We were looking for fun things to do in Vero Beach on our last trip there. In our past visits we’d seen McKee Botanical Gardens but never had visited. This time we vowed to give it a try.

At 18 acres, it’s a lot smaller than we had anticipated. Apparently, it originally had been much larger. However, it fell into disrepair and only was revitalized in the past couple of decades. Most of it was sold off to developers and the 18 acre gardens is all that remains.

The entrance to McKee Botanical Gardens is the first of a series of “follys” or structures that dot the 18 acre gardens.

The Gardens

The path we took wanders through the gardens. It is overlaid by what they termed “a watery maze.” This is a series of man-made, connected streams and ponds. It gave us a lot of visual interest while providing irrigation, a place for water plants to grow and an overall cooling effect for the area.

Having a bit more cool was OK with us.

We found several bridges to walk over, which gave us some vistas to view over the pond areas. Our favorite was the old stone bridge

They told us that The Historic Stone Bridge was an original feature of the gardens in 1932. Volunteers re-discovered it during the renovation process in the 1990s.

The day we were there it was blistering hot. Fortunately for us, about 90-percent of the gardens are in the shade. The vast amount of flora also took the temperature down about ten degrees or so.

Did we say the waterways were man-made? Well apparently they are woman-maintained. We came across a couple volunteers while we were there and enjoyed a pleasant conversation about the effort it takes to keep the gardens looking nice.

There’s no small amount of effort keeping the vegetation in check. She told us in all her years working on the gardens, she hadn’t run up on any “critters.”


In addition to the regular features of the gardens, we discovered a number of exhibits. Apparently, they change these out on a regular basis to keep the experience fresh. One of the most impressive of these – as far as we were concerned – was a structure located in The Royal Palm Grove. It was woven out of hundreds (maybe thousands) of willow saplings.

Created by artist Patrick Doughtery, “Grand Central” creates a kind of lounge. Rooms are woven through the trees and along the edge of the path.

There also were a number of other exhibits we enjoyed while we were there. There were 40 brightly colored, whimsical hand-crafted marine species sculptures made from recycled flip-flops. Gardens’ workers told us the footwear had washed up on the shores of Africa. They then were melted down and fashioned by artisans from Ocean Sole Africa located in Kenya.

There were turtles, sea horses, dolphin, manta ray, an octopus and a dragonfly among other sculptures. My favorite was the giant flip flop made out of hundreds of flip flops.

Hall of Giants

One of the first exhibits we saw during our foray was the “Hall of Giants.” This building was constructed in the mold of a Polynesian ceremonial palace. It holds what is billed as “the world’s largest single piece mahogany table.” I got a real sense of the majesty of the place, while standing alongside the giant slab of wood that could seat 100 people.

This is a very large structure, with balconies that overlook the dining area.

Our pictures really do not do it justice. It truly is difficult to appreciate the scope of the furnishings without seeing it firsthand.

It was difficult for me to back up far enough in the building to give a good look at the table and the balcony area.

In Conclusion

We had a pretty good visit at McKee Botanical gardens. It really is one of the fun things to do in Vero Beach. If you have kids, there is a children’s play area. It seemed to be pretty well populated with youngsters having some boisterous fun, so we didn’t visit that area.

For us, it was simply a pleasant walk throughout the 18 acres. We were able to keep our distance from the other attendees without a lot of conscious effort. Certainly, it was easy for us to enjoy ourselves. Additionally, it inspired quite a few of great ideas of our own after seeing how they had sculpted the area.

No, we probably could not have a woven willow structure, or carved any statues from melted flip-flops. But we certainly could plant some clump bamboo and make some very pleasant walkways in our back yard.

We were amazed at how the plants lowered the temperature in the gardens.

We can recommend McKee Gardens. For us, it was easily walkable and a very pleasant amble. Again, at 18 acres it was not a long trip. Moreover, the paths were dotted with benches, sitting areas and even a tiki hut had we needed a break.

Hopefully, when things settle down we can return for some of their other events. Of particular interest for us was a planned garden show where we might pick up some plants or garden art for our yard.

In our estimation, McKee Botanical Gardens truly is one of the fun things to do in Vero Beach.