January 18, 2014

Winter estates of the rich and famous

If you're fortunate enough to visit Florida this winter or spring, you'll likely have lots of company. Last March, the fishman and I spent a week with my dear parents who have a modest home in the Sunshine State, and who now live there for half the year. I'm so thankful they haven't had to deal with the polar weather we're experiencing this year.

edisonhome

fordhome

One of the highlights of our trip last year was a visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. The famous American inventor, Thomas Edison, and the auto industry tycoon, Henry Ford, spent their winters in very comfortable quarters there. The place is rich in history, and is now a National Register Historic Site.

There's something for everyone there, including their historic homes, Edison's laboratory, lots of antique cars (including Ford's Model T), displays of both men's patents, and much more. Edison and Ford were both complex characters--Ford, especially, as revealed in this episode of the PBS "The Titans" miniseries. Edison was a Rennaissance man. Beyond his primary occupation as an inventor, he also was a businessman, chemist, astronomer, engineer, and botanist.

Edison, along with his talented and underappreciated second wife, Mina, created a botanical wonderland at their winter estate. Here are a few of the highlights:

edison

Greeting us at the entrance was a life-size statue of Edison, surrounded by one of the largest Banyan trees (Ficus benghalensis) in the continental U.S., which was planted in 1925. It was a gift from Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.

arbor

One of the first things that caught my eye in the gardens was this pergola/arbor that connects the Edisons' home with their guest house.

arborqueen

From a distance I thought it was Wisteria.

queenswreath

But on closer inspection and after reading the plant marker, I found out it was Queen's Wreath (Petrea volubilis), a tropical plant.

poinciana

spiralginger

bananas

Other tropical delights included Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), Spiral Ginger (Costus scaber), and Bananas (Musa acuminata).

snowbush

This gorgeous Snowbush (Breynia disticha) lined one of the walkways.

orchid

epiphytes

Epiphytes of many varieties were in abundance.

rose1

rose2

rose3

While the Roses weren't at the peak of their beauty, I had to stop and capture a few of the best blooms.

pier

This historic Pier once led to a dock, where Edison apparently spent many hours fishing.

reflecting1

But for me, the highlight of the place was the Moonlight Garden, created by landscape architect Ellen Biddle-Shipman for Mina Edison in 1929. We saw it during the day, when it was exquisite, but it was designed to be appreciated at night--when the reflecting pool and bright flowers would reflect the moonlight.

bougainvillea

reflecting2

Edison used the little building that borders the pool as one of his offices. The combination of the modest building, the Water Lilies, the Bougainvillea, bright blue planters, garden benches, and the reflecting pool was magical.

lily1

lily2

Definitely a must-see if you're anywhere near Fort Myers, Fla.

53 comments:

  1. It is wonderful to tour those places and gardens, well manicured because it is for the rich and famous! The ficus trees are amazing, previously from roots they are not established big trees. And the purple orchid you didn't label is a native here in the Philippines, we call it 'sanggumay, with very lovely scent. It blooms yearly with pendulous strands. Dendrobium finlayzonianum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree, it's great to visit botanical gardens and not to have the responsibility of tending them. ;-) Thanks for the ID on the Orchid! It's beautiful, and there were many other lovely Orchids there--I probably should have taken more photos of them. If I'd known it had a scent, I would have smelled it! You're fortunate to have them native in your area.

      Delete
  2. The pier to the water is fabulous. I can see myself spending hours there too -although not fishing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, apparently sometimes people have weddings on the property. I've seen them set up by the pier and in the Moonlight Garden. Lovely backdrop!

      Delete
  3. Very nice tour. You hit on something in this post really important. I was asked by one of my wealthy clients up here to come to their Tampa summer home (a real mansion not a summer cottage) for a summer to design their gardens there. All expenses paid. I refused because it would be difficult not knowing the growth patterns and potentials of plants in that region. A houseplant here and a small tree there... I wanted to retain my good standing and reputation. I turned down a huge commission to stay true to what I knew and suggested they hire a local designer or architect. It is fun to visit places and see what they use to create the same vignettes we know and love. What you thought as Wisteria really did give the same feel. In Costa Rica the Bougainvillea grew like a weed. I can only imagine what it would do in Florida.










    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How interesting, Donna. It does make sense to go with a designer/landscaper who knows the local plants, climate, etc. The Bougainvillea was growing like a weed here, too. I honestly could have done a blog post only about Bougainvillea, except that I didn't take many photos of them--there were so many other plants to see. I love Bougainvillea, though!

      Delete
  4. Thanks for the beautiful tour and the history lesson! This area is going on my retirement list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucky you! I could see it, too--especially after this winter's polar vortex covered just about all the U.S. except southern Florida! There's certainly a lot to do in the area, and the winter climate is the best!

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. You are very fortunate, Sharon! Except in the middle of the summer (although I have to say our summers get pretty hot/humid sometimes, too--but not for an extended period of time usually). But winters in Florida would be great!

      Delete
  6. You have no idea how delightful it is to see anything growing at this time of year. And that reflecting pond is stunning....makes me want to dig up the yard.

    Jen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. It was refreshing to look back at these pictures from last year in Florida. Makes me want to get on a plane right now. ;-)

      Delete
  7. I can see why you were enchanted by the Moonlight Garden. And that blue water lily! The only time I've been to Florida was for a business meeting in Orlando in August. I'd like to go back some time and see the gardens and natural areas (when the weather is decent).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, you definitely have to get to Florida in February or March--when the weather is still cruddy in the MIdwest, but spring isn't far off. Florida weather is perfect at that time of year, and then when you get back, there isn't much winter left. There are so many amazing gardens--all over the state!

      Delete
  8. I had no idea Edison was a plant lover. The pergolas with the Queen's Wreath and bougainvillea are wonderful. As are the water lilies!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't realize it either, until we were there. The Edisons did a great job with all the plants, and it's been beautifully maintained!

      Delete
  9. Oh, I wish I had relatives in Florida--I'd be making plans to visit them right away! What a lovely place to visit--the Banyan tree is amazing. I remember reading a biography of Luther Burbank several years ago; he was friends with Edison and Ford, who certainly came across as very interesting people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm just so glad my parents don't have to deal with this bitter cold. It has been tough this year, even for young folks. ;-) And, yes, this was quite an interesting group of people. They went on camping trips and expeditions together. The museum has lots of fascinating photos and correspondence between them.

      Delete
  10. The moonlight garden is lovely! Thanks for a bit of history. I also had no idea of Edison's botanical interests. That Banyan tree is amazing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a fun place. Even if you go with a non-gardener, you'll both have a great time. Anyone interested in history, cars, inventions, botany, or gardening will enjoy it.

      Delete
  11. I never knew anything about Edison aside from his invention of the light bulb and refusal to give up on his ideas. I'd read that he was a harsh man but I love the idea of him as a gardener and plant lover. I love the reflecting pool but I'm such a klutz, I'd probably fall in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd be fascinated to learn more about Edison's personality. I learned a lot about Ford from the PBS episode. He was very, very complex. I could have spent several hours sitting by that reflecting pool, but I was with other people so I had to move on. I think it was pretty shallow, Tammy. ;-)

      Delete
  12. Beth what a gorgeous spot with loads of history...love those water lilies. We both need a warm weather vacation this year...are your parents renting out any rooms??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, yes, yes. I wish I had a warm vacation planned. But, alas, that won't happen this year. :( My parents say we're always welcome, but I have to save my $$ for other trips planned in the months ahead. If the polar events keep happening, I might just drive south a few states one of these days! ;-)

      Delete
  13. This is probably as close as I will ever get to Florida. Thanks for the tour.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you never know, Ricki. It's definitely worth the $$ and the trip. Especially in February or March when the winter (at least here) lingers way too long...

      Delete
  14. Wow, what a gorgeous place! And I can't get over that Banyan tree! At first I thought it was a couple rows of trees! That was pretty neat to learn about Edison going fishing - even such a famous inventor needs some R&R time sometimes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know--I thought the same thing. Amazing, isn't it? I get the feeling both men were difficult, hard-driving, competitive people. Some of the historical documents at the facility give you a greater glimpse into various sides of their characters. There were a couple of things I read about Edison that made me think he had a gentler side--maybe especially in his older years.

      Delete
  15. If I had the opportunity I would definitely be there. This is a wonderful garden with Mediterranean plants. Unfortunately it is very far and I can only admire him for your photos. Very nice of you to visit me, even though you are not a permanent observer of my blog. Yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could go there right now. It's so cold here this winter. But I know I'm fortunate to have a warm house and food to eat. Giga, I'm in the process of adding my favorite blogs to my Blogger reading list. You were one of my favorites on Blotanical, but that seems to be on hold. So, now you are on my Blogger list, too. For a while, I've just been going back through my posts and visiting people who've visited me during the past few months. I haven't settled on a favorite way to keep up with my favorites--that method used to be Blotanical. Cheers! Stay warm!

      Delete
    2. Cieszę się, że jesteś ze mną na Blogger. Ja nie bardzo potrafiłam poruszać się w Blotanical. Pozdrawiam.
      I'm glad you're with me on Blogger. I do not really I could move in Blotanical. Yours.

      Delete
  16. I would love to be in Florida right this moment. And the estates that you profiled look quite interesting. I have been in that area and never knew about them. Cold and quite snowy here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too. My parents informed me about the estates. They'd been there at least once before. Actually, the gardens are just one aspect of what the property has to offer. Any group of people with varied interests would probably find the place interesting. Seems it has been a tough winter for all of us...except maybe Florida.

      Delete
  17. Edison was a very smart man, trading winter for the tropics. I can't say I blame him. What a serene, inviting place. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed. I'd definitely live in the south during the winter if I could. Maybe I will after I retire. The estates are a great place to visit if you're near there someday.

      Delete
  18. Hi Beth, sounds like you had a wonderful time in Florida. I have to admit that I have never been there so far, but really would like to visit. I will definitely mark the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers as a place to stop by! I think, I have never seen a Queen's Wreath (Petrea volubilis), what a beautiful tropical vine! I also love the Banyan tree. I have encountered my first one on Kauii and will never forget how it felt to be sitting under one. They are so majestic. The moonlight garden is very pretty, I am just surprised that they haven't used more of the color white there (flowers, containers, structures etc.), since it reflects the moonlight so wonderfully. Warm regards,
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I really liked the Queens Wreath, too--the lovely flowers, the way it looks from a distance twining around the pergola, and the braided look of the trunk. I know--Banyan trees are really amazing. They seem so protective. The Moonlight Garden had some white flowers, too, but some weren't in bloom at the time we were there (Magnolias), and others apparently perk up more at night. It's a garden meant to be enjoyed during all hours--including in the moonlight. They also have white lanterns around the perimeter, that you can kinda see in the photos in this post.

      Delete
  19. Lovely! I will add it to my list of places to see. We visited Naples, FL a few years ago and I just loved it. Fort Myers could be next! In fact, I wouldn't mind being there now. It's cold here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't mind being there now, either. Although, they're even getting freezing temperatures in Florida lately overnight--not in the south but all the way to Orlando and Tampa! Crazy winter!

      Delete
  20. Hi Beth, what a gem of a property you have been visiting! I’d love to have a pergola like that – and how I wish I could have a little office at the bottom of my garden like there was in that moonlight garden! So beautiful, thanks for the tour :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too. It was very artfully done, and nicely maintained by the volunteers and employees who work at the estate. It would be fun to go back sometime and see the Moonlight Garden at night.

      Delete
  21. Your warm and evocative images come as a public service for the untold numbers of us under winter's hammer again. Moving back to Georgia after 12 years in Connecticut feels like not much of a weather change this winter. So, thanks for the Florida warmth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it helped a bit, Lee. Interesting that the chill is reaching all the way to Georgia and Northern Florida this winter. Believe me, it was partially a selfish act because I long for warmer weather and lush plant life myself. Stay warm!

      Delete
  22. How lovely, sunshine and exotic plants - and architecture - are the perfect antidote to the grey drab and rain here, but given the cold the US has been experiencing it must have been the perfect balm.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Janet. Yes, the trip was from last year, but reviewing it this especially cold winter warmed my spirit a bit. :) I hope you get some sunshine soon, too.

      Delete
  23. hi Beth, what a great place to visit - suddenly Florida beckons ... I wish!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sue: Me, too. I wish I could go back again right now. :)

      Delete
  24. I've never been to Florida, but this post is certainly tempting me. The reflecting pool was wonderful, I can imagine what it would look like on a moonlit night. Wonderful things to think about as the thermometer dips back below zero here once again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you would love Florida, Karen! Yes, definitely worth a trip. It does sound perfect right about now, doesn't it?

      Delete
  25. What a great post. I love visiting grand gardens when I travel. There is always something to inspire. Such a treat to gaze on sunny landscapes on this frigid winter day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I always try to visit a botanical garden or state park or natural area when I'm in a new place. I agree--always something to inspire! Dreaming about a tropical getaway...

      Delete
  26. This left me longing to visit Florida again. I have only been in the summer (where it was actually cooler than home). I have a place to stay anytime I want, it just a matter of getting there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice. Yeah, getting there is part of the time and cost. Great getaway from a winter like we're having now, though!

      Delete

Thanks for stopping by!

(Your comment might not appear right away. PlantPostings uses comment moderation, and we read every comment before we publish.)