Behind the Red Gate: the Beauty of the Kampong

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By: Rebecca Cofino/ Blogger

A morning thunderstorm made me think twice about keeping my appointment to tour the Kampong, but I’m so glad I risked the mud. By the time I arrived at their red gate, the rain had passed and it was a glorious day to view the former home of Dr. David Fairchild.

I mention the gate, because this is one attraction in Coconut Grove that requires a bit of planning. Although Kampong accepts guests throughout the week, you have to make an appointment in advance. You are welcome to stroll the grounds on your own, or you can join one of their informative tours. If you are interested in botany, history or just want a moment of tranquility, it is well worth the effort to call ahead.

Kampong is a Malaysian word for a group of small buildings on an estate. That is just what Dr. and Mrs. Fairchild did when they purchased this land in 1911. It was intended to be their retirement estate, but they fell so much in love with it that they moved earlier. Dr. Fairchild was a leading horticultural scientist and the grounds are full of exotic plants. These days most people favor protecting native species, but a century ago, the novelty of Asian and African specimens was all the rage. In fact, the buildings of Kampong have an Asian flair which is charmingly inauthentic. Architect Edward Clarence Dean created the design using his imagination.

Highlights of the Kampong include the room where Fairchild first conceived of making the Everglades a national park, a wedding tree with a spotless marital record, a lab and library still used by academics today, a lotus pond and eleven acres of beautiful plants. It is narrow estate, extending from Douglas Road all the way down to Biscayne Bay. On your way to the water, you’ll pass a swimming pool, a boat dock, tennis courts and loads of beautiful trees, each discreetly labeled.

At the very tip of the Kampong Gardens, you will see what I think is the prettiest tree in Coconut Grove. I love because of its location, right on beautiful Biscayne Bay. You’ll probably want to sit on the bench just beyond it and spend some time lost in thought over the water. Be certain not to disregard the concrete structure near the tree. It is a solar-powered desalinization still created by none other than Alexander Graham Bell. Bell was the father of Mrs. Fairchild and often visited her here. In fact, she received her inheritance early to enable the Fairchilds to purchase the property.

There is much more history, but you can learn about that during your own visit. For me, the Kampong is a place to let words fall away, to relax and get lost in the beauty of nature or even to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. It is a place to bring a camera and a place to turn off your cell phone.

I bet even Alexander Graham Bell would approve of that.

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