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South Florida Social Diary

However daunting for some being considered the best in the world might be, orchid world phenoms Robert Fuchs and Michael Coronado's backyard landscape mixes the native with the exotic, making for an out of this world refuge as much a part of the Florida Everglades as the Amazon Rainforest.
Tropical Splendor: Orchid oasis, Key Lime roadhouse & Wild Bird sanctuary
By Augustus Mayhew

Last week’s planned day trip to a wild bird sanctuary in Key Largo turned out to be a bit more when I realized it had been years since I last stopped in at R.F. Orchids, home to the world’s leading orchid couturiers, Robert Fuchs and Michael Coronado. I called ahead, and yes, Fuchs and Coronado were not in Lhasa or Tegulcigalpa but would be in town for the Redlands International Orchid Show at the nearby Fruit and Spice Park.

Esteemed Columbian orchid grower Gustavo Aguirre of Orquídeas Katía in Medellin was in the guesthouse for the weekend and would also be showing at the Redlands festival. The 90-minute drive to R.F. Orchids was longer than I remembered, as the orchid domain is as far west southwest of west Miami as you can be without being in the Everglades.“The last frontier,” said Robert Fuchs.

The one-and-only Robert Fuchs. R. F. Orchids has been recognized with prestigious awards from the Royal Horticultural Society in England, the Japan Grand Prix, South African Orchid Congress Shows, and from orchid societies in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. A life member of the Royal Horticulture Society of Thailand, Fuchs is also a fellow with the Royal Horticulture Society in London. Dubbed "the king of orchids" by The New York Times, Fuchs was recently the first orchid grower to be inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Sublime spectacle

Ever since Robert Fuchs was awarded every best of the best award possible at the 1984 International Orchid Show held at Coconut Grove’s Dinner Key, his Vanda orchids have made him the world’s orchid kingpin, a title and enterprise he shares with Michael Coronado, his life partner and business associate. Thus, in June 1990 when a Miami Herald headline read “Thieves take $97,000 in prized orchids,” Fuchs’ loss shook the highly-competitive uber-secretive orchid world from Bangkok to Rio. Someone had stolen what had taken Fuchs a lifetime to create.

Regarded as some of the world’s rarest prize-winning specimens, the hybridization of this valuable stock could transform a shady mediocre orchid enthusiast into a world-class purveyor. At the time, Fuchs and Coronado could not have imagined that their ensuing tangled escapades and courtroom dramas would a decade later become a plot line for The Orchid Thief, a best-selling non-fiction book by Susan Orlean. Later, the book became the basis for the film titled Adaptation. In the film, Meryl Streep played Susan Orlean and actor Chris Cooper, as John Laroche, received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

“There was some literary license in the book,” laughed Fuchs, who I found much more approachable and affable than how some accounts have portrayed him. Fuchs transformed his family’s backyard hobby into an international global orchid conglomerate. At 13, he joined his father on orchid safaris in Central and South America. For his high-school graduation, he wanted only one thing, an orchid greenhouse.

I first met Fuchs sometime in the mid-1980s at one of the International Orchid Shows in Coconut Grove. I recall his inspired sense of stagecraft and how my jaw dropped admiring the Vanda Ogden Phipps. Years later, he, along with Coronado, have remained resourceful and innovative, maintaining the necessary standards for creating the most beautiful orchids in the world.
The entrance to R. F. Orchids. Built on his grandparents' homestead, R.F. Orchids opened in 1970 as a weekend endeavor. It was not until Fuchs won the 1984 World Best in Class Award for his Vanda Deva Robert, along with numerous other medals, that he quit his job as a school teacher to become a full-time orchid grower. "Everything had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. We lost all our royal palms, our greenhouses. Mike and I were fishing in Hawaii when I telephoned our house sitter and asked if the hurricane had done any damage. She was hysterical. Then, when she told me the royal palms were gone, I knew we were wiped out except for the house. We flew as far as Orlando where we had to rent a car. Actually, we took a van. When we drove up, I couldn't believe it. My whole life seemed gone. But, there was never a doubt, we would rebuild," said Fuchs.
Michael Coronado, vice-president of R.F. Orchids since 1985, handles the growing and hybridizing aspects of the business. When he is not supervising RF's nurseries in Thailand or reorganizing the company's shop at the Ocean Reef Club, Coronado landscapes residential and commercial projects, specializing in orchid gardens. Having recently completed a distinctive tropical look for Christian Louboutin's new Midtown Miami boutique, Coronado was key in developing "Orchid Camp," a series of educational classes about orchid growing. An accredited orchid judge, Mike has also participated in numerous World Orchid Conferences and the Chelsea Flower Show.
Fuchs and Coronado's formula for success has carried over into nearly every aspect of R.F. Orchids' operation.
R. F. Orchids are renowned for their intricate designs and bold colors.
When I asked about seeing the 1984 award, Fuchs invited me over to their house adjacent to the nursery.
At the entrance, a stained glass window overlooks an orchid tableau.
Inside the family room, the tropical Tiffanyesque-window adds some late morning light.
Just as I was taking a photo, the sun came out from behind the clouds and shone through the glass, reflecting a bright play of color on the marble floor. Above the fireplace, Vanda Memorial Fred Fuchs, named for Fuchs' grandfather, painted by New York botanical artist Angela Mirro.
The family room glass showcase is filled with 30 years of awards and medals from everywhere in the world.
The 1984 Grand Champion award at the 1984 Eleventh World Orchid Conference put Fuchs in the international spotlight. Fuchs holds a Reserve Champion Award from the 15th World Conference won in Rio that was set in a carved crystal base.
Orchidalia
As you might imagine, Fuchs and Coronado have collected a spectacular array of orchid-themed ceramics.
A teapot from Beijing. A Deco-styled vase from Amsterdam.
A vase from Paris.
Hunting trophies adorn one of the family room walls.
Cages of colorful birds surrounded the pool and pond area. Our plans to depart for the Redlands International Orchid Show were interrupted when Hattie, a five-foot alligator, found her way into the pool instead of the nearby pond.
Hattie, the alligator, was center stage in the pool as Fuchs summoned some of the staff over to remove her to the pond. Not an easy task, it turned out.
Finally, Hattie was netted.
Hattie made her way over to the pond to join the Brazilian catfish.
Between the pool and the pond, there are numerous sensational orchid tableaus, some with hundreds of spikes.
Vibrant vandas were in bloom.
The scene overlooking the pond. A serene look towards the lagoon.
A view from the Bali-styled pool house towards the lagoon.
Tropical tableaus
A garden vignette.
A lookout over the lagoon and waterfall where Hattie went for an afternoon swim.
Redlands International Orchid Show at the Fruit and Spice Park
24801 SW 187 Avenue, Homestead
From R. F. Orchids, it was only a short drive to the Fruit and Spice Park, a 37-acre botanical park that was hosting the Redland International Orchid Show. The F & S Park features 500 varieties of rare fruits, herbs, spices, and nuts, including 80 types of bananas, 70 varieties of bamboo, 40 varieties of grapes, 50 different species of mangoes, 15 varieties of jackfruit trees, and other exotic edibles.
Completed in 1944, the F & S Park was the work of William Lyman Phillips, a landscape architect with the Olmsted firm before moving to Florida in the 1930s where his designs could be found in Palm Beach as well as the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in South Miami.
While Robert checked out the other orchid exhibits, Michael Coronado was setting up the R.F. Orchids display tent for the festival.
R.F. Orchids for sale at the Redlands Festival.
Distinctive orchids are part of the R.F. Orchids brand.
Some of them appear to be alive. A flowering banana plant in the Fruit & Spice Park.
"I found some rare dendrobiums from Thailand that I've bought. So, we'll pull the van around, pick them up and get you back to the nursery," said Fuchs, who appeared to speak with nearly every exhibitor.
Back to the R.F. Orchids Nursery
The commercial entrance into the orchid shop and greenhouses. After driving me back to the nursery, Fuchs returned to help in the set –up at the F & S Park.
The orchid shop has some sensational offerings.
This nearly 9-foot heart-stopping Vanda was priced at $500.
The greenhouses offer orchids in every price range.
The greenhouses offer orchids in every price range.
The presentation is museum-quality.
A Vanda blooms at R.F. Orchids where fuchsia, magenta, and midnight blue blooms fill the greenhouses. R.F. Orchids are recognizable by their size, colorations, and leaf systems.
Ivy stands guard in the gift shop area.
Surrounding the shop and greenhouses, Seminole Indian chickee huts add to the Old Florida ambiance.
On 6 June, the TLC channel will feature a wedding staged at R.F. Orchids.
The landscape around the public areas is sensational. Coconut palms are covered with orchid spikes.
Water lilies add atmosphere around the waterfalls.
RF Orchids Nursery
28100 SW 182 Avenue
Homestead, Florida
305-245-4570
Toll free orders: 877-482-6327
www.rforchids.com
Ocean Reef Flower Shop, Fishing Village at Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo: FlowerShop@rforchids.com
Within minutes of leaving R.F. Orchids, I was once again surrounded by miles of anonymous subdivisions before arriving at Florida City where the two-lane Overseas Highway is a 25-minute drive to Key Largo. Even on a week day in the early afternoon, traffic was congested and frantic as Audis and BMWs did everything but fly over RVs and pick-up trucks towing fishing boats. Yikes. And, since it had been more than two decades since I had driven to the Florida Keys, the 6-foot chain link fence on both sides, some topped with barbed wire, for the entire drive was also surprising. My research indicated it was done for "wildlife management."

Thus, there is no longer anywhere to stop and take a photo, drop a fishing line, or put your toes in the water, until you arrive at one of Key Largo's "resorts." That is, once you've maneuvered around the clutter and congestion of septic pipes being installed. While I initially planned to spend the night, and unable to decipher online what "resorts" were actually on the ocean or the gulf, I drove into and drove out of several "resorts." Not for me, I sensed, though apparently ideal for fishing and diving enthusiasts. After lunch with the locals at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen and visiting the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary, I was satisfied making this a day trip.

Mrs. Mac's Kitchen
99336 Overseas Highway, Key Largo
If you've spent too many years café sitting in Tuscan piazzas and Spanish plazas, or are weary of "small plates" or "farm-to-table," a stop at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen may be appealing.
Mrs. Mac's Kitchen reflects the rapidly disappearing roadhouse style of architecture.
Inside looked ready for World of Interiors magazine or a scene from Cops. While the Caesar Salad needed a little more attention from Mrs. Mac, the grilled key lime wahoo was yum as was the iconic key lime pie.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Center
Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary
93600 Overseas Highway, Tavernier www.fkwbc.org
I arrived a few weeks too late, perhaps, to catch many of the seasonal birds. Also, much needed carpentry work was underway on the boardwalk.
A bird primer.
The FKWBC also has an avian hospital across the highway where injured birds are treated.
The sanctuary's gulf front. By now, it was mid-afternoon, so many of the birds may have been napping.
Seen along the birdwalk.
The pelicans were especially territorial along the birdwalk.
A view towards the gulf.
At home in the Florida Keys.
Palm Beach – Under Construction

As the last of the Rolls Royces and Bentleys head back North, the concrete trucks have begun to roll as Palm Beach's hardhat construction season gets underway.
947 North Ocean Boulevard. Looking as if it may not be ready for the 2014 Season.
A Regent Park re-do in progress.
James D. Berwind is in the midst of new waterfront construction on Island Road.
Pool work on El Bravo Way.
Overlooking the Audubon Islands on South Ocean Boulevard, Thomas Peterffy's lakeside villa appears to be nearing completion. While most adjacent property owners have indicated support for the deepening of the channel, thus providing deepwater dockage, Peterffy's neighbor Damon Mezzacappa has voiced concerns about privacy.
1200 South Ocean Boulevard. At La Billucia's entrance, impressive new plantings add unmistakable grandeur for its new owners Jeffrey and Mei Greene.
On Everglades Island, John Ben Ali Haggin and Naoma Donnelley Haggin's house was recently demolished.
A few improvements on El Bravo Way.
Final touch-ups are on the punch list for this El Bravo Way façade.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Lost in Wonderland – Reflections on Palm Beach.
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