Backyard Field Trip – Washington Oaks State Park
I decided to take an impromptu field trip to explore some tide pools not far from my home. There were also some gardens turned state park just across the road and thought they’d be nice to check out as well.
On the way there I decided to stop at a local restaurant to grab a fish sandwich. Having been spoiled by Upstate NY outstanding fish sandwiches, I’ve been on the hunt for something on par locally up to now, I have yet to find one. I Googled “best fish sandwiches in Flagler Beach” and came up with a Trip Advisor recommendation at the Golden Lion Cafe. Notice the accolades on their menu. I was quite hopeful when the sandwich came out with a nice large piece with a beautiful golden crust. Sadly, that’s where it ended. The fish was flavorless and the batter turned out to be so greasy that my hands were dripping by the time I was done – so the hunt continues.
I continued down the road, eventually arriving at my destination. Since I was waiting for low tide, I started with the gardens and found them to be much more impressive than I had originally thought. It had a beautiful and peaceful walk through a winter garden and could only imagine what it was like during the blooming season. Mrs. Young donated the Washington Oaks to the State of Florida in 1964 after her husband’s death. Her donation specified that the “gardens be maintained in their present form”.
You might wonder how it got the name of Washington Oaks. Well, back in the early 1800s a guy named Joseph Hernandez acquired the land which was primarily a cotton, corn and sugarcane plantation but he also planted 1500 orange trees. The plantation was quite productive until the Seminoles burned it down during the Second Seminole War. There was a lot of bad blood between the settlers and the Indians who were turned into plantation slaves. The Seminoles put up quite a fight. You will see many plantation burnings throughout the Seminole Wars.
Joseph Hernandez lived in St Augustine when he wasn’t working the plantation and after it was destroyed he returned to St Augustine eventually becoming the first Hispanic to serve in the United States Congress. In 1845 his daughter married George Lawrence Washington, a distant relative to our first president, and they lived on the plantation.
Fast forward almost 100 years, in 1936, Louise Powis Clark, wife of the industrialist Owen D. Young (most notably the founder of RCA) purchased the property as a winter retirement home. She was the one who gave it the name Washington Oaks. She was also the one who developing the park’s formal gardens, citrus groves, and house. The idea was to have a formal garden setting surrounded by a natural native one.
These are the original coquina columns at the entrance of the Young’s winter residence.
Though there have been oranges here since the 1700s, Mrs. Young introduce other citrus such as grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes.
The original greenhouse built in the 1940s was a kit greenhouse from Illinois which was used to grow orchids. Some of these were displayed inside their home and others were given as gifts to friends. After many years along the coast it was in need of repair and was restored in 2011 by the Florida Parks Service and the Friends of Washington Oaks.
Next to the greenhouse was a flower stand which sold flowers on the weekends and a small vegetable garden.
Nearby was a gazebo with an open grassy area that is used for weddings and such.
Even the formal gardens had a natural appearance. It was interesting to note the number of staff working in various parts of the garden, clearing out dead leaves which had come from the recent frost – more than I have seen in any other park.
This studio was an art studio built for the Young’s daughter Virginia, who was a talented artist. Today it is the private residence of park staff.
This is the rose garden…with lots of roses in bloom.
There were many garden paths that for the most part maintained their natural vegetation.
This is the house – simple in design but very effective at capturing the beauty of the area.
With views of the river…one of Owen Young’s favorite past times for relaxation was fishing. Fishing is open to the public and there are several fish cleaning stations near the water’s edge. I was surprised to see the gardens were quite a distance from the house, Mrs. Young choosing the view of the water over the gardens.
The estate was built on the western half of the peninsula, along the river. Opposite the Washington Oaks entrance is the entrance to the beach. As you can see, the vegetation is quite different.
The beach has coquina rock formations at the waters edge which collect small marine animals after high tides.
I apparently misread the tide table because tide was coming in, not going out as I had anticipated. I wasn’t able to see much in the way of marine life. But the formations were interesting and the birds didn’t mind being the subject of a few photos.
This was a nice place to visit and I’d like to come back again some time later in the year. The only drawback is that it is fairly isolated from nearby towns. Maybe a picinic basket would have been a nice idea. Despite it’s remoteness, there seemed to be plenty of visitors who came to see the gardens or to fish or visit the beach …but it was not crowded at all.
The drive home gave me one final treat – kites flying off the Flager pier.