Date Visited: 4/11/2019
After leaving Gamble Rogers we headed north along A1A to Washington Oaks Gardens. Like Gamble Rogers, this park is also on a barrier island and has two distinct destinations straddling Oceanshore Blvd. To the east is the beach and the location of one of the largest coastal coquina formations in Florida. To the west lies the oak hammock, Matanzas River and the formal gardens. We chose to visit the gardens and visitor center this trip so we could learn about the history of the park. You’ll hear about our trip to the coquina formations in a few weeks.
The park consist of a 425 acre preservation area protecting four different habitat zones: beach, coastal scrub, coastal hammock, and tidal marshes. There are a variety of actives available at the park which include: bicycling, birding, fishing, hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing and a self-guided 1/2 mile walking tour of the formal gardens.
History of the Park since 1936
In 1936, attorney and industrialist Owen D. Young purchased the property and gave it to his wife Louise Powis Clark. When they acquired the property it was overgrown and had but a few ramshackle homes along the road. In 1938 they built the residence that still stands in the park as a winter retirement home. The homes furnishings came mostly from Louise’s home in the Philippines and from her travels through the orient.
In 1964 Mrs. Young donated the property to the State of Florida with the stipulation that the gardens “be maintained in their present form and expanded as funds became available”. The state park officially opened on July 1st 1964.
When you leave the home and continue around the path you begin a slight incline. If you look at the ground below your feet you’ll notice that the composition if mostly coquina and oyster shells. This is because the small hill you are climbing is a midden. Native Florida tribes once used this area along the Matanzas as a source for food. The discarded shells, mounded over time, has provided archeologist with insight into the lives of these early people.
The crown of the park is it’s 20 acre formal garden nestled in an oak hammock.
Mrs. Young planned and designed the home and gardens. Using a combination of native and exotic plants the garden is a basic traditional English design, but coexist with elements of the Orient no doubt influenced by the Youngs time spent there. Mrs. Young was an accomplished gardener. Her favorite plants were azaleas, camellias, orchids and citrus.
Outside the formal garden much of the surrounding land was left in it’s original native state and has remained this way since the 1800s. The adjoining beachfront property was also acquired by the Youngs from neighbors at a later date.
We entered the formal garden through the pagoda and down the brick stairway that leads into a 3000 s/f rose garden. The garden is designed using 10 beds of concentric circles that form a sunburst. Inside the beds are ten varieties of tea roses.
Although we were a little early in the season there were still plenty of roses blooming in the garden. The best time to visit is the month of May and if you visit early in the morning or late afternoon you’ll be sure to smell the roses at their height of fragrance.
The rose garden is the largest garden of it’s kind on the Florida coast. It’s well maintained and at any given time there are hundreds of roses in bloom.
Another feature that struck me was the placement and management of the water features in the garden. Each was unique in size and shape and were accented by a variety of flowers and vegetation.
It’s no wonder that this park is a favorite destination for engagement shoots, weddings, and receptions. The lush backdrop and the carefully manicured gardens make for a fairytale setting.
At the center of the park lies the 200 year old Washington Oak. Although not the largest or oldest oak in Florida, it’s sprawling moss covered branches were impressive none-the-less. In fact, there are a number of large oaks in the park that are equally massive and equally beautiful. At the time of our visit the resurrection fern growing on the limbs was in a state of green, making it obvious that it had rained recently.
This is a park that can take as little as 30 minutes and as long as several hours to enjoy. We spent at least an hour spotting different species of plants and reading the informative signage.
We left the park feeling relaxed and at peace with all things good and bad in the world. With the scent of roses in our nostrils and nostalgia in our hearts we headed to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve where we’d spend some time at the Kingsley Plantation learning about a different moment in the history of Florida. But that story will have to wait until next week.
Until then… take care and enjoy the journey.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park 6400 N Oceanshore Blvd Palm Coast, FL 32137 (386) 446-6780
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