In a new direction for the garden -

The Kampong Gets Wet!

by David Jones, Larry Schokman, and David Blake
The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden
Click images to enlarge


America's Kampung: A National Heritage

The Kampong, an 11.5 acre (4.6 hectare) botanical garden located in Coconut Grove, Florida, is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), chartered by the United States Congress and headquartered in Hawaii. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, The Kampong is the former residence and garden of famed horticulturist and plant explorer Dr. David Fairchild (1869-1954) and, later, Dr. Catherine Hauberg Sweeney (1914-1995).

The walkway leading to the historic David Fairchild and Catherine Sweeney house
The Kampong began not as a botanical garden, but as a personal collection motivated by Drs. Fairchild and Sweeney's love for, and scientific interest in, ornamental, edible, and ethnobotanic plants. On this site, Dr. Fairchild, while Chief of the Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction Section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and through his retirement, introduced, tested, and grew many tropical plants that he collected during his plant explorations throughout the world. The Fairchilds named the property 'The Kampong', from the Malay word kampung which means "village" or "cluster of houses". (In Malaysia and Indonesia, the gardens of these villages contain plants of economic and ethnobotanical interest.)

A portion of the plants growing at The Kampong today are historic (and irreplaceable) introductions, some rare and unusual, of tropical and subtropical fruit trees, palms, and flowering trees and shrubs, made by David Fairchild himself. "Kay" Sweeney continued to expand and diversify the collections in the Fairchild tradition after acquiring the property in 1963 and until her death. Today, the living collections of The Kampong comprise nearly 2000 taxa of plants (including species, subspecies, varieties, forms, and hybrids of ferns and fern allies, gymnosperms, and flowering plants) mainly of tropical and subtropical origin. New plants are constantly acquired by the garden through various means such as travel and exploration, donation, germplasm exchange, and experimental work including hybridization. While the living collections of The Kampong are always changing - as they have throughout the garden's history - they remain a unique assemblage of plants, each with a distinctive history and identity, a collection not duplicated easily elsewhere.  

The 'Breezeway'
at the main house

As The Kampong continues to expand and diversify its living collections of horticulturally interesting tropical and subtropical plants, greater emphasis is being placed on procuring, growing, and propagating new and unusual flowering trees without duplicating plants already available in other botanical gardens and arboreta of the area. Most importantly, the garden strives to strengthen the kampung style of gardening which charmed and inspired David Fairchild. (This style of gardening embraces the concepts of small scale, diversity and sustainability of both plants and animals that is still widely practiced in underdeveloped parts of the world.) For example, the garden, which already holds a large number of kampung plants, is exploring ways to introduce small-scale fish culture as an additional demonstration of kampung living and to evaluate its potential in southern Florida.

Beyond the routine care of watering, weeding, and trimming the plants in the garden, the horticultural program at The Kampong implements practices to care for the collections, propagate plant species, and ensure that the living collections in the garden have proper curation and interpretation. Some of these practices were implemented by the current Director of The Kampong, Larry Schokman, over 30 years ago and have resulted in the lush, vibrant garden seen today.


Garden looking east from the main house 
For example, an integrated pest management program has eliminated the need to apply insecticides for the past 28 years, and a 6 to 8 inch (15 to 20 centimeter) layer of top soil has developed on the site through the liberal use of recycled plant debris and mulch. Irrigation utilizes rain water stored in underground cisterns, and the garden is exploring ways to produce fresh water from sea water through desalination.  

Throughout its history, The Kampong has played an important role as a resource for the storage and exchange of botanical and horticultural knowledge. NTBG educational programs (College Biology Professors' Fellowship, Physician's Course), university courses (Harvard Summer School, University of Florida, and University of Miami, among others), tours, periodic lectures, and other events utilize the resources of The Kampong to not only train future botanists, ethnobotanists, and horticulturists but also to enlighten a large cross-section of the local community, as well as visitors to the area.  

The newly opened
Schokman Education Center

In order to support the increasing number of educational and research programs at The Kampong, the Scarborough House (dormitory) was completed in 2003, the Kenan Science Laboratory in 2006, and the Schokman Education Center in 2007.

Water Gardens at The Kampong: A Beginning

What began as a solitary, blue-flowered Nymphaea plant -- the garden's first -- donated to The Kampong in late 2006 by a local college professor has expanded into a collection encompassing nearly 40 taxa of waterlilies, lotuses, and giant waterlilies at the time of this writing (see table).

Lotuses in particular, ubiquitous in the landscapes of East Asia, are a natural choice for display at The Kampong with its special attention to the cultivation of Southeast Asian kampung plants. The cultivation and display of aquatic plants is a new direction for the garden, where collections of tropical and subtropical trees and shrubs have remained the predominant garden focus since the time of David Fairchild.

Nelumbo nucifera 'Bali Red'

Table of Waterlilies, Lotuses, and Giant Waterlilies Displayed at The Kampong
 Scientific Name  Cultivar
 Nymphaea 'Afterglow', 'Albert Greenberg', 'Bagdad', 'Clyde Ikins', 'Colorado', 'Daubenyana', 'Director George T. Moore', 'Evelyn Randig', 'Foxfire', 'Green Smoke', 'Hawaiian Prince', 'King of Siam', 'Madame Ganna Walska', 'Mayla', 'Miami Rose', 'Moon Beam', 'Perry's Baby Red', 'Queen of Siam', 'Red Bud', 'Red Cup', 'Red Flare', 'St. Louis Gold', 'Stanley Angus Skinger', 'Star of Siam', 'Star of Zanzibar', 'Texas Dawn', 'Trudy Slocum', Unnamed White, 'William McLane'
 Nelumbo 'Bali Red', 'Maggie Bell Slocum', 'Momo Botan', 'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum', 'Pagel's Lake Okeechobee Blue Leaf Sunburst', 'Red Scarf' 
 Victoria 'Adventure', 'Longwood Hybrid' 

These collections are housed in a number of artificial ponds located throughout the garden. To the west of the Barbour Cottage on the garden's southern boundary are two small circular ponds set amidst an aroid garden and originally constructed to display aquatic aroids. Built several years ago of concrete and Miami limestone (oolite), the two ponds house several of the garden's waterlily (Nymphaea) cultivars and other aquatics including arrowhead (Sagittaria), spadderdock (Nuphar), floating hearts (Nymphoides) and mosaic plant (Ludwigia). 

The waterlily pond in the aroid garden near the Barbour Cottage

The Yin-Yang Pond at the entrance to
The Kampong containing giant
waterlilies, lotuses, waterlilies,
and Egyptian papyrus
In 2006, a larger circular pond was built at the entrance to the garden and incorporated the yin-yang symbol of Buddhist philosophy in its design. The upper half of the pond contains Nymphaea 'Red Cup', Nelumbo 'Maggie Bell Slocum' and 'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum', and Egyptian papyrus (Cyperus papyrus). Two Victoria 'Longwood Hybrid' plants dominate the lower half of the pond. Visitors entering The Kampong through the main gate are greeted by this scene of profound tranquility, designed to set the mood and tone for the rest of the visit. The pool was designed by Larry Schokman, former Director of The Kampong, and was constructed using locally mined Miami and Key Largo limestone rock.

The pièce de résistance of The Kampong's water gardens is the new Lotus Pond located in the middle of the garden where the main access road ends just west of the Fairchild house (built in 1928). Designed by Florida International University School of Architecture Professor Camilo Rosales and Larry Schokman, this two-tiered, kidney-shaped pond (roughly 44 ft x 28 ft [13.4 m x 8.5 m]) is constructed of concrete and covered with a veneer of distinctive Key Largo limestone. The pond's pumps will be powered by solar panels.  

The Lotus Pond still under construction

The smaller upper pool will contain a collection of Nelumbo 'Bali Red', first collected by Miami Dade College professor Monroe Birdsey in Bali, Indonesia, in 1993, and propagated by James Thiele of Naranja Tropical Fish in Homestead, Florida. Interestingly, despite the introduction of this cultivar to southern Florida nearly 15 years ago, it wasn't until 2007 that The Kampong received its first material of this unique lotus. The larger lower pool will showcase several plants of Victoria 'Adventure' and 'Longwood Hybrid', together with a selection of waterliles. The two pools will be connected by a weir made of granite rock. The aquatic plants scheduled for display in the pools are maintained in the garden or off-site nurseries and will be transferred to the Lotus Pond upon completion of its construction (scheduled for December of 2007).   

Elsewhere in the garden, ceramic pots containing waterlilies adorn the courtyard of the main house. There are also plans to place lotuses in large containers on the upper terrace of the Schokman Education Center. From this vantage point, one can gaze out over the expansive garden of lawns and trees that extend eastward from the main house to the shores of Biscayne Bay while enjoying the gloriously intoxicating effects of the nearby Ylang-Ylang tree (Cananga odorata, original source of the fragrance for Chanel No. 5 perfume) and feasting on the exquisite beauty of the 'Bali Red' lotus flowers.
As the aquatic collections of The Kampong continue to expand, the garden will consider adding water features as needs and funding permit. Already, a master plan for the garden, integrating the adjacent four acre (1.6 hectare) Hissar property to the north, is being contemplated. This additional area of expansion for the garden will undoubtedly provide opportunities to develop new water features, including a nursery for propagating and establishing aquatic plants. WGI members can look for updates on these projects in future issues of the Journal. Comments about this article (and requests for information about The Kampong and its plant collections) are welcomed. 

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