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  • Writer's pictureIngrid Lemme

Delray’s Morikami Japanese Gardens & Atlantic Avenue

Escape from Paradise with Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

Delray Beach’s Morikami Japanese Gardens & Atlantic Avenue

Edited by John Lomitola

For many of us, Montauk is paradise but during the winter time it also draws some of us into the warmer regions, like Florida. We were on the way to visit our dear old friends Phyllis and Jonny in Delray Beach; Jonny has been editing my writings for years.

Jonny is one of these all-around nice guys who is, sadly battling with cancer, but as luck has it their little winter domicile is located within walking distance to the specialty clinic that is treating him. Jonny is one of my dearest and most patient friends, especially when it comes to editing this second language writer.


Delray Beach is touted as “a small and intimate town with big-city sophistication” that I love to visit but don’t really get the small town aspect as its population as of April 1, 2020 was 66,846 according to the US Census. What I do get, is that Delray Beach was voted Most Fun Small Town in America by Rand McNally and USA Today. Delray Beach is a fun town and home of the famous Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens!


We’d entered Morikami right after opening as the 4 of us had planned to visit the gardens first before the midday heat would rise and then have lunch at its Cornell Cafe for Phyllis’ birthday. We were surprised to discover the century-old connection between Japan and South Florida. It is here that a group of young Japanese farmers created a community intended to revolutionize agriculture in Florida.

In 1904, Jo Sakai, a recent graduate of New York University, returned to his homeland of Miyazu, Japan, to organize a group of pioneering farmers and lead them to what is now northern Boca Raton. With the help of the Model Land Company, a subsidiary of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad, they formed a farming colony they named Yamato, an ancient name for Japan.

Ultimately, the results of their crop experimentation were disappointing and the Yamato Colony fell far short of its goals. By the 1920s the community, which had never grown beyond 30 to 35 individuals, finally surrendered its dream. One by one, the families left for other parts of the United States or returned to Japan. With the opening of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in 1977, a living monument was created, building a bridge of cultural understanding between George Morikami’s two homelands.

Its six distinct gardens are inspired by, but are not replicas of, significant gardens of Japan where designer Hoichi Kurisu has created a unique garden conceived and constructed in the spirit of the masters. The 16 acres that surround Morikami’s two museum buildings include expansive Japanese gardens with strolling paths, resting areas, a world-class bonsai collection and lakes teeming with koi and other wildlife, like colorful iguanas.

Interestingly there are no iguana species that are actually native to Florida. Instead, the three main species currently living throughout the state are invasive species.

Humans brought these lizards to Florida from nearby islands via cargo ships and independent releases throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Eventually, their populations exploded. Florida just happens to be an ideal environment for iguanas, with its warm, humid weather and diverse plant and animal life for the massive iguanas to feed on. The wider 200-acre park features nature trails, pine forests and picnic areas.


Unfortunately we had only time for the gardens and a nice lunch at Morikami’s open-air cafe on their terraces overlooking the tranquil gardens. Phyllis and my husband Marcus had a 2pm tee-time and Jonny and I were going to meet his brother in law Paul and his spouse Venus in downtown Delray Beach for coffee. We all felt that Cornell’s Pan-Asian inspired menu was the perfect way to top off our Morikami experience.


Downtown Delray Beach, celebrated by locals and visitors alike, offers a two-mile stretch of pristine family-friendly beach that’s steps away from the eclectic restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, bars and restaurants that line Atlantic Avenue.

And that’s where Jonny and I were going to meet Paul and Venus for coffee who are spending part of their winter in close by Boca Raton. They all meet often here with Paul and Phyllis’ brother Chipper (Angelo) and his wife Candice and her family. I assume you’re getting it by now. I am referring to the famous Monte family of Montauk. Paul Monte was for years the GM & CEO of the famous Gurney’s Inn Resort & SeaWater Spa, located on the ocean on Old Montauk Hwy.

Chip Monte was the Executive Chef and F & B Director, Candice Monte the Spa Director, Phyllis Monte-Lomitola the Conference Sales Director, John Lomitola the beloved Dining Room(s) Director and yours truly Director for PR, Marketing and Advertising.

Most of us are now retired, even Venus, though relatively young, from her long term job as a banking official in Montauk is fitting right in with her Atlantic Ave designer boutique dress and her fancy Balenciaga purse. As for Paul Monte, hospitality is his middle name, still to this day he is the adored President of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, and like his love Venus only semi retired and definitely always up for another challenge.


It was awesome to hang out with part of the old Gurney’s crew in a street cafe on one of Florida’s most famous Avenues. Lined with oak trees and Royal Palms on either side, and with cobblestone sidewalks meticulously groomed and designed for pedestrians, Delray’s Atlantic Avenue has, in its own right, won its very own award for being the Best Main Street in Florida.

Atlantic Avenue is well-known for its very own unique charm and vibe and for this we can all thank a Delray Beach pioneer woman named Ethel Sterling Williams.

Ethel’s grandson, William Sterling Williams, a West Palm Beach attorney, remembers his grandmother fighting to keep McDonald’s off Atlantic Avenue. It is said that she didn’t want rows of condos or commercialism in downtown Delray – or at the beach, for that matter. She didn’t want the charm of Delray to be taken away. And, many, many years later, all are very thankful for her foresight. Because even today, you will find very little commercialism on one of the Best Main Streets in Florida... .


Until next month from another interesting location. Love, Ingrid

As Published in print in The Montauk Sun

Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

Escape From Paradise, Travel-writer & Blogger

Award-winning TV Host, Publisher, Travel Writer

Ambassador for & 15 Emmy awards #EscapeFromParadise

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