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Historic Spanish Point

Historic Spanish Point
Osprey, Florida

Historic Spanish Point is living museum, paying tribute to the many people over the years that inhabited this ideal plot of land that juts out into Little Sarasota Bay. The historic site includes a model of early pioneer life as well as the much older remains of ancient people who once lived there--which is all fascinating, but it is the gardens sprinkled throughout the property that interest me the most!

The entry grounds seemed at first a little sterile, with wide patches of lawn holding back the tropical undergrowth, creating clearings that are almost at odds with the surrounding landscape. At times the lack of cohesion represents the long history of the place, as with the Classic Portal marble archway flanked by lines of Queen Palms, which used to frame a view of the Webb’s Cove beyond, but now stands alone in the sparse Duchene Lawn with the view overgrown. A quaint butterfly garden has a few dazzling standout flowers to attract attention of humans and insects alike, but its placement next to the bland Lychee Field hadn’t really whetted my appetite for garden drama.

But further exploration rewarded me with some of the tropical treasures that I was craving. The Fern and Jungle Walks conjured a jungle atmosphere, being less structured, which blended the garden features into the surrounding landscape. The Fern Walk is entered by ducking under a weathered stone archway formed by an aqueduct system that passes between the two neighboring gardens. A loop of a path is barely visible amidst the overgrown ferns closing in on all sides in a claustrophobic chaos. The Jungle walk is accessible via a short staircase with crumbling ornamental vases on either side, and it runs parallel to the raised channel of the aqueduct, which culminates in a rustic shell ornamented fountain. These two gardens started to sway my overall impression of the place. They had so much character, and the old stone structures gave a feeling of lost ruins being absorbed by the jungle.

Skipping the old residence and other museum buildings on pioneer life, I headed for Cock’s Footbridge, which passes over an island-like cluster of mangrove trees to the point itself. Stairways lead to the peak of the small peninsula, which is in fact a massive mound (called a midden) formed by the buildup of discarded bones, shells, and other refuse from the daily life of ancient inhabitants. For a glorified landfill, it’s quite remarkable offering some of the best views on the grounds.

Next to the original Webb family residence, which is perched atop the midden for a panoramic view of Little Sarasota Bay, sits the Sunken Garden & Pergola. The first time I came upon this garden I felt transported to some faraway Mediterranean locale as the calm winds off the water were a welcome relief from the intense sun and heat. A rather simple design of small, orderly plantings around a rectangular pool, the adjacent pergola structure hung with bougainvillea offers a sublime vantage point over the garden and to the water beyond. If I had any hesitation on my first arrival, it was swept away as I sat on one of the ornate benches and took it all in.

Final Rating: I couldn’t bring myself to go near the educational, indoor exhibits. Judging the gardens separately from the institutional elements of Spanish Point allowed me a more aesthetic experience, but I still appreciated the characteristic features that notable property owner Bertha Palmer added to the existing pioneer-era structures. That some of these gardens have outlasted the structures they originally surrounded adds to their impressive nature and romantic quality. The numerous garden sections and scenic views of the bay were all I needed out of a visit to this important local landmark. FOUR BLOOMS

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