Friday June 15, 2012

Pinecrest Gardens

pinecrest gardens winding path

I don’t have a whole lot of interest in visiting the not-so-new Parrot Jungle on Watson Island. I see where it makes perfect sense for them to be close to the urban center, and I even see the need for attractions like that in places like that. But there’s an old-Florida charm to the original location that I think I’d miss too much. But it turns out that the original location is still open, boringly renamed Pinecrest Gardens.

pinecrest gardens stream

In a lot of ways it’s just as interesting as it was with the parrots. You slow down and focus on the crazy natural surroundings. The park was originally established in the 1930’s, and the starting point was the wild vegetation that existed in this spot. It was cultivated and molded by Franz Scherr, who had a vision of an attraction “where the birds could fly free” (which of course they never really did).

pinecrest gardens cypress

A large part of the park is in a natural Cypress Slough, a natural depression in the land that’s permanently wet and warmer than the surrounding area. The Cypress’ knees poke out of the ground, and the leaves teem with lizards of all sizes, birds, turtles, fish, and huge, slow-flying mosquitos.

pinecrest gardens lake and succulents

There’s a natural comparison to be made with Fairchild Gardens. But Fairchild is prissy and educational (not to mention outrageously expensive at $25 per person). By comparison, the old Parrot Jungle site is dense, chaotic, and funky. And while the park is much smaller, it’s equivalent of Fairchild’s tropical rainforest is bigger and much less tamed. And admission is a refreshing $3.

pinecrest gardens hut

There are enough paths through the overgrown part of the park to get lost on (and you can wander off the paths, just watch out for spiderwebs). Here’s one of the shelters left over from the park’s parrot past, with a sinkhole in the foreground.

pinecrest gardens koi fish

A lot of the water features, including lakes, brooks, and mini-waterfalls, are man-made and stocked with gargantuan koi.

pinecrest gardens strange plants

And everything rewards close looking. Here are some weird buds sprouting out of a branch.

pinecrest gardens sausage tree

In the more manicured part of the park, a Kigelia, aka sausage tree.

pinecrest gardens cypress roots

Cypress roots of the decades spill out over the path that winds through the wild portion of the park.

pinecrest gardens parrot cages

More signs of the parrot past, cages built along the path.

pinecrest gardens

The original entrance building. There’s an almost Tolkeinesque quality to a lot of the original architecture…

pinecrest gardens

This, the current entrance building, was a more recent addition, but it’s still got a lot of that old personality.

pinecrest gardens fall down tree

The park was hit hard by Hurricane Andrew. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago. In other news, you are OLD.

pinecrest gardens coral rocks

The park also has its share of Vizcaya-like coral grottoes. I can totally see why it’s a popular wedding spot.

pinecrest gardens dome

You catch glimpses of the geodesic dome amphitheater, which is well concealed by the park’s vegetation and design despite being smack in the middle. Apparently it still gets some use from time to time.

pinecrest gardens

Massive water lilies! Some other stuff they’ve got (for you parents out there!) that I didn’t bother to photograph: a pretty sweet water park area, a playground, and a petting zoo with the usual goats, sheep, and boars.

pinecrest gardens banyan

Some of the nattiest banyan roots this side of the equator. Climbing recommended.

pinecrest gardens ponytail palms

They got ponytail palms with root bases the size of refrigerators and washing machines. There’s also more than a taste of the horticultural fetishism of Fairchild, with a succulent garden and the like.

pinecrest gardens funky plants

Some of the plants have tags that give their names and most don’t, which is fine with me. They got an app for your iPhone that, if you photograph the leaf of a plant, will tell you what it is.

pinecrest gardens parrot jail

Some of the more gruesome looking parrot enclosures. I’m sure the parrots liked living here and doing tricks though, right?

pinecrest gardens turtles

The turtles certainly seem to enjoy it.

pinecrest gardens

Oh, and the lake totally has ducks and at least one swan in it. Oddly enough, I couldn’t figure out how to get down to this field. I think you’re just supposed to enjoy it from the plaza area. There’s also a lookout tower.

pinecrest gardens

All in all, I’d try this place again and I would recommend it to a friend. I would take out-of-town people here, maybe even before Fairchild or a schlep to the everglades. Bring lunch (there’s a snack bar, but I believe they allow outside food) and mosquito repellent for the love of god.

pinecrest gardens

(Yes, this is a picture of the same thing you just saw. I like them both. It’s crazy overgrown, yo.)

pinecrest gardens

Someone told me I should put the website link at the end of the post, and only put links towards the beginning that it’s actually important for people to click? I dunno, but here, Pinecrest Gardens.

Tags: , ,

comments powered by Disqus
  1. Maria de los Angeles    Sat Jun 16, 08:52 AM #  

    Alesh, so glad to see CM coming back!

    Pinecrest Gardens is so named because it is owned by the Village of Pinecrest in conjunction with the adjacent community center and library. Thankfully Pinecrest purchased it after Parrot Jungle moved, because it was up for bids for a private condo development.

    The streams in the forest area connect to Snapper Creek, so part of it is brackish. You might find a tarpon in there. There are also feral macaws that live in and fly over the area still.

    It’s more than just a garden … there are community programs for kids and adults. There’s also a farmer’s market on Sunday.

    I agree it’s a great deal compared to Fairchild but keep in mind the latter is actually a research, educational and cultural institution, a true museum of plants. Joining Fairchild with a yearly membership is well worth the price to enjoy the grounds continually.

    But you can’t beat Pinecrest for a casual outing. It used to be free, actually, but $3 is reasonable and there are yearly memberships.

  2. swampthing    Sun Jun 17, 10:53 AM #  

    perfectly swampy

  3. DJ Frustration    Mon Jun 18, 10:14 AM #  

    Awesome post. In November 2011, the Gardens was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That along with the historical stewardship of the property precludes them from altering certain features. However, the place is an excellent blend of natural habitat and creative entertainment use. They do an amazing Jazz Series, various plays, classical music and dance performance art. In addition, they have a gallery to the left of the front entrance that is curated by Tora Bueno. Also, it’s one of the cheapest outdoor garden venues for rentals. Go Pinecrest for taking the torch and running with it!

  4. alesh    Mon Jun 18, 11:16 AM #  

    Good point. I forgot to mention the gallery! Right now there is an exhibition by Pablo Cano which is quite nice. I actually already own a piece by Cano and am seriously thinking about picking up another one from there.

    And yes, I recognize that while Pinecrest Gardens is a dumb name, the city deserves credit for buying the property and keeping it in good shape and available to the public.

  5. BASS    Mon Jun 18, 05:03 PM #  

    One of my favorite places to go and get close to nature and snap some photos.
    Speaking of empty cages… Crandon Gardens is a great spot too!

  6. Catalina Jaramillo    Tue Jun 19, 01:20 PM #