Many popular event venues are tucked behind dense foliage in Redland. Or visitors can roam around the Fruit and Spice Park to learn about thousands of tropical species. Then there is a spot that blends elements of both as well as other unique characteristics.
The acreage of Patch of Heaven Sanctuary was once owned by the historical Florida Matheson family. In passing through subsequent hands – to include being a petting zoo which is where the name “Patch of Heaven” originated – existing buildings were gutted, South Dade pine was wiped out, and invasive plants were everywhere. Notwithstanding Joyce Chesney’s initial disagreement with her husband Bruce’s intense desire to purchase and restore the property, the 2008 transaction did take place. In accomplishing “transformation”, the word should be preceded by adjectives in the full range from “amazing” to “zealous”.
Horticulturists Fred Hubbard and Roberto Del Cid have worked alongside the Chesneys, ever new ideas added to the ambitious vision. Recognition of the legacy being created led to official establishment of Patch of Heaven Sanctuary as a non-profit in 2018; an action that opens the way for individuals and groups to share in efforts to acquire and restore/preserve private land from encroaching development.
“We have seven-and-a-half acres of tropical hardwood hammock with our current twenty acres,” Hubbard explained. “These [hammocks] used to be endemic to South Florida, but most have been destroyed.” Clearing out harmful species to allow proper growth and replanting with ninety percent native species was a paramount first step. Creating water sources, some of which took over a year, was given special thought.
Although water is essential to plants and wildlife, aesthetics is of less concern to either. Humans on the other hand enjoy waterfalls, beautifully designed pools, and fountains. One of the sensory pleasures “in the Patch” is the profusion of distinct zones, each that evokes a sense of place. The path that opens into an area that could easily be Redland before chain saws were invented leads toward a Zen Garden among other delights. Magnificent statuary is found inside and out since the buildings are filled with antique and exotic items. Paintings, furniture, sculpture, porcelains, virtually every art medium, and more are seen in collections that surpass some small museums.
Events are held in one of multiple locations, but “The Chocolate Bar” is a favorite. Once the horse barn, lush plants such as jade vine surround the wood and stone structure. In 2010 the Chesneys introduced two chocolate trees; trees which skeptics doubted would survive. “They began flowering in 2012,” Hubbard said. “We now have almost 300 trees in varying stages. We harvest and process the chocolate at different times.” Coffee is another part of their agroforestry program and they are optimistic that slower growing vanilla will thrive in the protected environment.
Aside from water, a critical element to the carefully planned botanical restoration and preservation is pollination. Butterflies and bees are what usually come to mind, yet the third “B” is bats. Lots of bats in this case. “We have the largest bat house in Florida,” Hubbard said of the first major project completed after their non-profit status was approved. “We went to UF [University of Florida] to see theirs and Dr. Ridgley from Zoo Miami designed the interior for us.” After all, it takes an expert to know not all bats prefer the same size compartment and the Northern Yellow bat doesn’t care for enclosed spaces. Cabbage palms were planted close by to accommodate them. “We can verify six resident species and there are others we know are here.” The endangered Florida Bonneted bat is among the residents.
The Apiary, where certified bee keeper and Program Manager Michele Lozano conducts and coordinates workshops and classes, doesn’t have as intricate a design as the bat house. What it has, however, are ten hives and a sub-program that focuses on raising and sustaining vital queen bees. Lozano is with GEN2050, founded by Linda Freemen in 2016 to, “Start a summer program for under-resourced, urban, middle and high school students focused on entrepreneurship, environmental conservation, personal leadership, and community service.” Lozano, who is always learning something new, explains their collaboration with the Apiary, “Provides young people with meaningful educational experiences about the natural world and how to apply the knowledge they gain from STEM subjects in real life situations.” And yes, one of the real life applications is the delicious honey produced. [STEM is science, technology, engineering, and math]
These and other activities of the Sanctuary have resulted in partnering with numerous academic and non-profit organizations like National Geographic’s “Bat’s, Bees, and Butterflies” project. “Everyone who comes here can constantly learn,” Lozano said of her own experience.
For all the incredible actions taken and planned for the future, expansion is also a goal. “We have another twenty acres anticipated to purchase,” Hubbard explained.
Donations and proceeds from tours and events help support the themes of “Conservation, Reforestation, and Education”. All tours are done by scheduling an appointment Monday - Friday and on Saturday, appointment times of 9:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. are available. Tanya Rocha, Operations and Finance Director, can be reached by email: info@ patchofheavensanctuary.com or (786) 719-9903. More information is at www.patchofheavensanctuary.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Address is 21900 Southwest 157th Avenue, Miami, FL.