A Local Sanctuary

July 2022

Hearthstone Gardens offers tranquility to all

Photography contributed by Christy Tuckey

Judee Mundy next to the Hearthstone Gardens welcome signJudee Mundy has two passions in life: gardening and teaching.

Mundy, the owner of Hearthstone Gardens, begins each day by developing a plan. With a cup of coffee in hand, she decides what she wants to do that day, before riding through the garden in her golf cart, addressing anything urgent that needs to be done along the way.

“An overview is important so things don’t get out of control,” Mundy says.

With 35 acres to care for, it’s necessary to keep up with daily maintenance that needs to be done at the nonprofit botanical garden.

With the help of her group of volunteers, each day brings Mundy a new opportunity to beautify this special space.

“All my life, I’ve loved to garden,” she says. “I wanted a large piece of property where I could garden myself silly and have it open to the community.”

Mundy’s main gardening influence was her grandfather. “He loved to garden and had a huge yard that was all gardens and grass paths,” she says. “It was amazing. I loved it.”

Mundy was living in Pennsylvania when she realized she needed to bring her vision of owning a huge garden to life. “My late husband couldn’t handle the Pennsylvania winters anymore,” she says, so they decided to relocate to Florida, where the weather was warmer.

The couple found their way to Lake City in 2015 by looking at the map in their hotel room. “We just opened the map and started looking for a good spot to live,” she says. Eventually, they found a home and the perfect property to begin Hearthstone Gardens, which opened in 2018.

Location, Location, Location

Many species of plants, like this gardenia, grow at Hearthstone Gardens

The location of the garden was very important to Mundy. “I wanted to make it an oasis,” she says. With that in mind, the couple chose a site located between Lake City and Live Oak — land situated so that visitors won’t hear the traffic on Highway 90.

“I almost died when I saw the ground because it wasn’t the rich, black dirt I knew in Pennsylvania. The ground here is very sandy,” she says.

Realizing she needed to learn more about her new environment, Mundy saw an advertisement for a master gardener class in the newspaper and began attending. “I refined my interest through that program and my own research,” she says.

The property, which is open to the public, features many cypress trees and the land consists largely of wet ground, which is great because most plants native to Florida need the moisture to thrive. The only area Mundy needs to irrigate is the butterfly mound. All those practical measures came into how she selected her property.

A Living Classroom

The Japanese garden is where visitors can enjoy a koi pond.

A retired English teacher, Mundy still gets to flex her classroom muscles through hosting workshops at Hearthstone Gardens. The workshops cover subjects like propagating plants, air layering, seeding, pruning, and attracting wildlife to a garden.

“I learn more when I teach,” she says. “If I can teach someone, it gives them power to do it themselves. There’s a giving underneath all of this. Teaching is giving and in giving, you receive. I also see people making friends, so it’s a win-win.”

Sometimes, Mundy brings other instructors into lead workshops on flower arranging and making grapevine wreaths. Other classes include Orchids 101 and bonsai trees.

Mundy’s mission is to share a concept of design. “I like everything to be curved, I don’t like straight lines,” she says.

Winding pathways through different sections of the gardens lead to rare pitcher plants and Florida-friendly viburnum awabuki, also known as mirror leaf viburnum, which has large, very shiny leaves. Another favorite is farfugium, the tractor seat plant, so named because the large leaf looks like the seat of an old-fashioned tractor.

There is also a greenhouse, and a pavilion is being constructed to be used for events.

One of the unique features of Hearthstone Gardens is the Japanese garden that opened in April. Mundy chose to place the Japanese garden in the most isolated piece of the property so visitors are less distracted by any road noise.

Rose bush at Hearthstone Gardens“We did that to inject a little more culture into the space,” Mundy says. “The design consists of winding paths, they go up and down around the live oaks to symbolize the journey of life.”

There’s also a koi pond with a red bridge, surrounded by bamboo.

“Bamboo moves in the wind and makes a nice rustling sound; you feel alone and it’s very meditative,” she says.

Mundy sees gardens — and Hearthstone Gardens, in particular — as places where people can recharge and appreciate the little things in life.

“It’s important to get people out of the office, out of the concrete, to enjoy the birds, take a breath and wake up,” she says. “It’s not that there aren’t other gardens, but this is different. It’s a beckoning to step away for a minute and breathe.”

Come to the Garden

Hearthstone Gardens is open 7 days a week, from dawn until dusk. Admission is free.

3300 134th Place, Wellborn

Visit the Hearthstone Gardens website.