Most folks who love the subtropical foliage of Florida soon learn to love orchids â€“ the native ones but also the splendiferous variety from around the globe that thrive in our climate.
If you have fallen for orchids, you owe it yourself to visit the Redland, the surprising rural enclave south of Miami where several orchid growers are located. It makes a great daytrip that is also full of food (celebratedÂ cinnamon buns at Knaus Berry farms) and fruit (famous Key Lime Milkshakes at Robert is Here) and locally made wines and beer (Schneblyâ€™s Redland Winery.)
For pure beauty and interesting history, orchid lovers should head to R. F. Orchids for one of the best free tours I’ve ever taken.
R. F. Orchids has captivating gardens and award-winning blooms. (It has won more than 1,000 American Orchid Society awards in 30 years.) Here, there are orchids wherever you look: In the ground, around fountains and peeking out of every crevice.
The best part: Robert Fuchs. Unless heâ€™s judging an orchid show or leading a South American orchid tour, the president of R.F. Orchids, leads free tours through the private gardens around his adjoining residence on weekends at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
â€œI try to give the tour myself,â€ Fuchs said, â€œbecause I know the history.â€
And there is a lot of history.
His great-grandfather was a Redland pioneer, who homesteaded on the property in 1921. His grandfather operated a nursery there until his death in 1969, and in 1970, Fuchs, a new college grad, took over the business and began raising orchids.
During those early years, Fuchs was a middle-school art teacher who grew orchids on the side and opened his greenhouse to orchid loversÂ on weekends and late afternoons.
His big break came in 1984, when orchid growers from around the world came to Miami for the 11th World Orchid Conference. Fuchsâ€™ orchid, named Vanda Deva Robert, won the top honor, Grand Champion of the World. Â With the international recognition, he was able to quit teaching and devote himself to orchids the following year.
His tours benefit fromÂ a sense of humor that must have served him well as a teacher. Fuchs tellsÂ anecdotes of Redland history, including the fascinating story about his ownÂ experiences during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which devastated his property.
Today, R.F. OrchidsÂ is the oldest South Florida orchid firm and he has decorated his gardens with such items as antique Burmese temple gongs and 200-year-old Buddha statues from Thailand.
His garden tour engages all the senses: Screams of colorful parrots in cages, the fragrance of rare varieties of blooming orchids, the taste of edible orchids or a sweet wine made from lemongrass and a scorpion that Fuchs invited us to try.
The beauty of the gardens is enhanced with cages of colorful macaws.Â â€œTheyâ€™re all rescue birds,â€ Fuchs said. â€œOne flew in after Hurricane Wilma.â€
On the tour, Fuchs has a story about seemingly every tree and object.
He points out trees covered from the ground to 20 feet up with a huge vining orchid plant â€“ thatâ€™s a vanilla orchid, he explains, and then describes how the fruitÂ of this orchid, which looks like a bigÂ green bean, has to stay on the vine for nine months to develop its distinctive flavor and aroma and then be cured and dried.
In his backyard there is a fern-rimmed pond with an alligator named Wally, South American pacu fish and exotic catfish.Â Itâ€™s such a vision of a tropical paradise, you expect Tarzan to come swinging through the trees.
While the tours are only given on Saturdays and Sundays, the R.F. Orchids showroom is open Tuesday to Sunday. You wonâ€™t see the pond, alligator and exotic landscaping located on the private grounds, but the showroom is bursting with dazzling orchid specimens.
In addition, surrounding the greenhouse are shaded public gardens full of orchids and other tropical flowers where you are welcome to visit â€“ and even picnic â€“ whenever R.F. Orchids is open.
28100 SW 182nd Ave., Miami.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Garden tours 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting.
While in Redland, you may also want to visit:
- The Redland rural area near the Everglades is full of interesting places to visit and tasty experiences, including Fruit and Spice Park, Schnebly Redlandâ€™s Winery plus strawberry farms and a historic railroad village. This is a guide to visiting the Redland region.Â
- Of course, youâ€™re moments from the Homestead entrance to Everglades National Park. Hereâ€™sÂ Â Florida Rambler guide to visiting the Everglades National park.Â
- Robert is Here, famous for its fresh-fruit milk shakes, exotic fruits and vegetables, its petting zoo and general fun atmosphere, visit funkyÂ Robert Is Here on your way to nearby Everglades National Park.
- Knaus Berry Farm.Â The Knaus family has operated a farm and bakery in the Redland for 50 years. When the storefront farm stand opens for the season in late October, folks start lining up. The cinnamon rolls are dense, rich and gooey and people go to extraordinary lengths to buy them. Read more about visiting Knaus Berry Farm.