Miami Living Magazine

Elsa Pataky

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Page 110 of 163

MIAMI LIVING 109 I am a city girl. I do not "do" nature. The very idea of my feet touching grass from car to front door makes me shiver. So when my friend Gigi requested my company to visit The Kampong gardens, part of me hoped "gardens" meant restaurants or art galleries. "I hear it is gorgeous," Gigi exclaimed. "Don't miss the opportunity to look at pretty flowers!" I can enjoy the nature-free beauty of a water lily or sunflower just fine, thanks to Monet and Van Gogh. But Gigi's persuasive, so, defeated, I found myself on my way to The Kampong wearing camouflage cargo pants and a knapsack packed with items suitable for Indiana Jones' biggest crusade. I needn't have worried…. The Kampong is a 10-acre botanical garden overflowing with unusual varieties of fruit and flowering trees, exotic palms, and ornamental plants. One of six gardens that make up The National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), and the only one on mainland soil (the others are all in Hawaii), the NTBG is chartered by the U.S. Congress. The Kampong used to be the private home and garden of Dr. David Fairchild and his wife, Marian. We arrived at our destination and were greeted by a friendly lady, clipboard in hand. Reservations are required to visit The Kampong, and there is a $10 admission fee. Sneaky Gigi, our names were on the clipboard even before her invitation was extended. Our nature adventure began by The Wedding Tree. A giant Ficus subcordata that got its nickname by witnessing many couples exchanging wedding vows. If fairy tales come true, then I was thinking that perhaps this was my kind of place after all. Many of the trees are one of a kind and each have a story. My favorite is the "Sorrow less tree" that provided solace to an abducted Indian princess. In addition to mangoes, avocadoes, and citrus trees, we discovered practical, as well as beautiful, vegetation. There are edible shrubs from Sri Lanka, used to flavor curry sauces. Encouraged to pick a leaf and taste, I started daydreaming of Indian food. We walked on an area with Carambola, the fallen fruit ready to be sampled. A protected species endangered in its nation land, the Pereskia aculeata from Brazil is a climbing shrub. Tasting its orange-hued fruit, the city girl in me freaked out by the oozing sweet-and-sour juices staining clothes and making my fingers sticky. Something not even Indy would survive without a Wet Wipe from a trusted knapsack, I'm sure. During one of his many trips, David Fairchild acquired a taste for Bael fruit. With a touch of palm sugar, this is a common breakfast food in Indonesia, and this was part of Fairchild's morning ritual, too, thanks to the tree on the grounds. At The Kampong, there are plants that cure ringworm, and fig trees brought for shade, and that now provide home for owls, the garden's permanent residents. Flowering weeds from India, loved by bees, aid in pollination. And there are trees with leaves that smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and trees from Venezuela, the seeds of which taste like peanut butter…. Fairchild wanted a dramatic entrance to his home designed by Clarence Dean in 1928. An arch attached to the house frames a perfect view of Key Biscayne Bay. Crossing the arch, sounds of bamboo wind chimes, leaves ruffling in light breeze, and the feeling of warm sun enhance the house's terracotta and crème colored beauty. Hanging winged dragons, tiki lamps, and sculptures hidden among colorful flower bushes promise adventure. Perhaps a little tamer than Indy might like, but all in all, just my speed. Besides, with carvings and sculptures of Garudas (creatures that fly around the world protecting mankind by getting rid of evildoers) protecting the grounds, how can anyone be scared of nature? Ready for your own adventure? Visit The Kampong at 4013 Douglas Road, Coconut Grove. And don't forget to call first: (305) 442-7169; or visit: ML PLACES The Kampong A garden paradise in paradise Words by Marta A. Oppenheimer

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