Blooming Season at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park

Discover the Gardens of Florida

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.

By Kathy O'Neil

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 to?

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

Harry P. Leu Gardens

For me, these gardens in Orlando equalled love at first sight. I walked along a garden path and entered a tropical garden, a jungle by design. 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 gardens show things you can do at home, such as gardening in a raised bed so you don't have to stoop over. Along the way are different styles of walkways – bricks and stones and playful concrete walkways with lots of patterns. Instead of being intimidated, I thought: wouldn't it be fun to make a garden path? Ah, inspiration.

In another garden, I found myself surrounded by butterflies. They were there for the nectar in the riot of flowers, and to lay their eggs in plants such as 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 included fresh herbs picked that morning from the herb/vegetable garden. Then we got to eat pasta and soup made with those ingredients. Yum!

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This one of Sarasota’s top 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. The gardens host many seasonal and family-friendly events educational lectures nature-themed art exhibits and classes on art health & wellness gardening and more.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

A visit to this garden, in Miami's Coral Gables, turned a passing fancy into a passion. My son and I thought to spend an hour or two -- and ended up staying for half a day.

This Florida 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.


More Great Gardens in Florida

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

North Florida Gardens

  • 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.

  • 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 Gardens

  • 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 is a 100-acre oasis in Largo, in the heart of Pinellas County. A walk through this lush paradise inspires and educates visitors by showcasing flora, fauna and natural resources in native surroundings. It is the only free botanical garden in the county and accessible to all ages and abilities. 

  • 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 Gardens

  • Butterfly World in Coconut Creek (near Fort Lauderdale) has more than 10 acres of aviaries with butterflies, birds, and botanical gardens loaded with plants that attract butterflies.

  • McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. McKee is well known for its sub-tropical hammock, covering 18 acres.

  • Mounts Botanical Garden, in West Palm Beach, is Palm Beach County's oldest and largest public garden with plants from around the world.

  • Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, in Delray Beach, was ranked 14th in 2008 among among North America's best Japanese Gardens built outside Japan. The Journal of Japanese Gardening gave it this honor.

  • Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden is the only "frost free" botanical garden in the continental United States.