5 Reasons to Visit Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers
There is perhaps no better time to visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates than now, when the air is balmy and the gardens teem with flowers and butterflies.
Thomas Edison’s Winter House on the Caloosahatchee is what we would today call a “prefab”. The materials were pre-cut and shipped here to be assembled on site. Edison designed the house with a Boston architect, and the wood, mostly white spruce and cedar from Fairfield, Maine, was shipped in six boats upriver to the town dock in Fort Myers. Here, building materials were loaded onto horse-drawn wagons that creaked along the cattle trail (now McGregor Boulevard) to Edison’s site on the river to the west. In four weeks, the two houses were erected: Edison’s Seminole Lodge and an identical house for his friend, Ezra Gilliland.
Thomas Edison died in 1931. When his widow, Mina, died in 1947, she left the entire estate to the city of Fort Myers to hold in memory of her husband. It opened that year to the general public.
The Henry Ford House did not become part of the Edison Estate until 1990. Privately owned when Mina Edison died, it was donated to the city of Fort Myers in 1988.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison met in the 1890s, when 20-year-old Ford was hired as a mechanical engineer by Edison’s Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. Their mutual admiration made them quick friends. In 1914, the Edisons invited the Fords to Fort Myers for a winter visit. Two years later, Ford purchased the adjoining property from the Edison Estate and built a home in the popular craftsman’s bungalow style. He called his house “Les Mangues”.
Whether you visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates (EFWE) frequently or for the first time, spring is an ideal time of year to visit. The cold has left the air and the gardens are teeming with flowers and butterflies. When you’ve been confined for so long to avoid contagion from the COVID virus, walking around these beautiful exotic gardens is not only one of the safest activities you can indulge in right now, but it’s also one of the most refreshing in mind, body, and spirit.
Alexandria (Alex) Edwards, Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator for EFWE, gives us four great reasons to visit now.
1. “This is the time of year when bougainvilleas shine. Bougainvilleas don’t produce flowers. They have a specialized leaf called a bract that changes color. You’ll also see several orchids that garden staff attach to the site. throughout the year that show off their flowers.These air plants get the majority of their nutrients from the air.Several additional flowering shrubs include gardenia, varieties of clerodendrum, allamanda vines, and hibiscus.
2. “We have over 1,700 trees on site from over 450 species, representing six different continents. We have flowering trees (royal poinciana, jacaranda, silk tree, red silk cotton tree, golden shower tree, African tulip and geiger trees), over 50 different varieties of citrus (Edison and Ford had over 350 trees citrus, alone), fruit trees (mango, avocado, mulberry, carambola, longan, leech, black sapote and much more), a bromeliad garden, cycads, vines (allamanda, sky blue vine, Mandevilla vine) and Florida natives, such as Walter’s viburnum. We have bamboo and a mix of over 100 varieties of palms. (Palms, by the way, are not trees. Like bamboo, they are classified by botanists as tall, woody grasses.)
3. “The Moonlight Garden — a formal garden built in 1929 with the help of America’s first landscape designer and architect, Ellen Biddle Shipman. The Moonlight Garden has a clearly defined interior, anchored by a reflecting pond that contains lilies that Mina Edison added in 1933, which at night reflect the moonlight. As of 2020, this garden includes over 120 different trees, shrubs and annuals. Mrs. Edison, an avid horticulturist and member of 12 different gardening societies in the state of Florida, used the moonlit garden to entertain her garden clubs.
4. “A 1/12 scale replica of Thomas Edison’s Winter House, meticulously built by volunteers Jim Hopton and Kim Dabner, is currently on display here before being moved to a permanent location in the Southwest Florida Railroad Museum’s railroad exhibit.”
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And Lisa Wilson, EFWD Public Relations Manager, gives us one more reason to visit the gardens this month: the butterflies. “I can talk about butterflies all day!” she says.
5. “Butterflies are very common here. All butterflies need both host plants and nectar plants. Host plants are usually very butterfly species specific. The giant swallowtail hosts (lays eggs, eggs hatch and caterpillars eat the plant) on wild basswood (a tree native to Florida) and non-native citrus. Host plants are meant to be eaten, so the caterpillars do not cause permanent damage to the plants. We have a lot of d citrus on the property, so the female giant swallowtails are looking for their hosts.
“Other common butterflies in the area are Monarch, Gulf Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, Orange-barred Sulfur, White Peacock, Black Swallowtail, and Great Southern White.”
Lisa will be giving a talk on local butterflies and how to attract them to your garden on April 9 at the “Grow Fort Myers” event at EFWE.
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Mina Edison loved her gardens passionately. When she had to leave Fort Myers and return to her permanent home in Glenmont, New Jersey, she was so reluctant to leave them that she once exclaimed, “How I wish I could hug it all and take it with me. ”
Luckily for us, she didn’t.
Cynthia A. Williams ([email protected])
If you are going to
What: Edison & Ford Garden Estates
Where: 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily
Information: (239) 334-7419; edisonfordwinterestates.org