The Mangrove Garden at Carwill Oaks has been a work in progress since 1989 and was part of The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program from 1998-2004. Following is a history of its development.

On September 15, 1988 Bill and Carolyn Stutt purchased Lot 112 located on Coconut Palm Road from Ray Biggs and his daughters, Sheila and Margaret Biggs. Although the lot was approximately 3.5 acres in size only 1.5 acres were uplands. The remaining property was made up of wetlands which included a large tidal pond and portions of mosquito abatement ditches created in 1951 by the Army Corps of Engineers, all of which were/are surrounded by a mangrove border.

Dan Ford of Landscape Design Studio in Vero Beach was selected for the site/landscape design. The style of the structure to be placed on this property was addressed in 1991. Bo MacEwen from Tampa was selected as architect and Toby Hill of The Hill Group, as the builder.

Shortly after Christmas of 1988, Indian River County and those counties surrounding it experienced a disastrous frost. Tropical plantings (not cold tolerant), mangroves and citrus were destroyed or severely impacted by the cold temperatures and battering winds. The red and white mangroves had experienced a die-back of approximately 50% of their height and the black mangroves were so injured by frost their survival was questionable. It was felt that with the removal of the dead limbs, branches, etc. the mangroves, and in particular, the treelike species black mangrove, would have an improved ability to overcome the trauma produced by the frost.

In mid-January 1989, after discussion with the Stutts, Dan Ford obtained a permit from the State to trim the dead wood. Shortly after completion of the trim work, Indian River Shores enforced its restriction on mangrove trimming and the permit was revoked, albeit, after all the work had been completed. Our experience has shown that the trimmed mangroves were fully recovered in 3 years as compared to their counterparts who, untrimmed, took approximately 7-8 years to recover.

The black mangrove trees have substantially increased their canopies, are thriving and producing an abundance of seeds. In October and November of 1998 and 1999 these seeds were harvested and given to the Indiatlantic Rotary Club for propagation at their mangrove nursery. Ultimately these plants are used to re-vet areas affected by development and environmental hazards.

During the trim work several "spoil islands" (created by the Army Corps of Engineers when they dug the mosquito abatement ditches) were discovered in the mangroves on the northern border of Lot 112 and in the neighboring Lot 97 which could not be developed due to lack of substantial uplands. A plan for reaching these islands was developed and negotiations begun for the purchase of Lot 97. In an agreement reached with John's Island Real Estate, on August 21, 1992, this property was split into two parcels, the southern half being sold to the Stutts.

In March 1991, plans for straightening Coconut Palm Road were announced by John's Island Real Estate Development ("JIRED"). In order to accomplish this a 70+-year-old oak had to be removed from the easement area of Lot 112. The Stutts working with Bob Burkett from Johns Island Real Estate Development (JIRED), arranged for root pruning and irrigation of this tree in preparation for a move further back into the Stutt lot. At the same time Bob Burkett showed the Stutts trees on Sago Palm Road, all of which were marked for removal due to the rerouting of the road. The Stutts adopted those trees and spawned the "orphan tree program" still in effect at John's Island. It was decided that prior to installation of these trees the entry to the property would have to be redirected and a privacy berm designed along Coconut Palm Road. On June 12, 1991, all three trees were relocated to the berm and plantings installed. Subsequent to these transplants additional trees were adopted and added to the berm and new entry drive. A total of eight giants were moved from 1991 through 1992.

In October of 1993, a small tornado came out of the west and toppled a transplanted oak to the south of the entry drive. It was trimmed, picked up and moved to the northern most end of the berm where it has recovered from its trauma. Another tree was located and moved into its former spot, bringing the total tree transplants to nine.

People often ask why we have been so successful in transplanting Live Oaks - the key is diligence in misting trees to be relocated during the root pruning phase and for a year following relocation - in addition to the misting lines at the base of each tree, we added misting lines to the canopies to wash the salt drift from the trees' leaves, slowly cutting back on the twice a day misting program throughout the first year until a regular watering schedule could be established.  (Please click here for list of protocols we used.)

In order to reach the spoil islands three bridges were designed which would allow access to the wetland areas. At the same time approvals were requested for installation of retaining walls to prevent the "fill" for the site from slipping into the mangroves/wetlands bordering the construction area; and for revision of a permit previously issued for construction of a boat dock - the length approved was 220 feet and needed to be reduced to 160 feet. The appropriate applications for these permits were submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation ("DER") and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service on February 20, 1993 with approval being granted on April 26, 1993 and May 6, 1993, respectively. Construction was begun in September 1993 and completed in December.   The dock was rebuilt in 2018 and modified  to include another seating area.

The first bridge erected connected the drive court to what is now known as the "Rain Forest." Once in place, the "spoil islands" were cleared of pepper trees, fire ants and other invasive non-indigenous plants. The remaining vegetation consisted of two juvenile live oaks, one large black mangrove and one large sea grape, all of which were pruned and shaped. A fresh water (potable) stream was sculpted into the hard packed earth and a re-circulating pump system installed. The first plantings in this area consisted of button wood mangroves, adenidias (Christmas palms) and lobster claw haleconias. These plants were selected for their rapid growth and ability to provide much needed shade (canopy) for the island below, home of the planned rain forest. During the course of the following year plants were selected from nurseries located in Pompano Beach and points south. In addition, orchids were tied into the existing trees and new canopy. At present the orchid count in the trees numbers approximately 1500 - which means there is always something blooming, no matter what time of the year you walk through.

The second bridge was constructed from the base of the fresh water stream in the Rain Forest, across a mosquito abatement ditch to the west side the property which borders the Indian River, thereby allowing access from the Rain Forest to the "Kitchen Garden"  (Now the Kitchen / Cycad Garden) which runs north to south, parallel to the Indian River Lagoon.

The Kitchen Garden was begun in the November of 1992. Citrus trees planted at that time include: Valencia oranges, Honey Bell oranges, Navel oranges, Tangerines, Thompson White grapefruit, Pink grapefruit, Key Lime, Persian Lime and Lemon. The northern border was planted with a cherry hedge, traveler palm and Chinese Kapok tree. Since that time other fruit bearing trees/plants had been added and included: Guava, Pineapple Guava, 2 varieties of Avocados, Leechee Nuts, Mangos, Papayas, Figs, Pineapples and Coconut Palms. The original design included large grassy expanses with narrow beds along the sides and plant islands containing various fruit trees. In March 1999 the grass was removed, planting beds enlarged and mulched paths created. All existing plantings were pruned and relocated, except for the trees.

In April 1993, non-potable water was provided for landscape irrigation. All areas of the existing landscape were converted to non-potable water. Although citrus when mature can be irrigated when needed, it was felt that in view of the salinity content of the non-potable water, coupled with a very high pH factor in the soil that it would be best to put the Kitchen Garden on potable (drinking) water until the trees were mature enough to exist primarily on rain water. In addition the orchids and tropical plants in the Rain Forest were not tolerating the high salinity levels present in the non-potable water and needed to be added to the the potable supply. To accomplish this, applications were made to the regulating authorities, John's Island Water Management, Inc. ("JIWM") and Vero Beach Department of Water for permission to install a Back Flow Preventer Valve. Approval was received in September of 1993. In the spring of 1995 the Kitchen Garden water supply was changed back to non-potable water and irrigation of the then established citrus trees, discontinued. (Please note that due to the twin hurricanes of 2004 - all citrus trees were destroyed - the Kitchen Garden now is home to an extensive Cycad Collection donated to the Mangrove Garden Foundation in 2014.)  The Rain Forest continues to be irrigated with potable (drinking) water.   Using a series of irrigation pipes and misting heads, installed vertically along tree trunks,  we are able to replicate the fine mist found in rain forests.   It truly rains in the Rain Forest - twice a day - every day - 365 days a year (366 when leap year comes) - 6 minutes in the morning and 6 minutes in the evening during the summer and autumn months and 3 minutes in the morning and 3 minutes in the evening during the winter and spring months.

The third bridge leads to Panther's Lair Island and the large lagoon. It is located at the southern most point of Lot 112 and runs east to the Lagoon passing a desert-like micro-climate on another "spoil island". The prickly pear cactus seen there have volunteered themselves and provide a backdrop for the panther sculpture residing on that island. The sculpture is a casting made from the original silk wood carving commissioned by the Stutts and created by sculptor Bruce White, formerly of Vero Beach. Proceeding further down the walkway brings you to the canoe dock. The canoe is used to navigate deep into the mangroves for the purpose of viewing wildlife in their habitat and, for the more adventuresome, to gain access to the Indian River Lagoon for exploration of the other islands and waterways which are part of this estuary.

In June of 1996, three additional walkways were designed to access the remaining islands north of the Rain Forest. Construction was begun in March 1997 to connect the Rain Forest to Orchid Isand (site of the Thai Orchid House);   Orchid Island to General's Island (home of "The General" - a life-sized terra cotta soldier from Xian, China);   and General's Island to the northern most part of the then Kitchen/Cycad Garden. Construction was halted On April 6, 1997 pending additional regulatory approval by the Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") and the Indian River Shores Building Department. After many months of applications, meetings and surveys, permits were issued - construction resumed as of December 24, 1997.

The Thai Orchid house located on Orchid Island, is a cooperative effort conceived by Bill and Carolyn Stutt.   Toby Hill of The Hill Group designed the entire structure with its unique architecture and personally monitored its construction.   Bo MacEwen, the architect for the Stutts' home, designed the roof accents.   The walkways and orchid house were completed in April 1999 with the installation of the custom carved teak panels produced in Bangkok, Thailand and obtained for the Stutts by Jorie Kent of Abercrombie & Kent through their Bangkok office.

Upon completion of the walkways and the orchid house, a life-sized terra cotta soldier, known as the "General" was placed on General's Island, west of Orchid Island. The Stutts purchased the General during a visit to China in 1996.

In March 1998 the Stutts again sought and received permission from the regulating agencies for the installation of rip-rap retaining walls along the drive to prevent the landscape bordering the drive from slipping into the wetland perimeter. Retaining walls were installed by Hayslip Landscape and completed in March 1999.

In November 1998 three Queen Palms were lost to Ganoderma. This is an insidious disease, not seen before the devastation caused by hurricane Andrew.   It is believed to be a fungi growth that attacks all palms - Queen Palms in particular - but Ganoderma can also attack hardwoods, such as oaks.    It is hard to diagnose in the early stages, but once the bracts (mushroom growths) are seen, the tree must be removed (including the stump and soil) to prevent transmission to healthy palms in the area and all tools and saws used in extricating the palm must be sterilized - washed in pure bleach. Unfortunately, with all of these precautions replanting is not recommended because the soil is believed to harbor spores, which will infect a new palm.  

See the source image

In April 1999, a teak Thai Spirit House, purchased by the Stutts while in Thailand in 1997, was installed to the south of the swimming pool, on the edge of the river, facing due east. It sits in a small oak tree hammock surrounded by green island ficus and sea grapes. The purpose of this structure, according to Thai culture, is to attract the good spirits who will reside there and protect the house and surrounding garden. Payment for this "protection" takes the form of a fresh floral offerings daily, to keep the spirits happy. In lieu of a daily offering the area immediately surrounding this structure has been planted with sanbac jasmine bushes, their fragrant, delicate blossoms literally at the doorstep of this structure.

In May 1999 one of the nine transplanted oaks was struck by lightening. Several orphan trees were located as potential replacements, however, after trimming away the damaged portion of the tree it was able to overcome the loss of one-third of its mass and its canopy. The oak continues to grow, compensating for the lost portion. Today is stands, strong, healthy and beautiful.

Also, in May 1999 another oak immediately to the west showed signs of stress.  It was determined by Gary Doyle, Tree Officer for the Town of Indian River Shores, that the width and depth of the tree's well needed to be increased and the tree fertilized.   Hayslip Landscaping handled the excavation and completed this task in June 1999.   Liquid fertilizer was applied to stimulate additional root growth.   This tree also stands strong, healthy and beautiful today.

The summer of 1999 will be remembered as long, hot and dry, stressing all plantings. The Mangrove Gardens fared well primarily due to the following: in January 1997 we began testing the soil and water quality in the garden, using the services of Marshall Horsman from A&L Southern Agricultural Laboratories in Pompano Beach. We determined that the pH levels of the soil and sodium levels of the non-potable water required adjustments in our fertilizing schedules, i.e. frequency, as well as types of fertilizers to be used. In addition we began a program that involved removal of the cypress mulch used to "dress" the floral beds and borders, replacing the mulch with peat moss to enrich the soil, thus allowing for increased ability of the soil to store nutrients and water. (Sandy soil tends to lose fertilizers and water very quickly - once enriched with peat moss the sand becomes denser, retaining nutrients and water for a longer period of time.) As a result, plants became healthier, the soil becomes loamy as opposed to sandy, and root penetration into the rich soil vastly improved. Starting in the fall of 1998 we went to drought watering schedules for all areas of the garden irrigated with non-potable water. This was done to encourage increased root depth. In spring 1998 we changed our non-potable irrigation schedules from two times a week to three times a week but remained at minimum (drought) watering times established by John's Island Water Management, Inc. (JIWM). This system appears to have worked well with all plantings, showing a minimum amount of stress, which is indicative of deep, healthy root systems.

In September 1999, Hurricane Irene came through and although the winds were not particularly strong for a hurricane - approximately 85 mph - the rainfall caused heavy flooding, devastating the groundcover in the rain forest. The flooding also caused serious damage to the freshwater stream resulting in total reconstruction of the stream. The Kitchen Garden lost approximately 100 cubic yards of soil to the Indian River Lagoon along with the retaining wall. Repairs to the Mangrove Garden were begun in November of 1999 and completed in May 2000. The Garden Conservancy canceled all garden shows in the Vero Beach area for the year 2000 because of the damaged inflicted by Irene.

February 1, 2002  brought the demise of an additional Queen Palm on the west shore of the gardens. This giant struggled for two years but was finally lost to Ganoderma, bringing the count of Queen Palms lost to this disease to five. First seen in southern Florida in the Miami area, Ganoderma has gradually spread up the coast of Florida to Vero Beach. As of this writing there is no known cure. All that is known is that it is deadly. We used "Heritage" fungicide on our Queen Palms once a month in the hope that it would halt the advance of this disease in the Mangrove Garden - in the end we lost the battle to save our Queen Palms - all forty-two of them.

On March 5th, 2002 the Mangrove Garden received approximately 1,200 vanda orchids - acquired from a Naranja Nursery in Homestead, Florida.   These orchids were destined to be orphaned and negotiations were made to acquire them for the rain forest by Marshall Horsman from A&L Agricultural Laboratories in Pompano Beach.   Placed in the overhead canopies of the mosquito abatement ditches they added a jungle-like feeling to these areas with their tendril-like root systems. 

On May 31, 2002 a series of thunderstorms moved through our area and another large oak was struck by lightening. This oak is located on the south side of the drive entry. Although the lightening strike peeled the bark from the upper portion of one trunk (this is a multi-trunked specimen which required 2 cranes to move it into position) a weeping hibiscus tree behind it absorbed the major portion of the strike.   We are optimistic about saving the oak tree, however, the hibiscus will need to be replaced.

 In June 2006, we lost the battle against Ganoderma - all forty-two of our remaining Queen Palms had to be removed from the gardens - all were affected by Ganoderma.  Soil was removed along with the root systems - the holes left by soil removal were sterilized and treated with anti-fungals.   Following treatment of the holes, new soil was brought in along with forty-two hand-picked twelve foot tall Royal Palms which currently line the driveway and surround the Stutt's home....all are healthy and strong....with their own irrigation zones,  liquid fertilizer is injected at their bases once a year.)

The history of the garden continues to grow - day-by-day and leads me to make the following observations  first, gardens are never-ending works in progress. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Mother Nature is at best, an unreliable partner!

History by: Carolyn Stutt
Updated: June 1, 2002