by Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge
"Paradise" is not a name we gave to our garden. It
is rather the result of the reaction of many visitors here --
"This is paradise!" Located directly on the Atlantic
Ocean in Cocoa Beach, Florida, the property is an acre and a
half, all gradually transformed into a very unusual garden.
I designed and built the house in
1973. It was planned for and constructed within a lovely grove
of Australian Pines (Casuarina equestifolia) which were
killed by severe freezes in 1984 and 1985. Nature compensated
by allowing many seeds to germinate, such as the cabbage palms
(Sabal palmetto) and Brazilian peppers (Schinus terebinthifolius)
which have become an integral part of the foundation planting.
Though the death of the trees was extremely painful, their loss
allowed both space and light for the ponds to come.
Perimeter foundation plants such as sea grape (Coccoloba
uvifera), Carissa grandiflora, Vitex trifolia
and Agave were planted from 1973 to 1983. Killed to the
ground in 1984, 1985 and 1989, these plants recovered to their
former sizes in a few years.
Ben and I were married in 1989 and the rest of the garden
is all Ben's fault. "Wouldn't it look nice if. . . . ."
The garden is nineteen years old or less. There has been no real
plan. Each area has dictated what it wanted to be and what wanted
to grow there. It is a constantly evolving series of micro-environments.
The original ponds were the central Classical Pools on the south
side of the house, built in 1978. The Devon Pool was added in
1983. Other ponds have been built in a vicious circle - dig a
hole to get dirt to fill waterlily pots, eventually make the
hole a pond to fill with waterlilies, dig a hole . . . All ponds
are concrete, most knee deep, some with dirt added back to simulate
natural bottom. We stopped counting the ponds, all shapes and
sizes, at 50-something.
Gifts from Mother Nature are welcome in Paradise. Many of the
plants are native or have showed up perhaps courtesy of birds.
If they are attractive they are encouraged as actively as the
exotics. We keep a detailed accession record but certain entries
are necessarily sketchy. We usually choose small starts of new
plants, the more unusual the better!
Salt tolerance is not as big an issue as most might think
for a garden right on the oceanfront.. On this part of the coast
WIND is the big problem. Most things that grow in "Paradise"
are not considered salt tolerant. As long as they are protected
from the wind they thrive. Windbreaks range from foliage to very
effective louvered wind walls.
We are at the extreme upper tip of USDA Zone 10, usually protected
from frost and freezing by the water all around us. The Atlantic
to the east, the Banana River just across the road to the west
and all the ponds within the garden moderate cold fronts in most
We are able to grow tropical waterlilies year round and have
tended to slant our collection toward those that don't go dormant
such as N. ampla and N. micrantha hybrids. Night
bloomers do the best in the cooler months with few exceptions.
Hardy lilies and lotuses don't do very well for us, perhaps because
we don't get quite cold enough. The same goes for many marginals
- those that do well here are the same as those found in local
has become a major focus of our interest in aquatics. We have
become the primary producer of hybrid and cultivated species
seeds which are distributed around the world. We have also created
several new cultivars that have proved to be very interesting.
We have the unique opportunity to observe the plants almost 24-7
and sometimes year round.
Orchids and other exotic tropical plants are other areas of special
interest and have their own corner which we call the Magic
Garden. "It must be magic because these things shouldn't
be able to grow this close to the ocean." Our favorite orchids
are the big Spatulata Dendrobiums, though the collection includes
many other warm and intermediate growers. We also especially
enjoy aroids, gingers, heliconias and ferns.
We rarely improve the soil which is only slightly better than
beach sand. We do water and fertilize regularly and we do the
garden work ourselves. We have built all ponds, garden structures
and features ourselves and do all the maintenance.
Extreme Makeover by Mother Nature
First the fringes of Hurricane Charlie shredded the foliage
in the garden. Three weeks later we were struck by the northeast
quadrant of Hurricane Frances, pounded by hurricane force winds
for more than 24 hours. Damage to the house was relatively small
but the garden was buried in sand and debris. We were helped
with the digging and dragging out by friends, many from this
web site's email discussion list.
a remnant of Hurricane Ivan both eroded the beach and blew more
sand into the garden. Exactly three weeks after Frances, just
when we could say the interior part of the garden was almost
back to relative normalcy, we were hit by the fury of Hurricane
Jeanne, which was of shorter duration but more powerful than
Frances. This time the garden damage was less (the worst had
already been done) but the house suffered greatly.
Index to galleries of storm damage and the aftermath
Prior to the hurricanes, we opened the garden
to the public one afternoon a year, in mid- to late June. Smaller
groups and individuals come year round.