950’s and featuring “Miami Modern” architecture, it was one of the first pedestrian malls. In 2010 landscape architect Raymond Jungles filled the center of the mall with plantings of Florida Everglades plants and other tropicals. Several towering cypress trees in watery planters anchored the space. Uplighting added a warm ambiance to the nighttime milieu. Under balmy, moonlit skies, we strolled to Juvia, an ultramodern restaurant perched atop a designer parking garage, featuring uplighted green walls. It was a lovely finale to a thoroughly fascinating, but exhausting day.
Wednesday was dedicated to TPIE. We enjoyed complimentary access to all events, VIP seating at the keynote presentation, and unlimited access to the show floor. FNGLA had designated Wednesday as “Garden Communicators Day.” Keynote speaker and trend spotter Jane Lockhart opened the show talking about changing demographics, Pantone’s Color of the Year “greenery,” and how plants connect people to the places where they live and work.
Lloyd Singleton, TPIE committee chair and University of Florida extension agent, hosted our GWA-exclusive tour, ushering members around the show, introducing us to key exhibitors and highlighting cool new products. After that we were turned loose to roam five acres of aisles and over 400 exhibitors. I came away with free samples, numerous tropical nursery contacts, and a plethora of ideas for lectures, workshops, articles, and blog posts.
On Thursday after TPIE Sylvia Gordon gave us a tour that took us to more green walls, a commercial bromeliad nursery, and private gardens including Block Botanical Gardens. Our first stop took us to Hyde Beach Residence and Resorts. As we watched, the parking garage’s western façade, facing busy Hallandale Beach Boulevard, was covered with a living wall manufactured by GSky Plant Systems, one of the TPIE exhibitors. GSky’s service manager Patrick Ballay explained the installation process, and site challenges. With necks craned, we watched a team of installers lift pre-planted modules into place.
Our next stop on Collins Avenue was Acqualina Condominiums, home to more GSky green walls. Patrick showed us exterior green walls and the sales office’s interior green wall. When the sales manager heard that media was visiting, he graciously invited our group to view the model condominium, priced at a mere $7M, and enjoy the balcony views of beach and surf. Winding our way past the Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and Ferraris in the resident parking area, we boarded our transport for the next stop.
Situated in a gated community on Biscayne Bay, the Hucker property was a compound of two contemporary residences surrounded by tropical gardens designed by Brian Rogers of Avalon Gardens. Entering through the wooden gate, Brian introduced us to a lush area of swaying palms, bromeliads, heliconias, and fragrant gardenias. These plantings softened the imposing white angular mid-century modern architecture. Strolling past the blue Balinese-styled swimming pool and pavilion, we had stunning views of the canal, Biscayne Bay, and the remnants of Stiltsville, a historic fishing camp.
With little time to linger and enjoy the expansive views, Sylvia urged us to board our bus for a visit to family owned Bullis Bromeliads. Dazzling bromeliads including aechmeas, alcantareas, billbergias, and neoregelias, with colorful stripes, splotches, and other-worldy blooms charmed us. In addition to the nursery, the property boasted a large landscape display with a lake and waterfalls, designed to highlight bromeliads in garden settings.
The day’s final stop was Block Botanical Gardens in residential Miami, situated on a former mango grove. Owner Dr. Jeffrey Block greeted us and proudly showed us the National Champion mango tree, a vestige of the area’s past. Live oaks, palms and cycads from around the world, orchids, bromeliads, and the country’s largest outdoor planting of lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) were displayed to horticultural perfection. Peaches, Dr, Block’s salmon-crested cockatoo, was a big hit as she talked, sang, and danced on Block’s shoulder during our tour of the enclosed plant collection.
All in all, the TPIE experience combined with two days of tours gave attendees valuable insights into the tropical plant industry of southern Florida. It was a triumph of cooperation and communication between GWA and FNGLA. Hats off to Sylvia Gordon and Jennifer Nelis, who invested countless hours making this a special event for GWA members.
About the Author:
Region II Director Louise Clarke is employed by The Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. Besides tending a sustainable landscape which includes rain gardens and green roofs, she leads workshops, lectures, creates social media content, and writes for Seasons, the Arboretum’s periodical, and Washington Gardener Magazine. After hours she tends Halcyon, her personal garden, home to a tiki hut surrounded by lush plantings reminiscent of a Rousseau painting.