Formal gardens, new mountain bike trails, and a pristine beach

Elise had her weekly riding lesson this morning, in an extraordinarily soggy ring from all of the rain we’ve been having. Even the pony wanted nothing of it. Afterward, for fun, we decided to load up our bicycles and head to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

The park is located at the former winter home of Owen and Louise Young, who along with John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many other famous industrialists of the early 20th century, liked to come stay in our area for long stretches of time.

Owen Young became president of General Electric in 1922 and then was appointed as the company’s inaugural chairman later the same year. He served as chairman of GE until 1939. Under Young’s leadership, GE transitioned into the world’s leading manufacturer of household appliances. He also drove the electrification of farms, factories, and transportation systems across the United States.

In 1919, Young created the Radio Corporation of America (you probably know it as RCA) at the request of the US government, which did not want England to control the entire market for radio communications.

Following World War I, Young also became a leading diplomat. He coauthored the Dawes Plan, which reduced the amount of German reparations. Germany defaulted on its reparation payments after financial markets crashed in the late 1920s, and Young again was the leader in working out a debt restructuring (which became known as the “Young Plan”). For this effort, Young was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1929. (Many remark that being named Man of the Year is bad luck, and so it proved with Young. The Young Plan was shattered once the Great Depression took hold. You know what Germany turned into after that.) He served as an adviser for five US presidents during his lifetime.

Louise Young (née Clark) owned a business in the Philippines manufacturing lingerie. Artisans in the Philippines were well known for their traditional embroidery, which Young combined with her own designs.

The Youngs met travelling back from the Philippines on the Empress of Asia and were married in St. Augustine. Owen Young bought Washington Oaks as a wedding present for his wife. They carved formal gardens out of the jungle and had the A1A re-routed to accommodate their landscaping plans. No kidding. They told the state where to put its infrastructure.

(Our trip involved Elise’s first attempt at riding on mountain bike trails. She did fine, but it was hard for her riding a children’s bike that does not have any gears on sandy trails. Anyway, the hiking / mountain bike trails at Washington Oaks include a portion of the original A1A, which is now cracked and covered in moss. It was lots of fun to ride down.)

Here are some pictures of the formal gardens. There are many ancient live oak trees in the park with tangled branches sprawling out forever. (They are so massive, it’s impossible to capture their size in a picture.) I can’t believe how many hurricanes those trees have survived. Between them and the piles of ferns (and evergreen trees that look like ferns), you half expect a dinosaur to walk out onto the path. It seems primordial.

The park also has a rose garden with bushes that appear to be about 10 feet tall. It smells like heaven.

So this is a pillar made of coquina rock that the jungle is in the process of reclaiming. The pillar marked an entrance to the Young’s property from the original route of the A1A.

(Coquina is a sort of natural cement made from sand, shells, and water that is everywhere along the eastern coast. The Castillo in St. Augustine was also made of coquina, which made the fort impossible to take by force. The walls simply absorb cannonballs. The fort has only changed hands on a diplomatic basis. Coquina is quite an engineering marvel.)

We met this giant gopher tortoise on our ride. (Gopher tortoises are an endangered species. We said hi and let him continue on his way.)

The bicycle trails at the park cross the A1A and head to the ocean. There’s a wonderful, pristine beach. We would have taken a dip in the water after our ride, but the waves were nothing to mess with today.

4 thoughts on “Formal gardens, new mountain bike trails, and a pristine beach

    1. I have several large torch gingers that have started to spread some. I was planning on doing a drift of them somewhere. I hadn’t thought about pairing them with the plumeria. I am trying to find some place that reliably ships gingers and other tropical plants, so if you know of the Jungle Jack’s of that stuff, please pass the name my way.

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