ABOVE: A nonslip aluminum walkway lets visitors feel as if they are walking on water. BELOW: Crinum americanum (with white flowers) is also called swamp lily. In the background is a red-leafed Crinum ‘Menehune.’ Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
From the soothing sound of water tumbling over rocks, to the nourishment it provides plants and animals, to the pleasure and relaxation it affords humans, Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach wants to make you aware of this natural treasure.
That’s why it spent $500,000 on the newly installed Blume Tropical Wetland Garden.
Called “Windows on the Floating World,” the garden was designed by Mags Harries and Lajos Heder of Cambridge, Mass., who created large-scale public art projects across the country.
They were chosen, in part, because they understood Mounts’ mission to educate. “This is an opportunity to make people aware of rainfall and the importance of water in the landscape,” said Harries.
Approach the garden from its south side and you hear the falling water, but your view of the installation is partly blocked by a variety of plants. The screening is done, in part, with a bank of heliconias, red ginger whose flowers attract butterflies, a West Indian holly with leaves that show purple underneath and a coconut palm hung with a purple orchid.
The partial view was intentional, said Joel Crippen, a horticulturist at Mounts who worked on this garden. The artists wanted your introduction to this quarter-acre space to be gradual, he explained.
As you reach a towering cypress tree, you know you have arrived at the wetland garden. The tree’s knees are actually standing in a man-made stream.
Entering, you follow the sloping path as it parallels this stream until you come to a weir or man-made waterfall that helps move the water downhill into a larger pond.
Here too is a piece of pipe standing vertically that is called the rain gauge, although it doesn’t actually measure rainfall. Instead, its height is marked in 2-inch increments with markers showing levels of remarkable rainfalls throughout the years.
These include the highest annual rainfall in West Palm Beach (6 feet, 10 inches) and the average rainfall per year in West Palm Beach (5 feet, 2 inches).
As you consider just how much water falls in South Florida, you’ll begin to see the plants that call the water home.
“When we selected plants for this project we decided color was an important element,” said Crippen, explaining that’s why they used both native and exotic species.
Along and at the edges of the stream, native pickerel weed flowers bloom year round and native fire flag with its lance-shaped leaves on tall stalks is hung with purple flowers.
Crippen bends down to point out minnows in the water. “As the garden matures we’ll have native frogs and water birds calling this home,” he said.
Already koi, tilapia, trout and turtles are thriving.
At the bottom of this path, you step onto a walkway made of nonslip aluminum grates that, depending on the water level, can actually skim the top of the pond to make you feel you are, well, walking on water. The grates create five pentagon-shaped pools used to showcase aquatic plants, such as papyrus and wild rice, growing submerged in the water. You’ll note these plants are potted so the display can easily be changed.
Floating atop the water, discover the mosaic star lily that looks like it’s made from small pieces of green tile arranged in a delicate star-shaped pattern.
Now you recognize the source of the gentle background noise as falling water pours over cap rock. The rock wall is planted with green, pink and yellow bromeliads that require humidity and spray from the waterfall to live.
Dominican coral stone stairs with imprints of shells and other aquatic life lead to the top of the waterfall and to a bridge. As you cross the bridge with the showy leaf motif on its sides, you may note the pink hutu tree whose powder puff-like flowers bloom at night. Its seeds have been used to stun fish.
Taking the path on your left, you’ll note its pervious concrete surface that allows water to drain through to reduce runoff, Crippen says. At the end of the path, benches are available so you can sit and look out over a small man-made lake.
It’s here that children can have close encounters with the fish. “This garden really appeals to the young because here they can actually get their hands wet,” said Crippen.
You don’t have to build a pond or have lots of acreage to enjoy a water garden. In fact, you can create one in your backyard using a large container such as an oversized flower pot, a child’s pool or even a galvanized steel watering trough.
Filled with water, these can become home to aquatic plants available at many local garden centers. If you are lucky, a frog will take up residence and help control your backyard mosquito population.
For more information on native aquatic and wetland plants, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_native_aquatic_and_wetland_plants
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
Where: Mounts Botanical Garden with its new wetland is at 531 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach.
When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: The suggested donation for entry is $5. Parking is free.
Information: On this and other events, 233-1757 or www.mounts.org.