Jack Connery, Edwin Grover and Mead Botanical Garden
In 1937, after Theodore Mead died, Jack Connery who was one of Mead's Eagle Scouts, inherited all of Mead's plants. At a loss of what to do with them, he talked with his Professor Grover, and the two started planning for a Botanical Garden. Jack and his wife Helen (Mimi), lived near where Mead Garden is now. Edwin Grover and Jack started contacting landowners in the vicinity to obtain donations toward the garden. Walter Rose, a well-known developer and State Senator, donated a large parcel, and eventually, the cities of Winter Park and Orlando donated land as well as Winter Park Mayor Treat and businessman Leedy. Mary Bartels who was from Orlando but lived in Jacksonville, donated 20 acres, probably to satisfy a tax lien.
and boy scouts
Theodore Mead was a prominent biologist and botanist. His plantation in Oviedo, called Wait-a-Bit, had orange groves, palms galore and a large collection of orchids and other sub-tropical plants. Mead was famous for successfully growing and hybridizing orchids.
It took three years to get the garden going. There were legal issues and some opposition from local citizens, including Mr. Barbour of Casa Feliz. Grover and Connery applied for a Works Progress Administration grant to clean up the properties, cut some paths and create several lakes. The inauguration on January 8, 1940 was a grand event with local, State and National dignitaries attending. As many of Grover's projects, Mead Botanical Garden always "squeaked by" financially. Attendance dropped off during the WWII years. When Taylor Briggs became director of Parks and Recreation in 1958, the garden needed much work, but Briggs notes that Grover, now 88, would come over daily with his yardman and pick up weeds and tend to the garden as best he could.
From its beginnings, the garden has dealt with three constituencies: the native plant advocates, the ornamentalists, and the birders. Each group has different goals that don't always coincide. The Winter Park Garden Club has been a major supporter of Mead Garden over the years. The City has at times supported it, and at times used it as a dump. The Friends of Mead Garden, a non-profit organization, have now taken over in designing and restoring the garden, a process that takes years. It is an incredible resource for the Orlando area and needs all our support.
Today, the garden has a Grover trail, with a marker from 1956, but there is no commemorative plaque for Jack Connery, Dr. Mead, or for the donors of the land that makes up this remarkable urban retreat. There is a marker for John Bartram, although he probably never made it to Mead Botanical Garden. It is assumed that the closest Bartram got was Fort Christmas, some 30 miles in east Orange County. According to State of Florida maps, there were some pre-columbian villages within the confines of Mead Botanical Garden.
Ed Gfeller 2016
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