In October 2009, Bonsai Master Jim Smith donated 100 of his finest bonsai trees to Heathcote Botanical Gardens on the condition that they would be properly maintained, displayed and protected. Unlike a traditional bonsai display of trees lined up on benches with no competing scenery, Master Smith imagined a "Walk Through Bonsai" where visitors could stroll the beautiful Heathcote Botanical Gardens, and discover a unique bonsai tree at every turn. The horticultural requirements of bonsai made installing them into the existing gardens impractical, and so a unique and original garden was planned by Sam Comer of Hayslip Landscape, with guidance from Master Smith and Jim Van Landingham.
Master Smith pioneered the use of tropical species such as portulacaria afra, (the dwarf leaf jade tree) as bonsai, and used many Florida native species to interpret the ancient art of bonsai. Sam Comer's garden design and the architectural contributions of Peter Moor serve as a metaphor for Master Smith's work. Elements of a traditional Japanese Garden (stone, gravel, limited landscape palette) are interpreted through native Florida plants and building materials. "It's where sushi meets fried mullet!" says architect Peter Moor.
Using Landscape Architect Rodney Robinson's master plan as guide, the new Bonsai Garden was placed on the south east corner of the existing five-acre botanical garden. The 10,000 square foot area was originally were the Crimmins' family nursery received clients. During Heathcote's early years, the Fort Pierce Orchid Society, the Heathcote Herb Society, Eddie Eggers and many dedicated volunteers built various structures and garden features, including the Herb House, Orchid House, and the Lib Tobey Rainforest Memorial. The ravages of time, tropical elements, and the twin hurricanes of 2004 damaged most of the structures beyond repair.
A St. Lucie Tourist Development grant for $148,720 was matched by a $100,000 anonymous contribution, and sufficient internal resources to begin site work in August 2010.