8 great Florida botanical gardens
Monday, November 02, 2020
Although most tourists flock to Florida for its gorgeous beaches and fun-filled theme parks, the Sunshine State is also home to a number of the nation’s most lush and exotic public gardens. Horticulturists, gardeners and ordinary nature lovers alike will find these enticing green oases the answer to a vacation dream come true.
From Jacksonville to Coral Gables to Sarasota — here are eight of Florida’s finest botanical gardens.
The Cummer Museum & Gardens on the St. John’s River in Jacksonville.
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville
Idyllically located on the banks of the St. John’s River, the Cummer Museum’s gardens are the most spectacular and important public gardens in Northeast Florida. Created in the early 1900s by the Cummer family, prominent lumber barons of the time, these gardens bear the imprint of some of the foremost names in landscape design and horticulture, including Ellen Biddle Shipman, Thomas Meehan & Sons and the prestigious Olmstead firm. The museum and gardens are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Throughout the year, the gardens dazzle with rare plant specimens nestled under a canopy of mature live oak trees. Special features abound, including fountains, reflecting pools, arbors, antique ornaments and a large collection of sculptures.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota
Tucked away in 15 acres of lush subtropical foliage on Sarasota Bay, this garden complex is one of the world’s most prestigious botanical centers. It was founded in 1971 as the first and only botanical garden in the world focused solely on the study and display of epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants rather than in soil), which include most orchid species. No question, this place is an orchid lover’s delight.
The garden was once the home of oilman William Selby and his wife Marie, who left the property to the city of Sarasota when she passed away in 1971. Beyond the colorful profusion of orchids, the garden offers a collection of bromeliads from pineapples to Spanish moss; an amazing collection of palm trees from around the world, and a mangrove walkway bordering the bay. Selby Gardens hosts an orchid festival each fall focusing on different themes and complimented by special events, lectures and classes.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables
Established in 1938 by Col. Robert H. Montgomery, Fairchild was named for Montgomery’s friend and fellow tropical plant enthusiast, Dr. David Fairchild. The 83-acre preserve houses a vast collection of tropical plants gathered from around the world by Fairchild.
The garden’s headline attraction is the Lin Lougheed Spiny Forest of Madagascar — named for the major donor and art collector. It nurtures a variety of that island nation’s exotic plant life, including spiny octopus trees, swollen baobabs, cactuses and desert roses. Also very popular is the garden’s butterfly conservatory, housed in the Paul and Swanee DiMare Science Village. Twice daily the staff releases butterflies into the conservatory — much to the delight of visitors.
Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden, Delray Beach
This complex of six gardens spread over 200 acres in Palm Beach County was created by Japanese garden designer Hoichu Kurisu, who says he intended it to help visitors “lay aside the chaos of a troubled world.” The time is obviously right for a visit. To accomplish that goal, Kurisu made use of small lakes and pathways that wind through pine forests, bamboo groves and rock arrangements.
With its two landscaped islands joined by a bridge, Morikami’s gardens were inspired by those of Japanese nobles from the 9th to 20th centuries. The museum’s collection of bonsai trees is said to be one of the top three such collections in the world.
Naples Botanical Garden, Naples
This 170-acre tropical paradise features designs from a team of internationally celebrated landscape architects and includes cultivated gardens of Florida, Brazil, Asia, the Caribbean — and a water garden filled with water lilies, lotus and papyrus.
Dedicated to the cultivation and preservation of plants that grow between the 26th parallel north and the 26th parallel south, Naples Botanical Gardens features seven ecosystems, including mangroves, marshes and pristine forests where hundreds of animal species and more than 300 species of exotic and native plants thrive. In 2017, just eight years after opening, the Naples Botanical Garden became the youngest to win the Garden of Excellence award from the American Public Gardens Association.
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida
Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
This popular Central Florida attraction was founded in the early 1920s as a bird sanctuary by Edward Bok, a Dutch immigrant and the publisher of Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok soon added a carillon tower and gardens as the property expanded from 53 to nearly 300 acres. The 205-foot-high neo-Gothic Singing Tower dominates the park. Made of local stone, the tower houses a 60-bell carillon that rings forth twice daily.
The signature feature here is the 50-acre Frederick Law Olmstead Jr.-designed gardens that form the core of Bok Tower Gardens. Bursting with magnolias, azaleas and camellias, this garden is at its best at full bloom in February and March.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville
Named for a nearby lake, 62-acre Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is comprised of 24 distinct gardens, including Florida’s largest public display of bamboo and the largest herb garden in the Southeast. In addition to its prized stand of Chinese royal bamboo, the gardens’ signature plants include giant Victoria water lilies and Asian snake arums.
Kanapaha hosts a number of festivals and special events, including a two-day Camelia Show in January, a Spring Garden Festival and a Moonlight Walk, when paths and meadows are illuminated by special laser lights and more than 1,500 luminaires.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Miami
No doubt Florida’s flashiest gardens, Vizcaya recreates the glorious French- and Italian-style gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries, exuding both elegance and fantastical whimsy.
Built between 1914 and 1922 by retired International Harvester executive VP and conservationist James Deering, Vizcaya is set on a magnificent 50-acre estate that features almost 10 acres of formal Italian- and French-style gardens designed by famed international landscape architect Diego Suarez.
The Fountain Garden features a plaza with a fountain from the Italian town of Sutri and, hidden among the strangler figs, Suarez added a two-story “Secret Garden,” where cactus flowers and succulents bloom in pots built into the stucco walls.
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