A must-experience, must-photograph botanical garden in South Florida. Bring water and a wide-angle lens to accompany your standard macro gear. Lots for Lensbabies to sing about here! Butterflies & Dragonflies add to the thrill seasonally, so, if these speak to you, pack a 180 -300mm.
Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County is set on 14 acres in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is just across from the Palm Beach International Airport and less than an hour and a half drive for those coming from Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, Okeechobee, and Miami. Though the history of Mounts dates back to 1925, the gardens expanded over the years and in 1988 an 18,000 square foot building was added to house the Palm Beach County Cooperative Extension Service. Mounts is home to over 20,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants, including flowering trees and shrubs, fruit trees, Bromeliads, Palms, Herbs, and Roses. This garden is a must for anyone serious about photography. It is a little off the beaten path and rather quiet. It's likely that with such functional classroom and workshop space, as well as a garden perfectly suited for an outdoor wedding, there may be times when that's not the case.
Now that I'm back to my roots in Florida after 29 years in Alaska, I have to say, I'm a wee bit reticent to visit a botanical garden in the grueling heat and humidity of summer. If you're a photographer (Phlorographer), you know that by the time most gardens open, the light is almost always too harsh unless it's overcast. Now, add to that the heat. It was July 2nd and I have to confess, my expectations, which were fairly low, were blown out of the water before they even opened the gate. While waiting for them to open, I inspected a ring of Coontie plants (Zamia integrifolia) in the parking lot looking for Atala butterflies (Eumaeus atala), as they are the solitary host plant. Harvested by Native Americans and European settlers, to the point of near extinction for their roots (used for starch) in the early 1900s, the Coontie's loss resulted in a close call for the Atala butterfly, as well. Years later, thanks to scientists and naturalists, both the Coontie and, thus the Atala, have made a comeback. That morning, there were a couple dozen butterflies in the plants. This marked the beginning of a good day, for from that point forward, I was met with one surprise after another as plants were blooming everywhere once inside the gate - despite the heat.
There were many captivating types of flowering and non-flowering plants spread throughout the 20 gardens listed on Mounts' website. The geometry and sinuosity of the palms, the plumpness of the succulents, and the spikiness of the cacti were enticing and begged me to stay longer. I yearned to go back to the car for a wider angle lens, but time just didn't allow. The most unique experience was had walking on the four foot wide honeycomb pathways above the water in the garden named "Windows on the Floating World." In a relatively small space, the "windows" revealed wetlands containing submerged aquatic plants, cascading water, a Bromeliad-covered wall, and much more. This unique feature is accompanied by informative displays focused on raising awareness of the critical importance of conserving and protecting fresh water. They provided a nice place to sit on my kneeling pad and photograph the Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata), below, from close-up & at a variety of vantage points; not so easily accomplished in the wild in their natural swampy habitat.
Shade is plentiful in the gardens. It helped to temper the heat while diffusing the bright sunshine. Between the shade offerings & my diffuser, I wasn't short of photo ops!
The pathways and grounds are flat and easy to navigate. A roller bag shouldn't pose a problem if you prefer that over a backpack. The visitor center even has wheelchairs free on a first-come first-serve basis. Although they don't rent scooters or electric wheelchairs, both are allowed in the garden. The pathway is longer than I expected and I was glad I carried the map they handed out. I recommend you do the same as it is easy to get caught up in the photographic process & lose track of time. In a situation where you need to find a restroom or the exit, the map will be your best friend.
Enjoy your visit!
Located at: 531 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach, Fl 33415