An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

January 24, 2015

Stranahan Botanical Garden - A Troubled Paradise

     Have you ever traveled to place you enjoyed so much, that once home, your visit prompted you to learn more, and you were surprised by what you found? That was the case for me when I visited the Stranahan Botanical Garden in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Though the garden is planted under a canopy of mature bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), it is only about two years old, and looking at all the lush thick growth, you might have trouble guessing it is so newly planted. As cities go, Fort Lauderdale itself is also young, barely a century. The "mother and father" of Fort Lauderdale, Frank and Ivy Stranahan, deeded what was once a cypress swamp to the city for recreational use, and after it was filled in with soil from Seminole Indian burial mounds, this land became Stranahan Park. Part of the land was also given to the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club, an institution older than the city itself, and one who over the years has championed a number of progressive causes including the rights of women, African Americans, and ironically the Seminole Indians.

Women's Club (1)

Dioon spinulosum, Alcantarea odorata, Anthurium 'Marie'

Odontonema strictum (1)

Philodendrron giganteum

Cordyline

Stranahan Park (2)

Massage Envy (2)

     In more recent years, Stranahan Park was made notorious by the many homeless who spent the day here enjoying the shady lawn, and using the services of the adjacent Broward County Main Library. Those of us who are not homeless may take for granted things like restrooms, air conditioning, and access to media and the internet that libraries offer. Many people avoided the park because of the homeless, and it became increasingly difficult for the Women's Club to utilize their facility to its fullest. To resolve this issue, a push was made for transforming the park's shady open lawns into a gated botanical garden. The effort was spearheaded by the Women's Club with complete support from the city, surrounding businesses, and an army of volunteers. The plant geek in me says the resulting garden is spectacular. The rest of me is a little conflicted.

Alcantarea odorata

Opuntia (cochenillifera perhaps)

Stranahan Park (4)

Red Flowerd Alpinia Ginger (perhaps)

Codiaeum (Croton) (2)

Broward Main Library (4)

Broward Main Library (5)

Broward Main Library (6)

Broward Main Library (1)

     I might be a little less torn if I knew more about what efforts are being made in the city of Fort Lauderdale to assist the homeless, but with apologies to my readers, I don't know all that is being done. I do know there is lot of homelessness evident, more than I have seen in most cities I've been to. Can you blame the homeless? Given the choice of sleeping on the streets of some cold northern city, or on those in a tropical climate, which would you pick? One thing the city of Fort Lauderdale does do to address homelessness, is to aggressively discourage the homeless from using Stranahan Botanical Garden. In October of 2014 the city commission passed an ordinance restricting locations where the homeless can be fed, requiring aid organizations to get property owner's permission, and to provide portable restrooms. In November two members of the clergy and a 90 year-old activist, Arnold Abbott, were charged with violating this ordinance in Stranahan Botanical Garden, and their effort to provide lunch that day was shut down. Apparently feeding the homeless only encourages homelessness.

Osmoxylon lineare (Miagos Bush)

Pandanus (1)

Cananga odorata var. fruticosa (Ylang Ylang)

Sanchezia speciosa (1)

Strangler Fig (Ficus)

Wodyetia bifurcata

Euphorbia stenoclada (Silver Thicket)

Colocasia (1)

Spathoglottis hybrid (Ground Orchid)

Coconuts


     Obviously the issue of homelessness is complicated and joined at the hip with many other issues of our day including substance abuse, mental health, veterans rights, and economic disparity. I don't blame the Women's Club for what has been done in Stranahan Park. I applaud them; it is a beautiful spot, and it did solve their problem with homelessness, but only by pushing it somewhere else.
(I really had to harness the powers of the internets to ID some of these plants. None of them were labeled in the garden, and as I was two zones from home, I am not entirely sure all of the names are correct. I welcome your comments and corrections for anything in need of it. If you would like to see all of my photos from the garden, click here for my Flickr page.)

46 comments:

  1. Great photos! I've only heard of Stranahan Botanical Garden recently and intend to visit when I'm down there next month, and now I'm really looking forward to it. Interesting (and somewhat sad) backstory as well, and definitely news to me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John, I know you will enjoy your visit to the park, it is species heavy, and they have accomplished much in a short time. I'll be interested in hearing your perspective.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for capturing a great morning stroll in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. I enjoy your visits as I see things I would have otherwise missed. (sorry if a duplicate).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No duplicates brother. I could not have experienced this morning stroll without you.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. "I tried to be nice." - well-spoken by a good Virginia boy.

      Delete
    2. Oh Les I wasn't saying you weren't. I just meant they were hard to read.

      Delete
    3. Loree, I took it the way you meant, and knew going into this post that it wouldn't be pretty.

      Delete
  4. The garden is indeed beautiful but it would be even more beautiful if there were facilities available to help the homeless instead of just shutting them out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Casa, there may have been facilities somewhere, but I don't know that for sure. It is a difficult situation even in the best of circumstances.

      Delete
  5. Stranahan Botanical GardenJanuary 24, 2015 5:22 PM

    As the designer of the garden, I appreciate your words and photos. As the keepers of the garden, we don't engage in political debates about the homeless situation. I could tell you stories that would curl your hair. Suffice to say that having a beautiful place in the midst of downtown is a benefit to the local businesses and the Women's Club. Regarding the labels on the plants, the first 150 have just arrived, and will be placed very soon. Like all public gardens, donations are needed for things like signs, new plants, maintenance, and general upkeep. Someone kindly donated the funds for the labels. If you have any questions regarding the garden, please contact us via our Facebook page. And thank you for your kind words about the beauty of the place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I applaud you for the careful design and for all the work that has been done, the park is indeed an oasis in the middle of the city. My hope for this post was to not cast the garden or the Women's Club in a negative light, especially since the club has such an active history of supporting positive change. However, I do like history, back stories, and I try to see things from as many angles as possible.

      I'm a city dweller and know all too well about curling hair, and I fully appreciate what you all were up against. However, it appears to me that the city of Fort Lauderdale has been rather heavy handed, as has my own. Here in Norfolk, the solution to the homeless hanging out in one local park, was to remove all of the benches, but in the same breath, Norfolk has also made strides in providing adequate shelters.

      I am glad you have been donated labels, though my comment was not meant to be a complaint, I was tying to illustrate the effort I took at plant ID, but for a plant geek it was a fun task. I too work for a non-profit public botanical garden, and know all about the need for financial support.

      If you ever find yourself in southeastern Virginia, I would love to show you the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

      Les

      Delete
  6. Stunning plant life. Paradisical spot, at a social price. Thanks for telling various sides of this story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Georgia, I do love a good back story.

      Delete
  7. Beautiful place, with challenging foundations, raising challenging issues. The care that has gone in to creating such a beautiful resource - for those that are allowed to enjoy it - is evident and laudable. I struggle with the attempt to exclude the most vulnerable people. I've worked with the homeless in a big city, so I don't have rose tinted spectacles, but I do think we tend to deal with the symptoms not the causes. Easier to tidy up the proof that there are issues for veterans, the mentally I'll, the victims of the widening gap between rich and poor, than to grapple with the reasons people become homeless. Great job on balancing the two stories, and, as ever, beautiful photographs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the compliments Janet. I agree with your sentence near tidying up the proof, than dealing with the real issues. I also think that the reason so many find the homeless frightening is that somewhere in their head they realize, but for the grace of God, there go I.

      Delete
  8. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful garden. I most likely would not visit it if it was rife with the homeless. I have nothing against them but feel most uncomfortable around them. I visited Miami several years ago and also noted hundreds of homeless. There they were in the city sitting on steps of a building at 3 AM. It was like NYC, the city that never sleeps. My friend and I had not really been exposed to the homeless until that point. Since then it seems to be much more common and we often see them on the streets in my little town, asking for handouts. I am not so sure there is much that can be done by society. It's like most of our problems, just overwhelming and impossible to change our culture and attitudes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I probably wouldn't walk through the garden at 3 a.m. but in the day time I would. The problem is enormous. Try to see the individual. "The homeless" are people like you and me. Just people whose lives have taken a bad turn or just never had the good fortune I did to be born into the middle class. I have heard of the "caste system" in India with their "untouchables", our views of the homeless seems a lot like that. Perhaps we cannot help them all, but we can help just one, with kind word, a smile, a nod, an acknowledgement and perhaps, "a handout". We mustn't stop trying to help.

      Delete
    2. I know the issue seems overwhelming, but there are things that can be done to ease the lives of the homeless. Some just need a break to get back on their feet, but for many others it is more complicated. Those cities that have made an effort have been able to see results. It just takes some understanding, a little effort, and some money.

      Delete
  9. Lots of Republicans in Florida ?

    Sadly, we have a Conservative Prime Minister who shares the right wing's heartless attitudes. See I am NOT shy about expressing MY political views.

    Suffice to say that I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads:

    "Republicans for Voldemort".

    Lovey garden -- ugly priorities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sybil, I'll defend your right to have as many bumper stickers as your car can safely hold.

      Delete
  10. Having grown up in Miami I wondered why I'd never heard of Stranahan Botanical Garden but then I read it is only two years old! Very beautiful but I was sad to read about the homeless situation in south Florida. I imagine the climate is a huge draw. I wish I had a realistic answer. As the poor get poorer these days, I fear it will become a bigger problem. Homeless families are particularly heartbreaking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It could be the rainfall and the warmth, but I was amazed that the garden was so young. You certainly wouldn't know it looking at all the lush growth.

      Delete
  11. It does indeed look like a beautiful garden. As for the homeless, I appreciate your conflicted feelings. I would take issue with your commenter who says the problem is simply to big and complicated to deal with. Homelessness was not always the problem it is now. The problem was created by a series of deliberate decisions: deinstitutionalization and decimation of mental health services, slashing of public housing programs, a stagnant minimum wage, and many others. We could change the situation but our leaders either cannot or positively do not want to. However, there is no objective reason why it cannot be done. If we don't deal with homelessness at that level, then we are left to debate the unpleasantness that occurs when botanical gardens and libraries become substitutes for affordable housing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Jason, it is all about choices isn't it. If the powers that be deem treating mental illness, public housing, and other support systems to be a drain on the budget, then they need to be prepared for a situation like we find ourselves right now.

      Delete
  12. I was recently in Victoria, BC on a garden tour of one of the city parks. We noticed several tents and our tour guide told us that the homeless are allowed to sleep in the park. They must not be there prior to a certain time in evening and must pack up and leave by nine or so in the morning. The tour guide was respectful of their "rooms" and asked us not to spy or intrude into their "temporary home". She said they allow this as they realize that the people need some time to get back on their feet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. That certainly sounds like a more enlightened attitude.

      Delete
  13. Great post. An interesting back story. It is a bittersweet tale. Would hope the Colbert Report bit might have done some good. Beautiful reflections in some of your photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, I am going to miss the Colbert Show. It was essential viewing and a good balance to more recognized news sources.

      Delete
    2. And now John Stewart is bowing out too. Sigh.

      Delete
  14. Very interesting to read your post, the comment by the garden's designer and your response. I am just as conflicted as I think you are Les. A garden should be a place of beauty, but fencing out a less than picturesque social issue shifts a problem from one spot to another without really addressing anything. I don't think it is the gardens issue to address, but the city really needs to deal the homeless in a much better, more humane way than they seem to be doing. Beautiful pictures as always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jennifer, I agree about this not being the gardens issue to address, and it should be on the city's shoulders. Thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  15. The garden is a nice addition to the downtown. I don't personally care for it. However, that's only a reflection of my lack of interest in tropical and semitropical plants, but in expressing personal preferences, I don't want to diminish the achievement of those who worked to make the garden a reality. They are not to blame for homelessness. The homeless issue is a disturbing one, and only the tip of the iceberg. The increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few (the blessed 1%) is becoming frightening, and the problem seems to be getting worse, not better. The extensive comment this post has attracted is to your credit for so subtly making a important issue visible. I think in this context, it's not inappropriate to make an explicit "political" statement. I recommend, for those who might be interested, reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, for a new perspective on the forces driving homelessness and much, much, much more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James, I've thinking about the 1% as well, and how we seem to be approaching similar stratification not seen since some ancient civilizations. Thank you for the reading recommendation.

      Delete
  16. I enjoyed your awesome photos! I don't travel, except through blogs, which I have been neglecting due to spending too much time on FB. I remember seeing about the arrest of that guy on the news, but forgot that's where it was. You made it more real to me. I am thinking he got things worked out so he can continue, but don't remember if they changed the location.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm with you Sue on traveling through other people's blogs. I do get to go some places, but only because I have free places to stay, and I don't mind driving. If I relied on air travel and hotels, I would have bee broke a long time ago.

      Delete
  17. Gorgeous photos of a lovely garden, but I would have liked it more if they'd used part of the gardening funds for a homeless shelter. I admire you for sharing the full story and your conflicted feelings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Sarah. I do like to share, but also try to be really careful with my words. As you know, people are so quick these days to jump to conclusions and call fowl.

      Delete
  18. Hi Les, Oklahoma City is also home to a large homeless population. I worked with the homeless through a food pantry for years. As you said, the issue is complicated. I think they probably were worried about public urination among other things. I hope they've been able to address homelessness in a humanitarian way. We try to here, but again, it's complicated, and substance abuse is a huge part of it. As for the garden, I applaud them too because they took out lawn and created a lush and interesting landscape. It must be so nice for urban workers to have the place to eat lunch or walk in during the day. Your photos are so splendid. They are beautiful. I showed them to Bill, and we agreed. They are magazine or book quality. Thanks for walking in this garden with us.~~Dee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dee, my city has been doing what it can and working with private groups to secure shelter for the homeless. Like Oklahoma City, it is cold here in the winter. Cynically, I think part of the reason Norfolk has done what it has, is to get the homeless out of the revived downtown, placing or encouraging the shelters to be located away from the central city. Whatever the rational, the results are that more people have a roof over their heads, even if only temporary. Thank you, and Bill, for the kind compliments about my photography.

      Delete
  19. The garden is inspiring and I commend the designer and those involved with creating a city oasis. Love the photos. I do not know enough about this particular situation to voice an opinion on what should be done or what should not have been done to better the conditions for the homeless in Ft. Lauderdale. As everyone has said, it is so complex. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem but it is more a national problem than state or city or community. I fear the problem will continue to grow.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Homelessness is a much bigger issue than this garden. I don't blame the garden for not wanting to host homeless people. What makes me furious is our current political climate, which threatens so many of our supportive services. Not to mention there's currently inadequate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, problems that plague over a third of homeless people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, spending money on social services is a complete waste of the taxpayer's money. The more hungry you feed, homeless you shelter, or sick that you treat, is less money for someone else's tax relief.

      Delete