Florida Botanical Gardens
Florida Botanical Gardens
While visiting my grandmother down south, I wanted to add another new garden to my ever-growing list, and the Florida Botanic Gardens sounded like the perfect place. So my sister and I took a day trip to explore this floral destination, and we were not disappointed with the botanical bounty we found. We found a pleasant mix of informal native plantings, wetland areas, and more formal garden rooms. While I marveled at colorful tropical blooms bursting from trees, vines, and bushes, my sister focused on the wide variety of bird species that the gardens were home to. At times we found the layout to be a little counterintuitive, but that didn't detract from our enjoyment of this lush garden paradise.
To enter into the main garden sections, we crossed a bridge over a creek crowded with all kinds of aquatic greenery. Through a decorative archway with beautiful mosaic tile work lies the Tropical Garden, starting with a welcoming courtyard with a bubbling fountain and numerous tropical potted plants. I was amazed by countless types of plants and flowers that I had never seen before. It was exciting to find different versions of plants that I thought I was familiar with. One such specimen was the enchanting Tropical Dogwood Tree with its pale pinkish bracts and occasional bright star-shaped yellow flowers peeking out, which was far more playful compared to the reserved off white blooms of our northern types. There were countless varieties of jasmine, bird of paradise, plumeria, and hibiscus in different sizes and hues.
The Wedding Garden is positioned as the grand centerpiece around which the other gardens are arranged, but I found it to be the least interesting. It was a walled garden with a swath of astroturf leading up to a small gazebo and edged with a few themed gardens, all of which seemed a little too sterile for my taste. The only interesting elements, such as the colorful rose bushes and topiary, were pushed to the edges -- which to me felt like missed opportunities for making this special space more engaging and romantic.
Where the Wedding Garden seemed a little uninspired, the neighboring Palm Garden showed how a similar shape could work nicely with a more creative layout. Clusters of palm trees that varied size, shape, and variety broke up the square space of the garden. The area around the municipal buildings was another impressive use of space, crowded with native plants, butterfly-attracting bushes, and gardens brimming with vegetables, herbs and fruit. Having a birder in tow helped me to pay attention to the way that different varieties of plants drew various types of birds.
The formal garden sections are bordered on several sides by large areas of wetlands and natural landscape. There were informational plaques and plant classification labels aplenty throughout this section, which showed the garden's focus on education and appreciation of Florida's native plants and natural environment. We saw many signs warning us to be aware of alligators but we were not lucky enough to spot any on our visit. My sister spotted hawks, herons, woodpeckers, and even a funny-looking limpkin that we caught taking a noisy bath in the waters of McKay Creek.
Final Rating: One of the most surprising elements of this vast property and all of its botanical treasures is the free admission. I have definitely paid for gardens that weren't half as impressive. Each section of FGB is meticulously manicured and just about every plant and tree is clearly labeled. I also appreciated all of the benches, tables, and fancy garden chairs throughout the property that encouraged visitors to relax and really enjoy their surroundings -- something you can really only do by having a contemplative pause. My only real complaint was that navigating the gardens was, at times, unecessarily confusing -- we kept encountering dead ends, and even with a map in hand I was never quite sure where I was. Although, with over 30 acres of gardens delights and 90 more acres of uncultivated natural habitat, this would not be a bad place to get lost in. THREE BLOOM RATING