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Inside Look: The Four Arts Gardens

Jennifer Pfaff

   Steven Chase can’t sit still. He flits around the botanical gardens at the Society of the Four Arts like a butterfly, his fingers landing on plants for curious inspection. With an eye for detail, he snips even the tiniest vine sticking out like an annoying strand of hair—there’s not a misbehaved plant here that won’t get caught.

   “Stay in your place,” he commands it.

   With a background in floral and landscaping, the 61-year-old West Palm Beach native became the new gardener at the Four Arts in April, caring for the oasis’ roughly 170 species of plants—some of which the gardener himself can’t even identify. “It’s like a treasure hunt here,” he says, pointing to an inch-tall pineapple growing inconspicuously among the plants in the property’s Bromeliad Garden.

   He’s right: Noticing every plant in this kempt jungle off Royal Palm Way requires looking up, down and all around as well as using all senses—visitors might miss the just-blooming frangipani or the allspice tree if they didn’t smell them.

   It doesn’t hurt to have background information while strolling among the enclosed grounds. Chase points to an arrangement of pinwheel jasmine growing in front of three stone slabs in the Chinese garden. The rocks represent mountains, he explains, and the flowers are meant to mimic clouds, like a picturesque Asian landscape.

   Chase wants all who enter here to notice and appreciate details like this, which is why he has been working to define spaces on the property by creating terrariums and miniature formal gardens within the garden. Every day, the walkways are swept and cleared for easy accessibility, and plants are precisely pruned so each gets the attention it deserves from visitors, who might otherwise stroll past an overgrown plant. “It’s just a bush—unless you trim it,” Chase says.

   The Garden Club of Palm Beach maintains the Four Arts gardens and must approve Chase’s ideas for the grounds before he can act. His goals include filling the garden with more aroma, colors, birds and butterflies—“surprises,” he calls them—through the selection of incoming plants. He also hopes to make the area more children friendly, such as by adding more interesting fish and colorful flowers in the four ponds. “It’s just too green,” he says.

   So far, his efforts are paying off: Since Chase’s arrival, more birds have arrived, and a fifth generation of monarchs has been born, he says. “It’s been absolutely wonderful,” he says of the job.

   With so much to take in at the Four Arts gardens, Chase points out four not-to-miss plants growing in Palm Beach’s lush public enclosure. Look for these unique blooms during your next visit.

 

   Ylang-ylang (cananga odorata): Smell familiar? The fragrance from the long-petaled, yellow-green flowers on this tree, seen in the Four Art’s Chinese garden, are the inspiration for Chanel No. 5.

 

   Amorphophallus titanum: Although this flower in the Four Arts’ Bromeliad Garden is still in its infant stages, the plant—a native of Indonesia—is the tallest in the world, reaching roughly 10 feet in height.

 

   Old Man palm (coccothrinax crinite): This palm tree, found in the Bromeliad Garden, gets its funny name from its trunk, which is covered with stringy wood-like fibers, resembling a long shaggy beard.

 

   Sausage tree (kigelia): Look up and you’ll notice sausage-shaped fruit hanging from the shady limbs of these trees, which grow in the Four Arts’ Bromeliad and Informal gardens. While the African fruit is part of the diet for indigenous animals like elephants, Chase admits he once ate it—“and I’m still alive.”

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