Grand Boca Grande

I just returned from a quick trip to Boca Grande, a tiny little island off of Florida, where I spoke about vertical gardening to the island’s local garden club.  Without a doubt, one of the perks of my job is the chance to see new things and meet new people – something I wouldn’t trade for the world.  Whether it’s a local group or one as remote as this, I always leave feeling more enriched than I did when I arrived.

I’m writing this to share this mostly unknown island with all of you in hopes that you may one day get the chance to visit this magical place.

First – where the heck is Boca Grande?

It’s a little, skinny finger of an island halfway between Ft. Meyers and Sarasota.  Getting there from California isn’t easy.  In fact, getting there from anywhere isn’t easy, which is probably why it’s remained in such pristine, old-world condition far removed from the rest of the world.

When I say ‘finger of an island’, I’m not exaggerating – the island is only 7 miles long and ½ a mile wide.  And in some spots you can stand in the middle of the street and see both the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and the Charlotte Harbor on the other.

Because the island is so small, the mode of transportation is primarily bicycles and golf carts.  In fact, when my host drove me to the garden club center, she remarked that this was the first time she’d ever driven her car to the club! Doors are left unlocked, everyone knows one another, and the town rolls up its sidewalks just after dinner.  The residents are passionate about keeping their town the way it is, and work hard in conservation efforts both to protect their native wildlife and to protect their town’s ambience.

There’s one tiny post office for everyone, no fast food chains, mom-and-pop shops, four churches, and golf course views that would melt your heart. To say the sense of community is strong here is an understatement.As I mentioned earlier, meeting new people is one of my favorite perks of my job, and here’s a perfect example why.  After my talk, a man came up to me and asked if we’d like to visit his garden to see the vertical garden he’s been creating the past year.

Of course we jumped at the chance, and after a short ride found ourselves in his magical paradise. In an attempt to create intimate spaces in an overwhelming 2-acre garden, he decided to use two mammoth pieces of limestone with each one functioning as an anchor to help define a garden bed. The oversized boulders have naturally occurring divets throughout, which he thought would make fantastic holding areas for various plants.  A collection of shells found on the beach served as the containers for his plants, tightly secured with wire into the rock crevices.  And if a shell wouldn’t work, he discovered that an inexpensive colander cut in half and covered with coir worked just fine.  He even used a few coconut shells to hold the soil and plants firmly in place.  I just love the creativity and passion that gardeners have!

He then showed me his collection of very healthy hanging Staghorn ferns.  When I asked what he did to keep them so happy he said all he did was spray them with water once a week and feed them banana peels.  Seriously!

He stuffs an old banana peel in the middle of the plant every few months that apparently provides all the nutrients the ferns need.  Amazing.

Then things got really fun.

With a lowered voice, he asked if we wanted to see a ‘secret garden’.  Well who wouldn’t?  He made us promise not to disclose the location, as we had to sneak onto the property to see this mysterious place (it’s been closed for years and years due to conservation efforts that seem to have mysteriously stopped).

After tromping through spongy grass and pathways made from zillions of little bleached shells we arrived at what our guide called Florida-untouched.

He showed us giant osprey nests safely perched in stark white trees, 100-year old shell mounds created by the early Calusa Indians, and rare native orchids that only grow on the trunk of this particular native tree (unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the tree’s name) were just some of the things he loved pointing out to us. 

Meandering through the palm-lined streets was one charming home after another – some over 100 years old, others built to look like they were.

And just as you’d expect, color was everywhere.

But surprisingly most of the color wasn’t a result of the flowers, but other aspects of plants– things like foliage, stems and berries.'Atlas' Palm

Even their common garden snails are pretty!

Boca Grande is a bucket-list worthy place to visit and I truly hope you all get a chance to someday.


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  • Awesome looking place, I have never heard of it before. Would be an absolute pleasure to visit one day, and I am sure the people would be friendly.

    I love the shells, obvious signs of a clean and natural beach.

    • Hi Alex – It is definitely a stunning place to visit, and the people are truly friendly (who wouldn’t be after living in such paradise, right?)

  • I just checked with my Staghorn collecting friend. He says the banana is a common thing with Staghorn growers! I would think it might attract critters…

    • Thanks for checking, Jo. I can’t believe it’s such a common thing yet we’ve never heard of it! It would definitely attract rats around here, wouldn’t it? Though then again, maybe the staghorns would enjoy them just as well as the bananas? Ewww….

      • Ewww us right! I never thought of the staghorns as carnivorous. Okay. Enough! The image is now going from “beautiful staghorn fern” to “monstrous protein eating plant”!

  • What a beautiful place! I love the story about the banana peels. The only time I’ve been to Florida I went to a conference center in Orlando. This place looks like a must see.

    • I had the same experience, Jason. I’d only been in Florida for a short stay and never really experienced it before. It’s definitely a must-see place and one that I hope you can visit someday!

  • What a beautiful place Rebecca! I love the stag horn fern, I have never heard of feeding them bananas, thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks Lynn – apparently the banana-feeding trick is a common thing among staghorn growers. Who knew!?

    • After seeing it firsthand, I don’t blame you at all, Anna!

  • Your photos and words do a great job of capturing a sense of place, Rebecca. Boca Grande means “big mouth” — intriguing name for such a tiny place. When I was in Charleston, I noticed that some of the pavement in the old parts of town consisted of seashells combined with cement. I imagine those that pave the pathways of Boca Grande crunch underfoot. I love the aqua of the water and all the white against the blue, too. How long did it take to get there from the airport, and where did you fly into?

    • Hi Debra! The pathways in Boca Grande were truly amazing. I kept thinking how much fun a school bus full of elementary kids would have sorting through their common pathways! I must admit I had fun, too, and squirreled away a few choice shells to add to my growing collection in my garden. I flew into Ft. Meyers airport (no direct flights, so connected through Houston). It was another 1 1/2 hours from there (thank goodness they had a driver for me!) Overall, a very long day of travel. But so, so worth it!

  • Beautiful pictures and such an interesting place. Sounds magical to be so removed from hustle and bustle and grounded in nature so thoroughly. I must tell a friend who collects staghorns about the banana peel!

    • Isn’t that amazing, Jo? It was floored when he told me about the banana peels. He’s been doing it for years with fantastic results.

  • I am so jealous! I want to go there today. What a wonderful experience for you. Such a beautiful place.

    • Thanks Jan – hopefully you can see it one day!

  • Lucky you! What a great trip. Definitely a [lace to visit. I love the the colander! The human spirit to create is why we garden! Great read, thank you!

    • Thanks, Joni – I agree about the human spirit needing to create. It’s amazing what we come up with, isn’t it??

  • How amazing. I love the photos and yes I think the thing I like most in the community of gardeners is their desire share. They have this need to grab your arm to pull you away to show you special things that you have never seen before.

    • You summed it up beautifully, Charlie. That is, indeed, what gardeners do, don’t they? ‘Wait’ll you see THIS!’….

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