Sunday, March 18, 2018

Local Review: Mounts Botanical Gardens & the Washed Ashore Exhibit

I do not have a green thumb.

I managed to kill an air plant - an air plant. They survive and thrive without roots.

Air plant growing upside down in the test of a sea urchin

When invited to join the Master Gardeners, I politely explained that I respected what they did and it was out of such respect that I chose to steer clear of their hard work lest I inadvertently destroy their efforts entirely.

My husband doesn’t let me water the plants unless it is the middle of the summer and he is on a 48-hr shift, and we are in the middle of a drought. He actually has our 8-yr old do it whenever possible instead. The two of them will go outside and talk to plants like the ever-blooming bleeding-heart vine behind our house or the cucumber seedlings on the back porch – even the avocado tree they are growing for me (since I’m the only one who likes them) gets a pep talk. I am not permitted to speak to the plants.

I am the evil mustache-less twin of the Lorax.

I killed the snapdragon bestowed upon me by the fabulous Farmer Jay (Farmer Jay's Pure Organics). That hurt. His motto is “grow something” and I felt particularly embarrassed when the plant died. (Incidentally, Farmer Jay’s Ted Talk is very much worth the time too)

So how does Mounts Botanical Garden, an iconic place with a huge following, get a sworn “not a plant person” onto the property? Simple. Host a special exhibit with a connection to the OCEAN. Of course! Why hadn’t they thought of it before? I’ve been in south Florida for nearly 20 years now and never set foot on the grounds. I finally realized where it was just in the past 2 years. But I am not a plant person. I’m a water baby.

I am also, as you may have read in previous posts, a person who has a penchant for picking up trash. I present to you the coup de grĂ¢ce on how to get a beach person to a land locked garden: host an exhibit of giant sea-inspired statues crafted entirely out of trash pulled from the surf and sand.

One of my goals (some people call them resolutions, but I tend to break those pretty quickly) this year was to try 30 new things. This includes visiting places buried on my to-do list and over the years I crossed paths with many wonderful people who volunteer, work or regularly visit Mounts. It was on the list, but as we have established, I am not a plant person. I needed a push.

Not only did this exhibit inspire me to visit, the magnitude and message were not lost. I enjoyed the project a great deal and even managed to explore the entire garden on my own armed with a camera to keep me from touching, and possible placing a curse on, any of the flora. “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” is running for six months – with the exhibit concluding in June 2018 and I highly recommend giving this moving and intense exhibition your time.

So this is how starfruit grows!

Temporarily “planted” along the paths throughout the 14 acres of MBG are ten massive statues, each telling a tale of both sadness and hope. This is just a sample of artwork from the project, however, as they have a home gallery in Oregon, and traveling exhibitions currently in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Sarasota. There really is no excuse not to find visit when it comes to your area, and you will not likely see works of this magnitude elsewhere.

I have seen trash-based exhibits before, often at museums or science centers, but those were usually only one or two marine themed pieces comingled with other constructs. The Washed Ashore not only has a clear message about plastic in our oceans, but even the sculptures themselves have a very specific theme based on their components. One thing that struck me in particular – the use of color without the use of paint. All the colors and textures you see in these statues are intentional and still true to their former life as a piece of flotsam.

My visit took place on a cloudy weekday, and even then, the basic parking lot was full. There was a workshop going on for actual plant people, and combined with the guests walking in I chose to take my map and go through the gardens in reverse. In respect to the works and direction in which the items were actually placed, however, here is the special exhibition for you to enjoy. Know that these photos in no way do the statues justice as they are huge and, in some cases, downright imposing.

“American” Sea Star is based on items leftover from Independence Day celebrations in America. The marine biologist in me must point out and give a heartfelt thank you to the artist for not calling it a ‘starfish’.

I was particularly disturbed by the shotgun shells. Not exactly expected marine debris.

Marine Debris Anemone focuses on single-use plastic bottles, but I found the most moving part of the work the use of color derived from unwound sections of rope and line.

Priscilla the Parrot Fish, while colorful and apparently a poster child in many of the articles and media posts I have seen, was not my favorite piece in this collection. The items are bit more random and did not have the same intensity as images such as the Sea Star.

Sebastian James the Puffin shares a sobering quality with its real-life counterpart, the statue has a comical quality and an inquisitive expression. Puffins were the creatures behind the creation of the 'porg' species in the most recent Star Wars installation, and the quirky little birds are prone to exploring trash in search of food scraps, and are particularly susceptible to ingesting plastic. My favorite detail of this particular piece was the hook at the edge of the beak. Despite it being much longer than on the actual birds, and more so like that of a raptor’s beak, it still captures the animal’s nature and not just the cuteness factor.

Grace the Humpback Whale Tail / Hugo the Humpback Whale Tail

This pair of sculptures showcases the research done by the artist, making a point of differentiating the Pacific humpback from the Atlantic whales. In reality this species has benefitted greatly from conservation efforts over the years, but personally I cannot help but attribute some of the interest and support in humpbacks back to Star Trek IV and the plight of “Gracie” and “George” – mostly because that movie inspired me, an 8-yr old land-locked kid living in the Midwest – to learn and appreciate marine life for the first time.

Musical Seaweed is meant to be an interactive exhibit, but during my time instead the sky was filled with the roar of planes landing at the airport nearby. It was the first time I truly noticed the noise, but am reminded how creating beautiful spaces in areas that many people would not wish to live is exceptional strategic planning. The areas in and around airports are great for natural areas and in this case, an amazing garden.

Water Bottle Jelly

I fell in love with the statue from a distance and was not disappointed up close. It was placed off the paved pathway, up on a little knoll. There was no resisting the opportunity to lie down in the grass and look up to the sky through the waving tentacles of plastic. This massive reminder speaks of the plastic bags resembling jellies in the ocean – confusing the living dinosaurs (in this case sea turtles) of what is food and what is dangerous.

Flash the Marlin

This cool fish is constructed from reflective materials such as sunglasses and beer cans. Check out those choppers! Some people are able to stare at a piece of art and 'see' things within the picture such as sadness, faces, or ghost-like apparitions buried within the image. What I love about this exhibit is how it doesn't matter if you are a big fan of the arts, or even over the age of five, you can still find so many things within each of these pieces. You can observe tactile metaphors and see the reincarnated spirits of old shoes repurposed as the original builders never imagined.

Lidia the Seal has a significant portion of the structure being provided by various lids of items, hence the name Lid-ia. I am always a fan of a good pun, but found this sculpture personally more disturbing that many of the others. The irony behind the ‘smile’ will haunt my dreams for some time.

While this special exhibition drew me in, I was still compelled to explore the entirety of the grounds and gift shop. Some of the flora enjoyed throughout the gardens were familiar let lacked nomenclature, and I was glad to have adequate signage without it distracting from taking photos. There were plenty of guests in the area, but it was not difficult to find solitude amongst the leaves. The layout of the gardens lends itself to reflection, and the volunteers/staff were not invasive. One can be engrossed in the vegetation, or simply a temporary observer.

For those who love plants, this is a must visit. For those who want to feel peaceful, Mounts Botanical is a great option. For others who wish to learn more about the greener side of life, MBG offers a variety of classes and workshops. Visit them directly for more information at: Mounts Botanical Garden.

Let’s take the time to give attention to the project that created these inspiring pieces that travel the world, spreading the message of Art to Save the Sea. Be sure to check out Washed Ashore  for details and the locations of other exhibits currently traveling around the country.

Whatever it takes to hook you into trying something new, keep an exploring eye out as there could be great new experiences waiting to inspire!


Friday, March 2, 2018

Local Review: Sandoway Discovery Center

The Sandoway Discovery Center, also known locally as Sandoway House, is a historical building tucked away in Delray Beach. Built in 1936, the facility has transformed from a sleepy depression era home meant for retirement, to an amazing nature center that provides a variety of programs ranging from tales of history to addressing modern environmental issues. The facility has been open to the public for 20 years, and yet remains like so many other places in South Florida, practically undiscovered.
Whether looking for a low-cost way to spend time with small children, or interested in delving into the history of the area, Sandoway Discovery Center is a fantastic place to visit each year. The exhibits and programs are always rotating, meaning that while history may not change, the things to do on site most certainly evolve. This was the location of my son’s first beach cleanup, and taking him to the facility afterwards was a reward for both of us.
I have watched Sandoway grow and face challenges ranging from someone literally driving a vehicle through the wall and into the historic structure, to severe power outages during and after Hurricane Irma. The staff is dedicated to what they do and above all else – the volunteers and staff there seem genuinely happy; this is a key component to the long-term success for a small non-profit. For anyone who likes to visit smaller facilities that ‘the locals know’ and support grass roots organizations with boots on the ground, then this is a great place.

Visiting a facility that expands and grows is great, and watching your local nature center sprout new wings to accommodate programs is no small feat. However, Sandoway has a unique situation – being a historical building found officially on the lists for Delray, the state of Florida, and the National Historical Registries, they are incapable of physically altering the building for expansion and must work within the given walls.  This challenge means the staff and facility are particularly creative with the exhibits and programming.
So, let’s chat about those awesome exhibits. The unassuming entrance to the home is a screened in deck called the Discovery Porch where they house some cool locals and my personal favorites – the turtles. A box turtle, gopher tortoise and freshwater turtles are flanked by Mr. Crystal, the blue and gold macaw. Parrots, and macaws in particular, remain my personal adversaries dating back to my days as a zookeeper and this bird is no different. Do me a favor and never reach over and try to pet an animal on display anywhere you go, ok? Consider that my public service announcement for the day.

Once inside, for a paltry fee, kids and adults alike can enjoy a variety of live animal and interactive exhibits. After giving Mr. Crystal his respectful space, guests are rewarded with opportunities to touch a variety of invertebrates with the guidance of staff or volunteers. Saltwater fish tanks and reptilian displays abound before venturing toward the back of the facility. The Microscope Room is a great space for those kids who get bored with coloring but aren’t big enough to fully appreciate the historical exhibits. My 8-yr old found this a space of great discovery while looking at – SAND. Yes, this place got my Minecraft-loving, Lego building, taekwondo kicking kid intrigued with sand.

Currently, the rotating display area is showing off some unique images and items from the Florida Surfing Museum’s collection. In the past I have seen this space used for showing off one of the largest shark jaw exhibits and other traveling displays as well, making return visits particularly rewarding because you can actually see something new and different every time. Coming up this summer, from June - August, the main exhibit room will be transformed by an array of spectacular shark jaws on display.
Inspired by the photos!

Before heading outside to catch the live stingray touch tank, be sure to run upstairs (or ask for assistance using the antique elevator) and check out the Templeton Shell Gallery. A staple of the facility for many years, this is a great way to satisfy the inner shell nerd that always wondered which strange seashells are buried in the shoebox collection back home. Also, upstairs is a great area for smaller kids to enjoy fun books, coloring and activity station. While on the second level be sure to venture outside, yes OUTSIDE, onto the observation deck. Binoculars are provided, but feel free to enjoy the salty breeze and a spectacular view of the ocean from across Ocean Blvd. I cannot skip the Nocturnal Room either, but it is easy to pass by as the animals in this room are, well, nocturnal. The screech owl might be camouflaged or the opossum taking a nap, but it is still a great use of space and see some cool native animals. I still do not know how staff keeps the small room from smelling a bit ‘off’ considering the inhabitants, but kudos to them!

There is no way one can visit Sandoway, though, and not see the sharks. Everyday, staff hosts an informative yet informally comfortable talk about sharks and stingrays, and conducts a public feeding demonstration with each. The large saltwater swimming pool is one of my favorite features that embodies both the history and the future of the Discovery Center. Back when the house was first built, getting enough freshwater at once to fill a swimming pool was impractical and many historic places upgraded their pools to freshwater systems later but this one remained – which is why you see steps at one end of the pool. No, this is not an invitation to go in, and the public do not feed the large nurse sharks living alongside a variety of other fish in the retrofitted tank. Be sure to ask which one is “Mr. Bubbles” before you leave!

Living in south Florida leaves one quite spoiled on outdoor activities year-round, but I have found this lovely little place to always be welcoming regardless of the beach conditions. Whether at the fossil dig, touching stingrays, or simply enjoying the sea stars stuck to the tank walls, Sandoway Discovery Center is truly a local treasure for all ages. Be sure to add it to your “Fun Things to Do” list!

and, remember to just keep swimming-


For more information on visiting Sandoway Discovery Center, check out their website:

And to learn more about the Florida Surfing Museum, visit: