BY MANDY MILES Citizen Staff

Ralph Gunn could not have imagined the lush world of flora and fauna that would spring to life from seeds he planted in 1936.

Times were tough, as the country struggled through the Great Depression. Key West was bankrupt, and the federal government, through its Federal Emergency Relief Administration, was hiring people to turn the island into a tourist attraction.

Gunn, a landscape architect, was one of those people. He planted 80 species of trees, flowers and shrubs in an experiment to see what would survive, and as an attraction for tourists to visit the burgeoning garden on Stock Island.The garden expanded throughout the 1930s and 40s and was 55 acres at its largest. But government agencies gradually but constantly claimed portions of it, reducing its size to the current 15 acres.

Today, that original six-acre plot is home to the Key West Tropical Forest Botanical Garden, with a butterfly garden, freshwater ponds, self-guided tours, shaded walkways and countless species of birds, bugs and plants.

The garden will celebrate its 75th anniversary this month and next with a variety of seminars, events and celebrations. The party will culminate in March with the Cuban Cultural Exposition, featuring a photographic exhibit by Benjamin Curry Bruce, who has documented the makeshift vessels of Cuban refugees known as chugs.

Other events scheduled from March 13 to 26 include domino tournaments, Cuban cooking classes, dance exhibitions and a lecture about Cuba’s medicinal herbs.

Hot Havana Nights will take place March 26, with dancing, cigars and an auction of Cuban crafts and artwork. VIP tickets include a Cuban dinner at 6 p.m. for $75 while general admission tickets at 7 p.m. cost $25 at the door.