McKee Jungle Gardens was another depository of his treasures. But Waldo Sexton's trinkets were not the only thing that made McKee's special.
There were gardens with trails and tours similar to the Cypress Gardens I told you about the other day, but McKee's was more natural, less manicured, and had some unique features. It was basically a botanical garden with a botanist overseeing all of the plants. As part of that there was the Orchid House, where all sorts of beautiful, unusual and rare orchids were grown and propagated and studied. There was also a natural sulphur spring where the water smelled like rotten eggs, but there were many people who came regularly to collect the water for its supposed healthful qualities.
There were a few creatures who made their home in McKee's too, most notably, two gorgeous Macaw Parrots (who lived right next to the sulphur spring....they must not have a very good sense of smell!!) One was mostly blue and red and the other was green and yellow. If I remember correctly, they were quite old (does over 75 sound right??) And boy, were they LOUD! You could hear their squawking all over the gardens. They supposedly talked but I don't remember anything but the squawking!
The other full-time residents were a couple of huge alligators. (Well, they looked huge to me, but I was only 9 or 10, so maybe they weren't.) I remember the biggest as being bigger around than I was! They lived within an enclosure with a 4 ft. wall around it, that also contained a pond with lots of water grasses and plants. It was kind of marshy. There was a big grassy area where the alligators spent much of their time just lying in the sun or else just hiding in the water with only the tops of their heads and their eyes visible. They were so still and you weren't sure they were even breathing. They were kind of spooky to a little girl like me! Every now and then tho, they would all of a sudden lumber from one position to somewhere else with no real warning. Now I say "lumber" because alligators have legs that are only about 8 inches long, when they moved at a regular pace, they lumbered! If they were agitated....YIKES, those babies could MOVE. They are faster and more graceful than you would believe, and if they are after something to eat....well, just get out of their way! Seriously! I was pretty much afraid but fascinated by them.
The Gardens boasted an enormous pond crammed from bank to bank with water lilies. They were so thick you couldn't see any water unless a fish or something moved through.
The land was sold and all but 18 acres were developed. The remaining acreage, zoned for additional development, sat vacant for twenty years. In 1994, the Indian River Land Trust launched a fund-raising campaign and successfully purchased the property on December 1, 1995 for $1.7 million.
Close to $9.1 million was raised to purchase, stabilize and restore the Garden. The Garden held its formal Dedication November, 2001