Agriculture also includes ornamental plants, such as the flowers your mother gets on Mother’s Day or the shrubs in home gardens. Plant nurseries have operated in Palm Beach County since 1895, when a freeze in Melbourne destroyed the plants of John Bloomfield Beach, a pioneer horticulturist. Beach moved to West Palm Beach, where the nearness of the Gulf Stream kept temperatures warmer during the winter. Over the years, however, he maintained nurseries in several south Florida locales.
Beach introduced many innovations, and his name is still found in horticultural publications. Beach’s experimentation with propagation led to new methods: “seed grafting” for avocados, and “budding” for mangos. He traveled widely to find rare plants, especially fruits, and introduced Florida to new varieties of pineapples and mangoes from the West Indies. Beach’s collection of palms and crotons was said to be the largest and most varied on the lower east coast. Beach donated many trees to beautify City Park, where the West Palm Beach Public Library was eventually built. John Bloomfield Beach (1866-1929), pioneer horticulturist, was born in Rome, New York. After finishing military school he moved to Melbourne, Florida, and established Indian River Nurseries in 1887, the first floral nursery on Florida’s east coast. As a fertilizer salesman, he sailed down the Indian River and walked the beaches to reach customers. After a freeze destroyed many of his plants in 1895, Beach moved to West Palm Beach, where the nearness of the Gulf Stream kept temperatures warmer during the winter. Over the years, however, he maintained nurseries in several south Florida locales. In his later years he donated, it was said, “enough young coconut [palms] to plant on each side of the highway from West Palm Beach to Jupiter.”
Photography by William Pembroke
One flower variety grown in Palm Beach County had the Gladiolus Festival named for it in Delray Beach. The 1940s and 1950s were the heyday for farming gladioli, a brightly colored flowering plant from Africa. Centered between Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, there were at least 11 nurseries growing 14 varieties of gladioli in the 1950s, making Palm Beach County the leading source for the popular flowers. Gladioli shipments to the north averaged about 15 million dozen annually. But a freeze in 1957 caused some growers to retire or sell out to developers when their crops were destroyed. There are now only a few gladiolus growers still here, but you can still buy locally grown, fresh-cut gladioli at the annual Delray Affair.
Nurseries continue to supply people and businesses with ornamental plants. In the 1970s one Delray Beach nursery provided plants to all the flower shops in New York City. A Boynton Beach nursery still ships thousands of its poinsettia plants all over the United States each Christmas.