October 11, 2017

Garden Club of the Upper Keys
Limb and tree loss at the Francis Tracy Center is pervasive.

Garden Club of the Upper Keys Limb and tree loss at the Francis Tracy Center is pervasive.

TAVERNIER — At a time when the Garden Club of the Upper Keys was thriving, Hurricane Irma delivered a blow to the club’s hub, the Francis Tracy Garden Center, forcing the non-profit to cancel its bi-annual fundraiser, Fall Fest. The group now faces coming up with funds for club activities while promoting native plants and natural beauty.

The hardwood trees planted around the normally shady center were hit hard, altering the landscape completely. Cracked clay pots are in piles and the exposed tree roots of fallen trees made footing tricky last week in some areas around the mile marker 94 center. Work crews were to clean up the property by the weekend.

A singular broodstock twisted hibiscus is one of only a few surviving potted plants. These plants were moved around to stage for events, like the wedding the center recently hosted.

“The shade was too heavy before, at least now we can look forward to having more flowers,” said Beverly Middleton, secretary to the garden club while she assessed the center’s curtains and new flooring.

Structurally, the building which the club purchased in 1962 remains unharmed. Every glass pane in the jalousie-window-filled room remains. The kitchen was untouched.

It’s just all the trees.

“Most of the false tamarind trees are down,” Middleton said. “The lignumvitae trees in the front didn’t budge and the gumbo limbos are still standing, although most are without branches.

“We were hosting weekly socials and getting new members (before the storm),” she added. “This place isn’t just for gardeners, it’s for the whole community. That’s one of the founding principles on which this place had been built, and we’ve really been trying hard to incorporate everyone.

“We were hit pretty hard, but we were lucky. We’ll come back in time for the Garden Walk in February.”

While the Fall Festival scheduled at the end of the month was canceled, the club plans to host members for its monthly meeting next week.

Juanita’s Orchids and Landscaping has been removing the debris from the property. Middleton said her fees are considered a “charity bid” compared to the other quoted landscaping prices. There were 13 felled trees scattered across the property.

“We tried to save as many plants and trees as we could. There were huge trees, like monster trees, that were down all over the place. And on top of that, there is so much debris,” Juanita Contreras said.

Juanita’s Orchids’ crew of nine landscapers spent two full days at the center cleaning up.

“I like to support the garden club and help when I can,” Contreras said.

The garden club is still moving ahead with its annual bake sale and hopes to stage it in front of Publix in Key Largo.

The garden club visits the nursing home regularly and makes bouquets with residents, and holds socials and monthly lectures promoting native plant gardening in the Florida Keys. The club recently celebrated its 65th anniversary.

The club’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17. Guest speaker Laurie Brooks will talk about sustainable gardening. It will be at the Francis Tracy center.

Plans for a Halloween fundraiser on Oct. 28 at Florida Keys Elks Lodge 1872 in Tavernier are being firmed up. Check Garden Club of the Upper Keys on Facebook for updates or visit gardenclubupperkeys.org.

tjava@keysnews.com