Enjoy a Botanical Garden of Old Florida
Holly Chichester, horticulturist and manager of grounds, takes pride in protecting the gem on Florida Tech’s campus, their beautiful botanical garden.
photo by Muffy McClung Berlyn
Holly Chichester, horticulturist and grounds manager at the Florida Institute of Technology Botanical Garden, used to hear from visitors of the garden, “I’ve lived here my whole life and didn’t know this was here.”
A covered bridge off the parking lot spanning thickets of untamed shrubs, palms and Florida oak suggests there is something wild going on at Florida Tech.
“We call it the jungle,” Chichester said. “That was a term coined by the students many years ago and it stuck. We try to keep it all natural.”
If you’ve ever wondered what Florida used to look like in its natural state, this is as good as it gets. Visionary engineer and founding university president Jerome Keuper set aside some 30 acres for the garden during the building of the FIT campus in the late 1950s. Now, the acreage remains pretty close to what today’s Floridians fondly called Old Florida with the exception of 200 varieties of palms from around the world. Keuper, a palm aficionado, started growing them by trial and error with his renowned botanist friend, Dent Smith, to discover which would survive. “It’s been evolving over the last 60 years,” Chichester said.
Tributaries of Crane Creek run through the sunlit dappled garden, creating a lush haven for students and visitors. The students come here to “study, have lunch, play guitar, hang out,” Chichester said.
Squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, turtles, and various fish have all frequented the garden which also has a cycad garden, a butterfly garden and a turtle pond. A rare visitor, a small gator, was recently removed to a different home by the Florida Wildlife Commission.
For a photo gallery of the gardens by Muffy McClung Berlyn, click here.
Visit the garden on Facebook at Florida Tech Botanical Garden and also on Trip Advisor.
The garden is free and open dawn to dusk. Guided tours can be arranged at garden.fit.edu, by emailing email@example.com or by calling 321-674-8038. Tours take between 45 minutes and an hour. Self guided tours can take as short or long as you like.
Those with smartphones can use plantsmap.com, an online database, to guide and supplement their tour. The closest parking lot to access the garden is directly off Babcock Street in Melbourne, in the block just north of University Blvd. After the pedestrian crosswalk, look to the left for the FIT and Botanical Garden sign at the lot entrance.