When life stresses me out, I like to take time to escape into the outdoors. Sometimes it’s as simple as a walk in my neighborhood. Other times it might be more organized like a hike I did in the canyon last week while I was in California. Or as an extra special treat I get invited to visit a Botanical Garden.
Visiting “Gardens with Latitude.”
This winter during my snowbird stay in Florida, I had a chance to celebrate the beauty of nature at Naples Botanical Garden. It was my first time exploring the “Gardens with Latitude,” as it is known. There are four main-themes — Asian, Brazilian, Caribbean and Florida — representing the plants, landscapes and cultures between the 26th latitude north and 26th latitude south. Naples Florida lies just inside this northern boundary on the 26th parallel and offers a warm sub-tropical climate for its habitats. The Garden welcome sign says “All in all it is a great place to get away from it all!” I couldn’t agree more.*
So come with me and take a break from whatever you’re doing. I’m going to share some Garden goodness with you.
Kathryn’s Garden welcomes you.
We’re walking slowly so you can take in all the plantings in Kathryn’s Garden. The entryway is inspired by the paintings of French artist Henri Rousseau. Take a peek at the pictures below. Then close your eyes and feel how the exotic and luxurious vegetation affect your senses.
Strolling on the Orchid Garden Boardwalk
Next stop is the Orchid Garden. There are over 1,000 different species growing in the Orchid Garden. The colors and varieties are breathtaking. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I love orchids. However, every time I try to grow orchids at home they end up dying quickly.
Breathing easy in the Asian Garden.
“This is heaven,” says a visitor walking around the Asian Garden. It is quite peaceful here. The Buddha is nearby to protect. So are the lotus plants. Come sit with me for a moment and meditate by the lotus pond. Supposedly the lotus is a lucky symbol that is revered for its resilience and beauty. Maybe these lotus plants will bring you some good fortune.
Let’s hop on a free tour.
There are free tours every hour at Naples Botanical Garden, so I think it’s best that we let Abigail, a real expert, be our guide for the rest of our exploration. OMG, Abigail grew up in Longport, New Jersey. That’s close to my condo on the corner at the Jersey shore. What a small world!
“During the next 45 minutes I’m going to share highlights and history about the Garden. We have 19,000 plants in the collection,” says Abigail. She knows a good chunk of them too.
Abigail tells us: “The Naples Botanical Garden was founded in the early 1990s by local plant enthusiasts as a place to connect with nature. In 2000, 170 acres of land were purchased to expand the Garden.”
It’s like a jungle in the Brazilian Garden.
“The Brazilian Garden is my favorite,” says Abigail. It’s the first stop on our tour. Here we go. We’re winding our way around the serpentine paths. It almost feels like a jungle. The colorful mosaics in the garden were designed by Bernie Marks from Brazil. There are quite a few Bromeliads hanging out in the trees. “Bromeliads don’t bother the tree. They are good for the ecosystem,” says Abigail. “They collect water and become a water fountain for animals.”
“Check out the Victoria Water Lilly which comes from Brazil,” says Abigail. “It looks like a platter. It is female and after it blooms it is male. It can grow into 10 feet in diameter. It takes years to get that big.” There are no flowers now because the Lillies are dormant.
Jammin’ in the Caribbean Garden.
In the Caribbean Garden, Abigail introduces us to the Vanilla Orchid. “We get the vanilla bean from this yellow orchid,” says Abigail. “It is expensive to hand pollinate that’s why vanilla is so costly. Once pollinated these plants produce the vanilla bean.”
Can you guess what food plant is in the Caribbean Garden? It’s bananas. “There are hundreds of varieties of bananas. The Caribbean Garden features around 20 varieties, yet grocery stores typically sell only one called the Cavendish,” explains Abigail.
The season’s signature STICKWORK exhibition
Get ready to be wowed by our next sculpture. It’s called STICKWORK and was designed by sculptor Patrick Dougherty. This unique structure weaves together 30,000 pounds of pussy willow. It’s so massive you can walk through it. The description quotes: “Dougherty’s interactive works invite guests to explore their sense of place within the natural world.”
Peaceful endings at the Florida Garden.
Our tour is coming to an end. There’s one more garden to see. “Our Florida Garden is home to native Southwest Florida plants,” says Abigail. “It’s nice to come here in the afternoon. If you sit for awhile you may see some birds”
Abigail explains: “Before this area was restored there were only 15 species of birds. After the restoration the number of bird species went back up to 40-50. Birds were able to come back to their natural area. Bobcats, bears, otters plus the Florida panther have also now been seen on the trail.” No worries, we’re not going to see any bobcats today.
Thanks Abigail for the excellent tour. I think I’m going to go get a bite to eat at the Fogg Cafe before I leave. The tuna sandwich on whole grain bread with lemon, fennel, capers and sun dried tomatoes sounds delicious. Even better, some of the ingredients are grown on-site in the Idea Garden. And then I’m going to go inside the Berger Shop to peruse all the plant-themed merchandise. I can’t resist a great garden store, even if I’m not a great gardener.
It’s time to say good-bye. Hope you enjoyed this little respite in nature today. Ooh, ooh, ooh, if you have other Botanical Gardens that you want to recommend around the USA or around the world, leave a comment and LMK your favorites.
P.S. Next up I’m going to tell you all about my mother-daughter road trip home from Florida. It’s taken a while but I’m excited to share my stops and good eats in St. Augustine, Charleston and Richmond. Coming soon.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: Naples Botanical Garden provided me with a complimentary media pass. Regardless, I only recommend products, places or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.