University of Florida

The Neighborhood Gardener
Success Story: Master Gardeners Help Restore Mackay Gardens in Polk County

By Cathy Butcher, Polk County Master Gardener

In 2005, the Master Gardeners of Polk County became involved in a project to help preserve the gardens of the historic Alexander Mackay estate in Lake Alfred . A purchase was made with a grant from Florida Forever by the city of Lake Alfred with help from the Trust for Public Land to keep 113 acres of the Mackay Estate safe from development. The purchase included acres of mostly pristine native habitat, the family home built in 1916, and the surrounding gardens. The estate was developed by English botanist and landscaper John Morley. Famed plant explorer and botanist David Fairchild contributed plants and the landscape developed over several generations of the Mackay family.

The management plan for the Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve requires the city to create outdoor recreation opportunities, renovate the house, restore the gardens, and provide interpretive and environmental educational programs.

Master Gardener aid was specifically sought to assist in recovering the ornamental plantings in the cultural landscape which had been neglected for years. In April 2006 they began the process of uncovering and identifying many interesting plants, some of which are unusual and unique to our region. This work continues today and the gardens have become an outdoor classroom where Master Gardeners can put into practice the training they have received. As they work alongside volunteers from the community, inmate crews, and city employees, they share their knowledge of basic pruning; tree, palm, and ornamental plant identification; pest and disease recognition; and plant propagation.

Master Gardeners have contributed to Mackay's educational purpose by planting a Florida-Friendly demonstration garden and giving free monthly horticultural presentations in the house. Their hard work identifying the landscape plants has resulted in the purchase, by the City, of the first 40 permanent plant labels and the city is taking Master Gardener advice and will be landscaping around the house using the nine Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles.

Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve is located at 900 Mackay Blvd., Lake Alfred, Florida, 33850. It is free and open to the public.


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