Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Picture a day of sunshine, fluffy white clouds, and the scent of ocean breezes all around beautiful gardens.  Head over to Bonnet House, on 35 acres of beachfront property in the heart of Ft Lauderdale. There are indications that the grounds already witnessed 4000 years of Florida history.  Human activity may date back to 2000 BC, and other archaeological evidence indicates it was one of the first sties of Spanish contact with the New World.

 The house was purchased in 1895 and given to the buyer’s daughter as a wedding gift in the 1920’s.  Construction began to build a haven where the daughter could pursue music and poetry and the husband could pursue his artwork.  Frederic Clay Bartlett left behind his family’s hardware business, was schooled in Munich’s prestigious Royal Academy, and developed a prolific and prosperous career as an artist.   He created murals and created faux painting throughout the house, including murals on the ceilings. He and his wife were also art collectors and amassed a priceless collection by artists including Gaugin, Picasso and Seurat which he gave, after her death, to the Art Institute of Chicago. 

When the wife died in 1925, until he remarried in 1931, visits were infrequent.  Soon a renaissance and renewal of the house began, adding many new decorations and embellishments.  Along with the main house were a separate artist’s studio and meditation house.  His third wife, Evelyn Fortune Bartlett began painting, with his encouragement, in 1933 and her works were well-received by many galleries.  Ponds with bonnet water lilies and lush tropical gardens surround the property today.  There are several interesting gazebos and covered sitting areas on the property.  Trip Advisor lists Bonnet House Museum and Gardens as the 2nd best out of 47 Ft. Lauderdale attractions.

After the husband died in 1953, the wife returned each winter to Bonnet House and later donated the property to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.  It was soon listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2002 the City of Ft. Lauderdale declared the property a historic landmark and it is now one of America’s 11 most endangered sites in 2008.  The Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is accredited by the American Association of Museums.  It is one of the last examples in south Florida of a native barrier island habitat with five distinct ecosystems including the Atlantic Ocean beach and primary dune, a fresh water slough, secondary dune including the house site, mangrove wetlands and a maritime forest.  There is a Desert Garden, hibiscus garden and, as Evelyn was a passionate orchid collector, Bonnet house comprised one of the largest orchid collections in the southeast US.

Today there are events scheduled during the day including orchid shows with booth after booth of magnificent orchids to view and purchase, orchid classes, composting and cooking classes by well-known vendors.  Adult birding, art, calligraphy and orchid classes are offered along with school classes.  An annual orchid festival and a juried art exhibit is held on the grounds as well as symphony concerts. A gift shop offers garden ornaments, books, jewelry and other items.  Lovely orchids are shown and being purchased including cattleyas, dendrobiums.  Tour costs vary from $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $16 for children and those under age 6 are free.  Admission to the grounds only is $10.  Group tours are available for $13 each.   Open Tuesday thru Saturday 10-4.  Call 954-563-5393 ext. to reserve.  Take Sunrise Boulevard East from I-95 and turn right on North Birch Road to get to the property.

Tours, musical events and art classes are scheduled regularly and this pretty site is used for corporate events and weddings.  For more information see 

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