McKee Botanical Garden: Where the Wild Things Are


Two owl sculptures stand sentry over one of the water lily ponds in Vero Beach’s McKee Botanical Gardens. They are part of a temporary installation.


Buddha’s Belly is a delicate little flower, but a sight for winter-weary eyes.

It was too cold for the beach. Not enough sun for basking. But we were in Vero Beach, Florida. We had to play outside.

We found the perfect spot at McKee Botanical Garden. Now I’d like this place just for the plants, the winding paths, the water lilies.

But two things made me love it even more: the jungle sculptures and the history of this place when it was called “McKee Jungle Gardens.”


The entrance arch is one of the remaining vestiges of the original Jungle Gardens.

The jungle gardens were a big hit in the mid-20th Century when people started tooling down Route 1 looking for sun and fun. But Interstate 95 came through and made getting here more difficult. Throw in Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios and this little wonder — which then was much bigger than it is now — didn’t stand a chance. I’m so glad someone had the foresight to save at least a piece of this botanical gem.


Mama and one of her two offspring make their way through the forest. The other one didn’t fit in the frame.

The monkeys and other wild life have gone on to their great reward but in their place are fanciful sculptures that lurk among the palms and rest on the edge of ponds.  “It’s a Jungle Out There” is the work of  The Ark Collective in Nairobi, Kenya, with 24 sculptures made specifically for this botanical garden. I am glad I got here in time to see it. It will be on display only until April 29—if you’re coming this way and you love gardens, sculptures and fanciful things, don’t miss it.

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman


Flowers and trees and giraffes: what more could a visitor want to see?




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