Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
November, 2011
Regional Report

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We enjoy Mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata 'Ponkan') thanks to Dr. David Fairchild's explorations and his collections at The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Coconut Grove, Florida.

Tropical Delights in their Coconut Grove Home

Do you reach for a mango, lift it to your nose for a sniff, then peel and savor? Do you enjoy Mandarin oranges with your chicken salad? How about pistachios, nectarines, avocados?

These and other luscious tropical foods are among our favorites, thanks to the late Dr. David Fairchild, who co-founded the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction in 1897 to 1898.

Last week I was fortunate to visit Fairchild's home, The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Coconut Grove, Florida. A botanist and international plant explorer, Dr. Fairchild made this his own personal collection of edible, ornamental, and ethnobotanic plants. He experimented, grafting and studying hardiness and more in his gardens along Biscayne Bay. He is known for bringing more than 80,000 species and varieties of plants - including the flowering cherry - into the United States for food, aesthetics, and industry.

Today The Kampong is a place of learning, which I've enjoyed first hand. These tropical plants are a mystery to me, so I appreciate that the specimens are clearly labeled. Docent-led tours inform about Fairchild, his work, and the collection. As per the garden's culinary thread, it's cohosting a fundraiser with Slow Food Miami featuring the Seminole pumpkin, aka the wild squash of the Everglades.

In February, I attended the ethnobotany symposium "A 17th Century Vision of Our 21st Century World" and the posthumous honoring of Dr. Montague Beekman for his translation of Georgius Rumphius' Herbarium Amboinense.

On this October visit, I was delighted to meet an energetic group of youngsters in red shirts hovering around Diane Rosenberg, a Kampong Fellow and volunteer. Diane was pointing out large, green calabash fruits nestled high in tree branches. Walking further, she showed them a hanging red dragon fruit at their eye level.

Then off they ran... to the Point where several sat on the grass, watching the bay. Mangroves -- Florida's "walking trees" -- lined the shore. The students recognized Miami Beach from its northeast skyline.

Looking up, Diane asked, "What is that?" An egret? A pelican? Swooping lower was -- yes, a pelican. One boy snapped his fingers and danced a few happy steps. He'd been the first to call out "It's a pelican!"

Georgette Ballance, also a Kampong Fellow and volunteer, said these third and fourth graders are in after-school program at The Barnyard in Coconut Grove. They visit The Kampong on Wednesday afternoons.

They've been chosen to participate in the High Impact Education Program, explained Ann Parsons, The Kampong Director. "Students come here to learn more about science and plants. Through two six-week sessions, they explore the collections, learn scientific names, sample a variety of exotic fruits, create art projects, and simply have fun."

This is the program's third year as former students return and three new participants see the gardens for the first time. "By concentrating our efforts on a smaller group of students, we hope to inspire a love for science and help the students find a path to reach their goals," Ann added. The Kampong is one of five gardens and five preserves of NTBG and a National Register Historic Site.

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