There is no better way to spend a spring afternoon than at a botanical garden, surrounded by nature. Florida has such a diverse variety of native plants, it is no surprise that our botanical gardens are so lush and inviting.
Sometimes these gems are hidden within city blocks, but when you step inside, the rest of the world falls away, and you are surrounded with plants like azaleas, oak trees, and palms. These gardens also tell the history of the area, many of them with trees hundreds of years old.
Because Florida is also so large, we have quite a different variety of botanical gardens, from Miami to the Panhandle. So, definitely put each of these on your list when traveling around the state.
Florida’s Botanical Gardens, the hidden beauty of Florida
Off of historic 4th Street North in St. Petersburg, you will find Sunken Gardens. From the outside, you would never be able to guess how large the gardens are, and just how long these plants have been growing. Established in 1911, and only taken over by the city in 1999, the gardens were created by a husband and wife, with their children and grandchildren continuing to care for the grounds almost 90 years later.
You can explore the Japanese garden, cactus garden, and butterfly garden. While exploring keep your eyes peeled for the different kinds of plants, including bougainvillea, royal palms, water lilies, shrimp plants, and fruit trees. And be sure to grab a quick photo and some of the iconic photo-ops.
Sunken Gardens also has some pretty unique residents, that you don’t typically find in a garden. Starting back in the 1950’s the garden acquired 17 flamingos to help drive in visitors. They had two elderly flamingo still remaining from the original flock, and recently added an additional 20 birds to keep them company. The flamingos are hidden near the back of the gardens, so plan on spending a few hours exploring the whole grounds.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The first time we visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, we were looking for a wedding venue (that was over 12 years ago). We ended up choosing a different location for our big day, but we always remember how beautiful the garden was, and how elegant a wedding would be there.
The next time we visited, the gardens had set up an interactive art exhibit inspired by the works of Lichtenstein. The gardens are frequently enhanced with art exhibits, so be sure to check their current exhibit before you head out.
The gardens surrounds the historic home of Marie and William Selby. The garden is also the home to research libraries and identification centers for the the local tropical plants, and orchids. The garden has numerous varieties of orchids, and even has a nursery where you can purchase one to bring home. We attempted to buy one the first time we visited, but let’s just say, it would have been better off staying at the gardens.
Harry P Leu Gardens
In the hustle and bustle of the Orlando area, finding a calm oasis at the Harry P Leu Gardens could be a perfect break from a busy vacation/staycation. The centerpiece of the garden is the historic home that showcases life in Florida in the early 1900s. Unlike the other gardens on our list, Leu Gardens has a historic cemetery with marked and unmarked graves from the 1860s.
Explore the beautiful flora and fauna of the garden including banana tree varieties, citrus groves, and a crepe myrtle collection. The garden also has a focus on education, with dedicated educational displays. If you are a budding green thumb, this is a great place to come and learn about different garden types, including things like bog gardens, fruiting trees, and ornamental grasses.
The garden also hosts special events to enhance and encourage more participation with your surroundings. Including mystical creatures, dragons, fairies and who knows what else is hiding in the garden, these special events help you really immerse yourself in the gardens. The Fairy Door exhibit typically during the summer months is a great activity to do as a whole family, like a scavenger hunt through nature.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Located in Gainesville, the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is known for their azaleas, and the giant Victorian lily pads. Unfortunately, these two things do not bloom at the same time, so you will have to make more than one trip to this garden. We visited in early Spring, and saw the azaleas in full bloom.
Unlike a lot of other botanical gardens, the Kanapaha garden is dog friendly, so this is a great place to spend the afternoon with your furry buddy. Be sure you bring them lots of water for this Florida heat, and as always pick up after them.
The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens has so many unique features, in addition to the lily pads, they also have the state’s largest public bamboo gardens and the largest herb garden in the region. There is something a little unnerving about walking through a forest of bamboo as it creaks and sways with the wind, but it is oddly calming as well.
This garden is a great representation of the native Florida plant species, and a great place to learn more about them. The garden is also over 60 acers, so don’t rush your visit, give yourself a couple of good hours to explore.
Bok Tower Garden
To get to Bok Tower Garden, you will have to climb up to the top of Iron Mountain. Yes, mountains in Florida. But, don’t get too worried, the top of the mountain is only about 295 feet above sea level, so no worries about altitude sickness. The tower on the grounds stands an additional 50 feet, giving this area some beautiful views. The area is surrounded by citrus groves, giving a slightly reminiscent Tuscan countryside vibe. Slightly.
Unfortunately, unlike some of our Favorite Florida Lighthouses, you are not able to climb the tower, but it is for good reason. Known as the singing tower, the Bok Tower houses a 60-bell carillon, which play a 30 minute concert at 1 and 3 p.m. There is also a short melody played every half hour to tide you over until the afternoon.
The tower might be the star of the show, but the gardens are also just as beautiful on the grounds. There are a couple of different gardens to explore, including a pollinator garden, a wetland to explore by boardwalk, and an endangered species garden to help preserve some of the more rare fauna found in Florida.
On your way home from Bok Tower Gardens, make a quick detour to Spook Hill, a local Florida oddity that is certainly worth a trip. And don’t worry, we didn’t find it too spooky.
McKee Botanical Gardens
The McKee Botanical Gardens has been wowing visitors since the 1920s. Located on the East coast of Florida in Vero Beach, making it a great halfway stop between Miami and St. Augustine. The gardens are home to some historic buildings that bring you back to its opening days. The gardens are also home to beautifully created waterfalls, and water features packed with lilies.
The other feature drawing guests into the garden is the unique creation by artist Patrick Dougherty and his son Sam. Created frpm natural materials designed to break down eventually, a structure woven out of willow reeds twists and arches through a grove of royal palms forming rooms and spaces to explore. The current sculpture serves as a replacement for an original creation that was destroyed in a hurricane.
Be sure you don’t miss the historic stone bridge, and the giant cypress tree trunk when you visit. You will also want to check in with them for any special events they have going on. As of writing this, there are currently dinosaurs that have taken up residence in the garden.
This just scratches the surface of the botanical gardens in Florida. So, make plans to enjoy one of these great outdoor gardens. You just can’t beat a relaxing afternoon surrounded by the beauty of nature. Leave us a recommendation of any gardens you think we should add to the list.