If the most eclectic thing you’ve ever seen in a Florida garden is a bougainvillea, then you’ve been denied some truly colorful sights. After all, what’s a common shrub compared to a 30-foot red rose cluster by New York artist Will Ryman, a vine pergola streaming with hand-written wishes from visitors as part of Yoko Ono’s Wishing Grove or a cobalt Dale Chihuly heron that practically vibrates with color?
These steroidal sculptures, installed in a pool of water among the rare palms and cycads are just a few examples of what you’d have seen if you visited the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables this past year. As part of its “Art and Flowers” program, the award-winning botanical garden unveils a new installation annually during Art Basel week in December. The installations generally run through the end of May.
The money collected from the program’s entrance fees not only supports the garden’s ongoing efforts with educational outreach and awareness, but with the conservation itself. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden houses palm and cycad collections that are nationally recognized by the American Public Gardens Association.
The art installations are available for viewing during the days along with the plant and flower collections. It’s a real treat to visit this living monument, which is accredited by the American Association of Museums, during one of their many festivals. Festivals run throughout the year and include the International Chocolate Festival, Mango Festival, Orchid Festival, Ramble Festival and Food and Garden Festival. You can bring in your own wine and cheese picnic, and relax for hours in this 83-acre paradise.
Indeed, epicurean pursuits are greatly encouraged in the premier sculpture gardens around the state. For instance, at the Norton Museum of Art Central Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach, the 3,988 square feet garden, replete with plantings and sculptures alike, can hold 250 guests and is often utilized for standing receptions.
With two loggias on each side, a central fountain and majestic majul palms, the Central Garden, which has access to every gallery in the museum, is also a tempting place to take a cool break with a box lunch during the day.
Ditto the Italianate Courtyard of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, which itself was built using the metaphorical blueprint of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. With its replicas of ancient Greek, Roman and Baroque sculptures, many from the renowned Chiurazzi Foundry in Naples, Italy, the Courtyard sculpture garden is an outdoor companion to the interior collections of Veronese, Rubens, Hals, and Velazquez; decorative arts; and a collection of Cypriot, Greek and Roman antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as modern and contemporary art.
Of particular note at the far end, a full-size bronze sculpture of Michelangelo’s David is often silhouetted against the blue Florida sky, and in the center, the fountain of Oceanus and the Fountain of the Tortoises (modeled after the original in Rome) are the perfect backdrop for wedding photos.
Indeed, the Courtyard is the backdrop for a number of special events throughout the year, from weddings to hosting the closing party for the Ringling International Arts Festival. A presentation of the Ringling’s Art of Our Time, the Ringling International Arts Frestival is a cultural celebration of modern dance, music and theater presented with Baryshnikov Arts Center, Oct. 10-13, 2012.
The Abraham and Dorothy Frischer Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, on the other hand, is not a complement but a centerpiece. This two-acre showpiece houses major contemporary work from internationally celebrated sculptors including Alfreda Halegua, Ernest Shaw, Doris Leeper and Fonchen Lord. The large-scale pieces certainly deserve reflection worthy of their size and global importance.
Along the banks of Winter Park’s Lake Osceola sits the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, a quiet sanctuary for art lovers located just north of downtown Orlando. Here among the oaks and gladiolas, you will find some of the brilliant sculptures created by award-winning, internationally recognized, Czech-born American sculptor Albin Polasek.
The museum, welcoming guests since 1961 to view more than 200 pieces of the artist’s work, is Polasek’s retirement home. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only 30 members of the National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios.
Just as varied and diverse is the Contemporary Sculpture Garden at the Crealdé School of Art, a not-for-profit community arts center also in Winter Park. More than 60 Florida artists, including Johann and Kristin Eyefells, Cheryl Bogdanowitsch and Michael Galletta, are represented in this tranquil garden that details the art school campus.
You can arrange for tours or discussions by contacting the Crealdé office, but since all exhibits and lectures are open to the public, you also have the option of curating yourself. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can also walk inside and sign up for one of the classes taught by the faculty of 40-some professional artists.
After all, along with creating awareness and appetite, a place for social gatherings and a means for contemplation, that’s the most important mission of any sculpture garden—to inspire.