Gardens instantly evoke memories of childhood. A time of innocence told in nursery rhymes, playful images and nurturing reminiscences. Do you remember a time when life was carefree, pure and exhilarating? The healing power of a garden is undeniable. Its vivid surroundings will feed your imagination and its fragrance will inflame your soul. Recapture a bit of your innocence in some of Florida’s botanical wonders.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – Sarasota
When avid amateur horticulturist Marie Selby, window of oil magnate and philanthropist William Selby, bequeathed her lovely bayside home and grounds to the Sarasota community, she could have never visualized the Selby of present day. The modest seven-acre Garden that opened on July 7, 1975 has since blossomed into nine-acres of alluring walkways winding through enchanting tropical displays. This contemporary garden is a living outdoor and under-glass museum of more than 20,000 plants, a global orchid center, the conservatory for the world’s most outstanding collection of epiphyte or “air” plants, and an internationally recognized rain forest canopy research center.
The Tropical Display House, a 6,000-square-foot display greenhouse, showcases orchids, heliconias, ferns and bromeliads. In the Live Oak Grove gnarled oaks thrive, dripping thick with Spanish moss. Surrounding the north side of the Selby home is the Bamboo Pavilion, a towering wall of bamboo planted by Mrs. Selby to block her view of the growth on Sarasota Bay. The bamboo works as a shield, shading the cascading Waterfall Garden, its Japanese carp, or Koi, and lily pond. Overhead hovers a flowery chandelier of Angel’s Trumpet.
The Grover Yancy Banyan Grove was named for Marie Selby’s gardener who planted the banyans in 1939. Today the Banyan Grove is a popular site for idyllic garden weddings and the Garden’s own private parties.
Other displays include the Cactus and Succulent Gardens, the Cycad Collection, the Fernery, Hibiscus Garden, the Palm Grove and Baywalk Sanctuary, the Tropical Food Gardens, the Butterfly Garden, the Perennial Wildflower Garden, the Shoreline Restoration Project Garden, and the Flower Walk – which provides a colorful ribbon along Palm Avenue. Also of interest is the Tree Lab, inhabited by poison dart frogs and other creatures from the tropical rain forests. Marie Selby Botanical Garden is located at 811 South Palm Avenue in Sarasota. For information call (941) 366-5731 or visit www.selby.org.
University of South Florida Botanical Garden – Tampa
Established in 1968, the six-acre USF Botanical Garden experienced tremendous growth in the 1990’s, and has attracted visitors from as far as South America, Europe and Asia.
Lake Behnke sits on the Garden’s northwest rim and is prime for spotting alligators, fish, turtles and waterfowl on any given day. Pond and bald cypress, willows and other lowland species flourish along the water’s edge.
The Shade Garden is a lovely spot in which to sit or roam. Admire its many gingers, begonias, ferns and other shade-loving flora, plus colorful vegetation in a variety of palms, aroids, ferns, begonias and glory-bowers.
Heralding the arrival of spring after the dry winter are the Garden’s trumpet trees, flaunting their blooms of yellow and pink. One of the most stunning flowering trees in the Garden is the floss-silk tree, growing near the Plant Shop.
The Bromeliad Garden was planted and is maintained by loyal Garden volunteers. Surrounded by the Garden’s driveway, the Bromeliad displays pineapple and epiphytes or air plants, like Spanish moss and ball moss. You will also find cultivated genera, such as Aechmea, Bromelia, Guzmania, Neoregelia and Vriesea. These flowers are abundant nearly all year long and are frequented by butterflies and hummingbirds.
On sunny afternoons its inhabitants mob the Butterfly Garden. Monarch, Zebra longwing, Gulf fritillary and several species of swallowtail butterflies are perpetual callers to the scarlet milkweed, tropical sage, butterfly bush, black-eyed Susan and milkweed which serves as larval food for the Monarch caterpillars.
USF is located at 4202 E. Fowler Ave in Tampa. For more information about these or other events please call (813) 974-2329.
Florida Botanical Garden – Largo
Come and play in the new Florida Botanical Gardens nestled cozily in Largo, near Clearwater Beach. Feast your eyes on more than 10,000 plants, many one-of-a-kind. The first of ten gardens is the Rose Garden, combining displays honoring the queen blossom, along with education on how to grow roses in Florida. Move on to the Cottage Garden, reminiscent of an English garden with its perennial flowers and a tree-trunk arbor. Artisans will appreciate the Topiary Garden which features a circus of bears and other creatures fashioned from plants and the Sculpture Garden, which combines modern art with an outdoor plant exhibit.
Brides will blush at the Wedding Garden, dressed in dazzling white and awaiting a bride to glide down its path. In addition, there are Palm, Tropical, Jazz, Ground Cover, Day Lily, Herb, Cactus, Oasis, Xeric, and Bromelaid Gardens.
Also within the Botanical Gardens are two, champion eight-foot Buttonwood trees, a gumbolimbo, crape myrtle, and a shaving brush given to the Florida Botanical Gardens by the Champion Tree Project and the National Tree Trust. In Florida there are a total of 172 national Champion trees.
The next phases of development at FBG will welcome Home Landscape demonstration gardens, where creative ideas for lawncare, shrubs and other backyard plants will be exchanged. An Aquatic Garden will demonstrate how to use water lilies and other water plants in a back yard pond environment. At Heritage Village a kitchen garden will explain the kinds of crops common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other planned gardens include a Children’s, Shade, Trail and Research, Native Plants, Patio/Courtyard, and Kitchen Gardens.
The Florida Botanical Gardens is located at 12175 125th Street North in Largo. For more information call (727) 582-2200 or visit www.flbg.org.
McKee Botanical Garden- Vero Beach
In the 1950’s McKee Jungle Gardens was in its prime, hailed as one of the botanical wonders of the world – with 2,000 species of native and exotic plants and plenty of alligators and monkeys to keep the kiddies curious. But by the 1960’s, the snazzier SeaWorld and Walt Disney World drew crowds away from McKee resulting in its closure in 1976. The jungle park was sold two years later and turned into condominiums and a golf course except for 18-acres in the heart of the garden, which were purchased for $1.7 million by the Indian River Land Trust in 1995. In November 2001 the doors of McKee Botanical Garden – renamed to signify its devotion to plants, not alligators – sprung open to the public once more.
Visitors can now tour the refurbished two-story Hall of Giants, made of majestic cypress and heartwood pine, complete with carved Spanish doors and stained glass. An outdoor Spanish kitchen with colorful tiles still exists here, fitted with a grill large enough for 100 steaks and the old iron kettles where swamp cabbage and potatoes once simmered.
Inside McKee’s shady hammock, you can hear the bamboo creaking and the chirp of tree toads. Bright green resurrection ferns have sprung back to life along the branches of old oaks. There are five state champion trees in this old Florida hammock: a 21-foot queen sago, a 34-foot Senegal date palm, a 64-foot toog, a 40-foot sugar palm and a 36-foot gru gru palm.
The first permitted, structurally engineered bamboo structure to stand in the United States was recently erected at McKee in 2002. McKee’s bamboo pavilion is approximately 1600 square feet in size and constructed of 350 stems of guadua angustifolia or lignified bamboo. The structure is 18-24 feet in length and 3-4 inches in diameter. The roof of the structure was completed locally by Seminole Indians who used over 9,000 Sabal palm fronds to thatch it.
Come and experience McKee’s outstanding collection of water lilies and palms as well as ornamental plants and seeds from around the world through a pre-scheduled, guided tour. McKee Botanical Gardens is located at 350 US Highway 1 in Vero Beach. Call (772) 794-0601 or visit www.mckeegarden.org.
Harry P. Leu Gardens – Orlando
Meander along nearly 50-acres of botanical beauty shaded by ancient oaks and forests of camellias at Harry P. Leu Gardens, in Orlando. Take a guided tour of the Leu House Museum, a restored late nineteenth-century home that began life as a Florida farmhouse or savor a peaceful break overlooking Lake Rowena at the Native Wetland Garden.
As you stroll through the grounds, you will see a variety of plants depending on the season, from towering palms to colorful hibiscus or a stunning orchestration of roses.
Leu Gardens include the most extensive camellia collection outside of California and the largest formal rose garden in Florida. Enjoy the new Tropical Stream Garden and Kitchen Garden bursting with fresh herbs and vegetables. Annual Gardens, Palms, Cycads and Bamboos, Native Wetland Gardens and the Arid Gardens complete the natural splendor.
The showstopper is the Butterfly Garden, located in the center of the garden. Hundreds of nectar and larval plants bid butterflies to their leaves twelve months a year.
Guided tours offer visitors the opportunity to learn about plant life and the history of the gardens from the Garden’s specialists. Included on the tour is the Leu House Museum. A self-guided tour is also available for those wishing to enjoy the beauty of the gardens at their own pace. For more information call (407) 246-2620 or visit www.leugardens.org.