Falling in Love with Florida's Gardens

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Florida’s gardens are verdant sanctuaries for the botanically inclined. Explore the Sunshine State through its gardens for a peaceful day trip, or maybe try a statewide tour of these gardens.

Gardens gardens how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love your winding paths your benches in just the right places and the way you bloom in every season.

I used to think we would never get together. Why I asked should I visit a Florida garden destination that on any given day looks better than my backyard can ever hope for?


Gardens to Inspire and Infatuate

Now I know the answer. You go to Florida gardens to be inspired and infatuated.

For me it was love at first sight at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. I walked along a garden path and entered a tropical garden. This must be the Amazon I thought but no this is a jungle by design in Orlando. Plants grew over and under each other in a zillion shades of green with leaf patterns so beautiful they took my breath away.

Instantly enamored I wanted more. And Leu delivered. The idea garden shows things you can do at home such as gardening in a raised bed so you don't have to stoop over. Along the way to the idea garden are different styles of walkways – bricks and stones and concrete playful walkways with lots of patterns. Instead of being intimidated I thought wouldn't it be fun to make a garden path? Ah inspiration.

In the butterfly garden I found myself surrounded by butterflies. But I was just a passing fancy. They were there for the nectar flowers and certain plants to lay their eggs like the passion vines growing on a garden arbor.

Check out their schedule of garden demonstrations and classes. A friend and I went to a cooking class that including fresh herbs picked that morning from the herb/vegetable garden. Then we got to eat the pasta and soup. Yum!

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of Sarasota’s most treasured attractions and is home to thousands of tropical exotic plant species that showcase colorful displays and alluring fragrances. Known for its extensive collection of epiphytes (plants that live on other plants) including orchids bromeliads and ferns Selby Gardens delights with ever-changing flowering exhibits in the Tropical Conservatory and throughout the stunning 10-acre bayfront setting. It's a great place to seek inspiration and tranquility. Selby Gardens offers something for everyone including a children's activity area. The Gardens host many seasonal and family-friendly events educational lectures nature-themed art exhibits and classes on art health & wellness gardening and more.

A visit to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami's Coral Gables turned a passing fancy into a passion. Another son Martin and I thought to spend an hour or two and ended up staying for half a day.

This garden has as its mission saving tropical plant diversity. Anyone who loves plants and gardening will love Fairchild.

At Fairchild my suggestion is to start with a tram ride for an overview of the 83 acres. Trams embark on a 45-minute ride around the garden with an option stop to disembark at Cycad Circle. Fairchild has 10 ponds two miles of walkways and distinct plant worlds including the Windows to the Tropics Conservatory Arid Garden and the Richard H. Simmons Rainforest.

Gardens Around Florida

Florida gardens come in all sizes and styles: formal native meditative botanical plant collections historic landscapes and showcase theme gardens. Here are more of my favorites listed geographically:

North Florida
  • Eden Gardens State Park in Point Washington in northwest Florida is small but intense. An old forest of live oak trees shelters azaleas and a butterfly garden. This is a real taste of Old Florida complete with a two-story white mansion and a reflecting pool.
  • The Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee shows the tender care of the Maclays who wintered here for many years. Rolling hillsides are transformed into botanical beauty. Maclay is justly famous for both its azaleas and camellias. A blooming chart near the main gate tells what is in bloom every month.
  • Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville has 62 acres with 26 different gardens including the state's largest display of bamboos.
  • Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka features a sweet 1.8-mile drive down the ravine. Azalea season late January to April is the peak flowering season.
  • Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville has 1.5 acres of formal historic gardens facing the St. Johns River.
Central Florida
  • Washington Oaks Gardens State Park in Palm Coast (north of Daytona Beach) is another example of a family connection to the land that grew into a historic landscape garden. Washington Oaks is a bit off the beaten path so think about bringing a picnic lunch. There are picnic tables near the Matanzas River.
  • Sholom Park in Ocala is a peace and meditation park. The landscaping reflects the park theme. Walk through a formal garden navigate a labyrinth stroll through a savannah and a forest then feed the koi at the large pond. Sholom is another place to bring a bag lunch a camera and a sketchbook.
  • The Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo are living proof that variety is the spice of life. From containers to tropical plants to a native plant area these gardens have something for you to contemplate and enjoy.
  • Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales combines the tranquility of meandering gardens with Edward Bok's Singing Tower. The 60-bell carillon has daily concerts. These gardens were also voted the best in Florida.
South Florida

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