6 Great Gardens to Visit in Florida

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coral Gables, Fla.

Although many tourists flock to Florida for its glorious palette of white beaches, blue-gray waters and yellow sun, the state is also home to lush and exotic gardens in every shade of green. Some were the dream of horticulturists obsessed with collecting plants from around the world that would flourish in their new home. Others were established by immigrants grateful for the opportunities the United States had afforded them and eager to leave a legacy in their adopted country.Still more gardens were the creations of wealthy transplants who, while wintering in Florida, sought to recreate the gardens they loved elsewhere. With enormous resources they hired some of the nation’s landscape architects to design gardens that are as dazzling as any in the country.Here are six of Florida’s most enticing green oases.

An orchid lover’s delight: bucket orchids, sabralia orchids and miniature orchids, a rainbow of colors in their petals. The 15-acre garden, on Sarasota Bay, was established in 1971 as the only botanical garden in the world focused solely on the study of epiphytes, which include many orchid species. (There are 25,000 known types of orchids in the world of which the vast majority are epiphytes: plants that grow on other plants rather than in the soil so that they are closer to the sun.)

This garden was once the property of Marie and William Selby (he made his fortune with the Selby Oil and Gas Company, whichmerged with Texaco in 1948). After Marie Selby died in 1971, leaving the property to the city, a board of directors consulted with experts from New York Botanical Garden and the University of Florida and chose to make the garden distinctive by focusing on epiphytes.

Beyond the profusion of yellow, purple, orange and white orchids, the garden offers a collection of bromeliads from pineapples to Spanish moss; a stunning collection of palm trees, from the Puerto Rican Hat Palm to the Haitian Zombie Palm; and a mangrove walkway that borders Sarasota Bay.

Credit... Selby Gardens

Selby, taking a page from the New York Botanical Garden, has begun mounting an annual exhibition of art inspired by flowers. Last year it was Marc Chagall’s work that led Selby to replant parts of its gardens with salvia and date palms, evocative of the south of France where the artist did some of his loveliest work. This month, four of Andy Warhol’s silk screens of flowers will form the centerpiece of the Selby exhibit “Warhol: Flowers in the Factory.”

900 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota, Fla., Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Christmas.

The land for Delray Beach’s Morikami Garden was the gift of the Japanese immigrant George Morikami, a successful farmer who in the mid-1970s donated 200 acres to Palm Beach County. That land now features six discrete gardens created by the designer Hoichu Kurisu, whose credits include the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Ill.His vision in Florida was inspired by gardens in Japan; each of Morikami’s six gardens reflects a style from a different epoch, beginning with the 9th century.

In Mr. Kurisu’s words, which are featured on the park’s website, the intention is for visitors “to lay aside the chaos of a troubled world.” He has accomplished that with the use of small lakes and paths that wind among pine forests, bamboo groves and rock arrangements throughout the gardens.

The gardens at Morikami are informed as much by religion as by plant life.

With its two landscaped islands joined by a bridge, Morikami’s Shinden Garden was inspired by the gardens that were adapted for the estates of Japanese nobles from Chinese garden design. The Shinden style was popular from the 9th to the 12th century.

The park’s Paradise Garden has paths for strolling the perimeters of its two small lakes in a style that recalls gardens that appealed to the new Samurai class of the 13th century.

In Morikami’s Early Rock Garden, rocks are set vertically and spaced to suggest a waterfall — an arrangement that reflects the rise of Zen and its asceticism.

Karesansui Late Garden features rocks that are artfully placed on expanses of gravel. That style — karesansui means dry landscape — was meant to serve as an aid to meditation from within a temple.

400 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, Fla., Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on major holidays.

What do towering bamboos, crepe myrtle, jack fruit banyan trees, orange bromeliads and bougainvillea have in common? They all thrive in ecosystems between the 26th parallel north and the 26th parallel south. Specifically, at the Naples Botanical Gardens, where the landscape designers include the Miami-based Raymond Jungles, known for his exuberant tropical gardens.

Next to the cool, elegant Lea Asian Garden with a replica of a Javanese temple ruin isthe rollicking Kapnick Brazilian Garden: Mr. Jungles’s tribute to his mentor, the celebrated Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, who died in 1994. (Marx was honored during the closing ceremony at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.) The centerpiece of the Brazilian garden is a mosaic by Marx; bromeliads in pink, purple, yellow and orange mirror his colors.

The Caribbean Kapnick Garden, designed by Bob Truskowski, has a laid-back vibe: Among the lush mango and banana trees are hammocks, a cottage and a bocce court that help transport you to island time. The Scott Florida Garden is notable for its bougainvillea and a date palm with a triple trunk. Last year the Naples Botanical Gardens, which opened in 2009,became the youngest to win the Garden of Excellence award from the American Public Gardens Association.

4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples, Fla., Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday, when it opens at 8 a.m.

A Dutch immigrant proud of his success in the United States as publisher of Ladies’ Home Journal and 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of“The Americanization of Edward Bok,”Mr. Bok’s American Foundation bought roughly 53 acres in the early 1920s to create a bird sanctuary, then added a carillon tower and gardens. Over the years the property, which opened in 1929, has grown to 300 acres.Its 205-foot-high neo-Gothic Singing Tower dominates the park. Made partially from local stone, the tower houses a 60-bell carillon that is played twice daily.

Mr. Bok’s passion for color is evident in the 50 Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.-designed acres that are the core of Bok Tower Gardens. Filled with azaleas, camellias and magnolia, they are particularly lovely in February and March when they are in bloom.

Because Bok is farther north than the gardens around Miami and Sarasota, it is cool enough at night for these plants to survive. As a result, the look and feel of Bok is far less tropical than many other gardens in Florida.

Credit...Michael Potthast

But these are not the only pleasures of Bok. There also are the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden and the Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen for cooking demonstrations. The Edible Garden is surrounded by peach trees, pomegranate shrubs, fig trees, passion fruit vines and banana trees.

The gardens also include acres of palms, oaks and wildflowers that give a visitor a sense of the diversity of Florida’s plant life.

To ensure that suburban development does not mar the vistas from Bok, the parkhas been purchasing adjacent land in recent years.

1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, Fla., Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. all year.

The glories of great French and Italian gardens have been recreated at Miami’s Vizcaya, once the home of the International Harvester executive James Deering.

Vizcaya’s grounds were the brainchild of Diego Suarez, the landscape architect who began his career in the early 1900s collaborating with Arthur Acton, the English expatriate and art collector, to help restore La Pietra, the Acton villa near Florence. Suarez became enamored of the elaborate stone work, statuary, fountains with soaring sprays and rills that gave Italian gardens of the 18th century both elegance and fantastical whimsy.

Vizcaya’s grounds were built on fill that had once been a mangrove swamp, now held back by a retaining wall. On level land Suarez created French-style parterres: formal gardens of neatly trimmed plant beds that are laid out in symmetrical patterns with paths for walking.

The Fountain Garden includes a plaza with a fountain from the Italian town of Sutri, which once provided water for its residents. Amid the strangler figs and oaks dripping with Spanish moss, Suarez added a two-story “Secret Garden,” as it is nowknown, where succulents and cactus flowers bloom in pots built into the stucco walls.

3251 South Miami Avenue, Miami. Open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Fairchild, in Coral Gables, has a vast collection of tropical plants that were initially gathered from around the world by David Fairchild, a well-known plant collector. When his friend Robert Montgomery, a retired accountant and also a plant enthusiast, opened the 83-acre park in 1938, it was named for Mr. Fairchild.The garden includes the stunning Lin Lougheed Spiny Forest of Madagascar, named for the art collector and donor. Because Fairchild is at the same latitude as that country, it is able to nurture the spiny octopus trees, swollen baobabs, cactuses and desert roses found on the world’s fourth largest island.

Fairchild also has a butterfly conservatory, housed in the Paul and Swanee DiMare Science Village, which includes a metamorphosis laboratory where visitors can watchbutterflies emerge from their chrysalises. Twice daily the staff releases butterflies into the conservatory; visitors may find several sitting quietly on their arms. Fairchild’s William F. Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion, named for a rare fruit collector and garden benefactor,offers everything from jackfruit vines to miracle fruit. It also boasts mangosteens, a favorite of David Fairchild’s, according to Carl Lewis, the garden’s director.The fruit’s appeal was not lost on Rudyard Kipling, who wrote in 1902:“You’ll know what my riddle means/ When you’ve eaten mangosteens.”

10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Fla., Open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Christmas.

In Other News

© 2020 US News. All Rights Reserved.