Our Hotel's History Turning a Dream into a Reality


The Gardens Hotel Key West, formerly known as the Gardens Mansion, was built in the 1800s. The original building is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and still contains all of its historic charm, plus a few modern extras you've come to expect in a hotel.

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The Beginning of the Gardens

Peggy Mills purchased the Gardens Hotel Key West in 1930 with a vision of turning the property into a beautiful botanical garden to be enjoyed by the public. To begin her ambitious project, she purchased adjacent buildings and land until acquiring one-quarter of a city block. To clear the land, she demolished 13 existing buildings, sparing only her home and the quaint gate house.

Then Peggy began collecting plants, flowers and other treasures to fill her garden, going to extraordinary lengths to make her vision a reality. It is said that when she first purchased the Gardens Hotel, the property was barren and she started her gardening career by planting six coconuts upside down. But this didn't stop her dream; she soon obtained a permit to collect plants from all over the world and became known in Key West as "The Lady of the Orchids" for her rare collection of Hawaiian and Japanese orchids that flourished on the trees.

As she was collecting her vast array of botanicals, Peggy was also busy purchasing 87,000 century-old bricks from Cuba, Honduras and England. With these bricks, she designed and built winding pathways and intimate seating areas throughout the gardens. She also began to collect antique statuaries to further enhance the garden's appeal.

Among the garden's more curious features are four one-ton earthenware jars called tinajones (teena-HONE-ez), which were used by Spanish settlers to catch rainwater for drinking. Being a family friend of then President Batista, she was able to remove the jars and other rare botanicals from Cuba. The tinajones had to be moved more than 300 miles by oxcart to Cuba and then re-crated with rubber bumpers for the trip to the United States, where they were eventually hauled to Key West in sod trucks. They remain a fixture of the gardens today, and are the only tinajones in the country.

New Owners Bring New Life to The Gardens Hotel

Following Peggy's death in 1979, there were several changes in ownership of The Gardens Hotel. In 1992, Bill and Corrina Hettinger purchased the property with a new vision of transforming it into a luxury hotel. The couple undertook a multi-million-dollar renovation of the original structures and built two additional structures to replicate the grand manor houses typically found in the Bahamas. These new structures currently house the garden and courtyard guestrooms.

In September of 1996, a woman named Kate Miano moved from St. Louis to Key West. Even though Kate had no prior experience running an inn, she opened the original Ambrosia House on Fleming Street, just one block away from The Gardens Hotel. She became experienced rather quickly, and three-and-a-half years later, she purchased the property directly across the street from our inn, and Ambrosia Too was born.

But Kate's real desire was to own The Gardens Hotel, and when it finally went back on the market in 2004, she immediately put it under contract. Owning and managing The Gardens Hotel in Key West is a fulfillment of her dreams, and Kate is proud to operate one of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels in Key West, Florida.

History