Passport to Polynesia

Celebrating the spirit of Aloha in South Lakeland

Story by Jarman Peacock • Photography by Tina Sargeant

Tucked away on the south shore of Scott Lake,  down a winding, grass-covered hidden drive,  surrounded by lush gardens and fragrant  blooms, is one of Lakeland’s most remarkable homes. Constructed entirely by hand by the  current owner, Irma King, and her family, the house and gardens were built and cultivated as an homage to the homes of the South Pacific where Irma and her husband, Jim, spent many years of their early life together. Jim was the chief meteorologist for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in WWII and so visited almost every island on the map. After the war, Jim and Irma spent a few years living and working in Japan before retiring and moving back to Lakeland, where they had met in the 1930s while attending Florida Southern College.

Jim and Irma’s home is a reflection of their passion, a collection of their experiences and memories.

untitled185034Constructing a home from scratch was  nothing new for Jim and Irma. They had  both been part of the part-time student/part-time construction-worker classes at Florida Southern in the 1930s, a time during which they got to know and appreciate Frank Lloyd Wright quite well. Their specific project-the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel- allowed them to work on everything from laying the concrete foundations to sewing the pew cushions, all while learning from a master architect who brilliantly wove nature and modern design together. Irma is the genius behind the gardens at her Scott Lake home. From the first day in 1970 when their house was one of only a few along the south shore of the lake, her plan has always been to create a garden, not a landscape. There are no hedges here. Beds of red gloriosa lily and orange alstroemeria scramble to climb atop blue plumbago and white gardenia. Irma’s love of gardening stretches back to the early 1920s when, as a young girl living along the Polk-Hillsborough county line, she attended elementary schools whose calendar revolved around her family’s strawberry farms. Even though the home where Irma grew up has now been displaced by the construction of I-4, and her family’s strawberry fields have been replaced with a giant car dealership, Irma kept her love of the earth with her wherever she lived. Jim and Irma’s home is a reflection of their passion, a collection of their experiences and memories. The expansive, glass-walled main room, with giant wooden beams supporting the ceilings that soar high above, feels like one of the great ceremonial houses of Polynesia — just as Jim and Irma intended. Scott Lake, and its still relatively new white-sand beach, fills the view from every north-facing window. Amazing tropical plants surround the other three sides of the house. In fact, because of the glass windows, walls, doors, and even parts of the ceiling, plants are everywhere in the King residence: on tables, shelves, and window sills, in giant pots on the floor, hanging from hooks, and perched on counters. Ficus, aralia, guzmania, phalaenopsis. In some parts of the home, between the glass walls and the abundance of houseplants, the screened porches and the open decks, it can be a hard to differentiate the inside from the outside. At certain times of the day, because of the way the house is sited on a hill, and depending on the wind and waves in the lake below, the house can almost seem to move, to be sailing across the water to a far distant land. When this magic comes to life, one can envision the Kings and their South Pacific life as if it were here and now. Irma’s garden is both a testament to the Kings’ time spent abroad and literally living proof that gardening can and should be an intimate expression of one’s home and personal taste, pursued over a lifetime. Because of our broadly similar climates, many of the species found in Polynesia and the South Pacific can be cultivated with ease here in Polk County.