Mission & Objectives
Our Mission is to— develop, promote, protect and conserve the natural beauty of the Upper Keys.
We accomplish this through education and in cooperation with our members, residents and visitors.
Our Objectives are to—
- Develop and augment knowledge and love of plants and gardening with a focus on native plants,
- Promote community planting and beautification of the Upper Keys,
- Protect and conserve our natural resources by educating the community and
- Maintain our gardens and garden center as teaching tools.
Founded in 1952, the Garden Club met in private homes to share their knowledge of plants through papers and demonstrations. Two years later, the club’s size grew and was split to become a new Upper Keys chapter. Officially launched in 1956, the club was given a charter and non-profit status by the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.
Still growing in membership, Dr. Fred Bond offered the property for the club’s current home. Dr. Bond asked that it be named after the nurse, known as the “Angel of Mercy of the Keys”, who was instrumental in bringing him to work in the Keys. There were many fundraising projects for several years for the building, furnishings, and grounds.
Thus, The Francis Tracy Garden Center came into being with the first meeting held at this venue in 1964. In 2012, the club reincorporated and is now known as The Garden Club of the Upper Keys, Inc.
Today, our club still remains at The Francis Tracy Garden Center.
In June 1952, 10 women formed the Key Largo Garden Club, a club of civic and cultural advantage to native plant growth in the Keys. Membership was limited to 20 because meetings were held at private homes, where plant knowledge was exchanged through papers and demonstrations.
Within two years, the club had grown so large that it divided to form the original chapter and a new Upper Keys Garden Club, a non-profit serving Islamorada, Matecumbe, and Plantation Keys. Officially launched in 1956, the latter’s mission was to foster, promote, develop, protect and conserve the natural beauties of the Upper Keys through education and publicity and to encourage cooperation of all members, residents and visitors in these matters. Charter members included Francis Tracy and Margaret Bond.
That same year the Upper Keys Garden Club’s first flower show was held at Coral Shores School in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce with Dr. Fred Bond serving as chairman. Beautification of Coral Shores School got underway in 1957, and by 1960 the school’s landscaping, overseen by the club soon garnered praise as the state’s most beautiful school grounds. After Hurricane Donna in 1960, Islamorada’s Hurricane Monument and Beach Park received new landscaping. The club’s mission was in full effect.
By 1962, there were 60 members and the need for larger meeting space. Dr. Bond offered the club’s current home under the stipulation that it never be sold for commercial use and be named the Francis Tracy Garden Center honoring “our angel of mercy of the Keys.” Many hours and much work went into raising money for the building; a mortgage was secured to complete funding. A granite cornerstone salvaged by Rodney Albury from a sunken ship off Tavernier was placed in a wall of the property and features club members’ names.
The venue’s first meeting took place in September 1964 followed by an official opening in November. Many donations of furnishings and equipment were received, and each member purchased a chair for $3.75. Through fundraising, the mortgage was paid off in December 1967 and Francis Tracy, at age 90, lit the flame to burn it.
Francis Tracy served the club faithfully for 18 years until her death in 1970.
During the 1970’s the club continued to hold informative meetings which included demonstrations and lectures on all subjects relative to gardening in the Keys and South Florida. Topics included hanging baskets, dish gardens and terrariums,landscaping with native plants, horticulture basics, ikebana, bromeliads and orchid culture to name a few.
In order to support the maintenance of the grounds and building there were annual flower and fashion shows, bazaars, and card games. The club sold cookbooks, calendars, and plants to raise the necessary funds. The membership continued to make improvements to the club house and grounds all the while continuing to contribute to various community projects.
The now famous Garden Walk was first held in 1980. This tour has proven to be the club’s greatest financial success in addition to being one of the most popular events held in the upper Keys each year. Visitors come from all parts of the Keys, southern Florida, and other states to enjoy the gorgeous gardens on display, sample the delicious goodies at the clubhouse, shop for plants and gift items available from various vendors and enjoy the wonderful ambience of the artwork and music. Every year the organizers seem to expand the scope of the tour and always manage to incorporate new ways to entertain and educate the attendees.
During the 1980’s the club continued to expand their fundraising efforts with the sale of baked goods, jellies and preserves, plants and other garden related items. The preservation of the Windley Key Quarry, tree planting at Plantation Key School, and major repairs to the clubhouse were all made possible through the hard work of dedicated members.
The close of the 1980’s welcomed the Plant Ramble (now the Fall Festival) which continues to attract visitors each year in the fall to the beautiful Francis Tracy Garden Center grounds. The mix of plant sales and display gardens combined with offerings of art and music attract hundreds of guests who look forward to the annual event.
Beginning in the late 1980s, members began making contributions for the feeding of wild birds and to help offset expenses for injured birds at the Laura Quinn Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. Thousands of dollars have been raised for the rehabilitation and care of orphaned or injured native birds.
The Garden Club had developed into a great organization, participating in plant sales, flower shows, field trips, and our annual Garden Walk. During the 1990s, the club incorporated as a Florida not-for-profit corporation, continued its fundraising activities, and expanded its support to additional local charitable organizations. The clubhouse roof was replaced and other repairs and updates were made, while still retaining the building’s historical character.
The flora and fauna on the garden center grounds continued to be developed and expanded due to the efforts of dedicated members. The property was designated as a bird sanctuary and native hammock. In 2010, the gardens became the fourth to be dedicated as a Peace Park to promote peace and to honor the International Day of Peace. Open to the public, our gardens are a place to enjoy the serenity and beauty of a peaceful garden.
In 2012, the club re-incorporated as Garden Club of the Upper Keys.
The club continues to thrive and change in accordance with new interests of the members and the changing world of horticulture in the Keys. The monthly meetings usually feature a guest speaker or demonstration on various topics of interest to gardeners in our Zone 10-11 climate. Lately many of those have focused on our need to conserve water by planting natives and installing rain barrels, composting and limiting the amount of grass or removing it. We are also faced with a number of invasive exotics, both plant and pest, which have to be controlled with proper management techniques. Our local County Extension Agent often makes the trip from Key West to teach us about new plant diseases or pests. The Garden Club remains true to its mission to foster, promote, develop, protect and conserve the natural beauties of the Upper Keys through education and publicity.
President, Kathy Janco
Vice President, Laurie Brooks
Secretary, Laura Hartner
Treasurer, Anne Makowsky
Immediate Past President, Marilyn Rogers
Community Outreach & Education
- Laurie Brooks, Director
- Cindy Davis and Betty Ann Gear, God’s Kitchen-Burton Memorial Church
- Lonell Rice, Habitat for Humanity
- Laurie Brooks, Native Plant Society
- Debbie Sue Jonas, Director, Garden Walk Chair, Fall Festival/Holiday Craft Market
- Jenny Crittenden, Vendor Liason
- Betty Ann Gear and Fran Reig, Co-Directors
- Christine Hudson, Director
- Darlene Rota, Director, Additional Financial Contributions, and Email Communications
News & Notes
- Charlene Regenhardt, Editor
- Patti Graham, Director, Guest Speakers, Field Trips, Members-Only Garden Walk
- Charlene Regenhardt, Director
- Pat Uhl, Director
- Kathy & Steve Holmes and Pat Uhl, Chamber of Commerce- Islamorada
- Pat Uhl and Kathy Janco, Chamber of Commerce- Key Largo
- Pat Uhl, Facebook
- Pat Uhl, Webmaster
- Lonell Rice, Webmaster Assistant
- Laurie Brooks, Web Photographer
- Anne Makowsky
- John Kocol
- Gayle Kolasa
- Pat Uhl
- Kathy Janco
- Laura Hartner
- Laurie Brooks
- Lonell Rice
- Charlene Regenhardt
By-Laws, Policy, and Procedures Revision
- Laura Hartner
- Lonell Rice
- Kathy Janco
- Steve Holmes
- Lonell Rice
Alda Tjader, 1956
Carolyn Cohen, 1957
Gertrude Thompson, 1958 and 1959
Pat Futch, 1960
Manie Glen, 1961
Genevive Brezelle, 1962
Mildred Gasser, 1963 and 1964
Lillian Strange, 1965 and 1966
Eleanor Townsend, 1967 and 1968
Pat Knox, 1969 and 1970
Phenia Brown 1971 and 1972
Clarice Cale Parker, 1973
Mary Stedman, 1974
Thelma Page, 1975
Louise Luppold, 1976, 1977 and 1978
Betty Wilson, 1979 and 1980
Myra Stedman, 1981 and 1982
Orphan Wainwright, 1983
Barbara Green, 1984
Margo Ellis, 1985
Lynn Shulaw, 1986 and 1987
Sally Thomas-McGoldrick, 1988
Ann Hayward, 1989 and 1990
Phillip Bourgeois, 1991 and 1992
Irma Richardson, 1993 and 1994
Gale Polk, 1995 and 1996
Jo Luttrell, 1997 and 1998
Joy Leith, 1999
Pat Cullin, 1999 and 2000
Gay Sacharoff, 2001 and 2002
Kay Hazelhurst, 2003 and 2004
Edna Waldorf, 2005
Mary Nelson, 2006 and 2007
Julie Mead, 2008 and 2009
Evelyn McGlone, 2010 and 2011
Marilyn Rogers, 2012 and 2013
Edna Waldorf, 2014
Donna Nussenblatt, 2015 and 2016
Debby Sue Jonas, 2017
Marilyn Rogers, 2018