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Utopian Sanctuary

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Dr. Raymond Webber has dedicated 16 years to creating his garden near Williston

By Carolyn Risner

Three miles from Williston off a bumpy hilly road, a passage through scrub and pasture leads the unsuspecting traveler to the utopian sanctuary that Dr. Raymond Webber calls home.

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More than 400 species of plants thrive on his 100-acre bit of paradise that has been more than 16 years in the making.

“Not many people in Florida have their house built into the side of a cliff,” Webber, an endodonist by trade, explains as he begins his trek through the assorted gardens that he has designed.

Indeed, the vista from this porch is breathtakingly beautiful.

As far as the eye can see, maples, gingers, palms, orchids and bougainvilleas make a picture that only God — or a passionate gardener – could create.

Wooden walkways and footpaths surround the oasis in the middle of an old limestone quarry that Webber saw useful when he bought the property.

With a track hoe and a vision, the never-ending labor of love began and daily, someone is on the property to continue with the plan–either by building a rock wall, watering the plants or feeding the fish in one of several ponds.

Because of his dream, his foresight, his dedication to protecting the land, the Conservation Trust for Florida honored the Oklahoma native on Nov. 8 with a Land Conservation Award during the group’s Fall Roundup.

But for Webber, his Cedar Lakes Wildlife Reserve and Ranch is simply home.

Gazebos, Japanese-style pavilions, bridges and walkways meander through the property, as do marble markers proclaiming “Meyer’s Rock Garden” and “Pedro’s Catfish Walkabout” as well as scores of other named gardens, lookouts and vistas. All are named for friends or people who have helped Webber achieve his gardens of Eden.

Manmade islands in the middle of the quarry boast palms, Florida willows and picnic areas.

The sounds of waterfalls waft across the quarry to where a terraced garden is filled with Australia bottlebrushes that set the terrain ablaze when they are in bloom.

The 50 different gingers are admittedly Webber’s favorite, although the several varieties of maples rank fairly high.

He lovingly touches each plant as he walks around the property, calls each by its name and often pronounces, “This fella is really doing well. He wasn’t blooming yesterday.”

Because of the way the plant canopy lays, Webber said he has things blooming even in the winter.

Most things are hardy, he said, but when it calls for a heavy frost, he and his workers cover the tender plants to ensure their protection.

On the opposite side of the quarry, lays Webber’s orchard, teeming with apple, cherry, fig, plum and tangerine trees.

Bird houses are also abundant on the property, with some specially designed by friend and carpenter Joel Schwiebert, who also built the bridges, gazebos and pavilions, many of which are engineering marvels.

Webber is not alone in paradise.

Joining him are his menagerie of friends that include 26 cats, five dogs, ducks, a deer and a rabbit.

Free time is spent thinking of more landscaping projects or carrying his dreams into reality.

There is no end to what Webber hopes to accomplish in his little corner of the world.

“There’s too many things to do still,” he said quietly.