Friday, January 14, 2011

Family Florida Trip - Part 1: Naples Botanical Garden

I just returned from a trip to southern Florida with my parents; we spent a few days in Naples, followed by a day in Key West and a few more days in the Miami area. As is usually the case during our family trips, I made sure we visited a few interesting gardens along the way. First up was the brand-new Naples Botanical Garden, though this was not a visit planned well in advance. If it had not been for a relatively inconspicuous advertisement in one of the brochures for tourists that were lying around the hotel lobby, we might well have missed this place. Since it is so young - it first opened to the public on November 14, 2009 - the garden is not yet very well known or widely publicized and I was completely unaware of of its existence, though after coming across the little blurb in the brochure I dimly remembered having read this review on the great blog The Galloping Gardener last winter. We quickly decided to check the garden out but did not really have any sense of what to expect once we made our way to the address a mere five minutes down the road from posh-but-sleepy downtown Naples. In one of the greater garden-related surprises of my life, however, the garden turned out to be an utter delight!

The border along the visitor parking lot - I love the effect of the lime-green wall as a backdrop for the tropical flowers and foliage

Some eye-catching orange bromeliads in one of the beds outside the garden entrance

The entrance area of the garden

Already in the parking lot visitors are welcomed by eye-popping plantings of fiery bromeliads set off against white gravel, a great number of different palms and other tropical and subtropical trees, and a long border filled with bougainvilleas, small palms, various other ornamental foliage plants and many colorful bedding plants stunningly backed by a bright lime-green wall. After entering the garden, the landscaping continues in a similarly quirky, unbridled fashion, with a long, somewhat informal avenue of numerous different species of palm underplanted with myriad bromeliads and different succulents.

Some of the plantings just past the entrance building

A map of the world near the garden entrance which indicates the extent of the tropics and the various regions which have inspired themed gardens at the Naples Botanical Garden - Brazil, the Caribbean, Florida, and Southeast Asia

A flowering Aloe

The first specialized garden area that branches of this entrance way is the Children's Garden, which essentially consists of an elaborate playground set amidst a number of different educational garden "rooms", including a vegetable garden, reconstructed Florida woods and wetlands, play-friendly fountain jets, and a butterfly house. This part of the garden seemed to be popular not just with small children but also with parents, who enjoyed the ample and varied seating around the central plaza.

View into the Children's Garden

Lion's ear (Leonotis leonurus) in the butterfly house

A tiny pale blue water lily (Nymphaea sp.) in the small pool of the butterfly house

Further up the main path from the Children's Garden one reaches the Brazilian Garden, which is somewhat of a visual centerpiece for the whole complex. Designed by landscape architect Raymond Jungles - see his website here - it is somewhat of a tribute to famous and extremely influential Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx (see the Wikipedia page about him for more information about him and his work), whose broad swaths of bright colors and extensive use of Brazil's vast and beautiful range of native flora it emulates. In its center the only original tile mural by Roberto Burle Marx stands on  a small hill surrounded by a lily pool from which water descends in a broad cascade to a larger pool below. The rest of the garden is arranged around this larger pool and up the sides of the hill and is filled with a plethora of Brazilian plants arranged in big waves of color that echo the abstract, violently colorful  design of the mural. Virtually everything about this garden is bright, bold, and brash, with intensely colorful flowers and foliage, huge palm trees and giant water lilies (Victoria amazonica), the eye-catching mural, and the waterfall connecting the two broad panes of still black water. Yet at the same time, the overall effect is very harmonious.
View into the Brazilian Garden with the Roberto Burle Marx mural in the background

Plantings in the Brazilian Garden

Tropical water lilies (Nymphaea sp.) in the pool surrounding the mural

A view from the hill

The waterfall

A view from the Brazilian Garden outward

The large lower pool

From the Brazilian Garden one can either immediately go on to the adjacent Caribbean Garden or take a detour through some of the outer portions of the 170-acre site, which are managed as a nature sanctuary that includes several distinct ecosystems, with lakes, marshes, pine forest, mangrove swamps, and a number of rare and endangered species. A walk leads visitors through some of this natural wealth along the contours of one of the lakes, and there is even a birding tower.

Natural habitats in the outer portion of the Botanical Garden

Having taken this longer route, one arrives at the Florida Garden, which in turn as five separate sections - the Great Circle, the Idea Garden, the the Enabling Garden, the Contemplative Garden, and a symbolic labyrinth. The Great Circle consists of multiple circles of sabal palms (Sabal palmetto), Florida's state tree, underplanted with Bougainvillea glabra and surrounding a field of colorful annuals and perennials such as various varieties of blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) and ornamental sages (Salvia sp.). The Idea Garden is geared towards things more commonly seen in home gardens, such as roses (Rosa sp.), vegetables, and dwarf fruit trees. Meanwhile, the enabling garden has very nicely done raised plantings along broad, easy-to-maneuver paths, demonstrating how a garden can be made accessible to those faced with physical challenges. At once serene and a reflection of one of Florida's most important crops, the Contemplative Garden is meant to sit among shady, fragrant Citrus trees. The labyrinth, rather than being executed three-dimensionally in hedges or walls, is a meditative abstract paving pattern.

The Great Circle

Blanket flowers (Gaillardia pulchella) in the Great Circle

The Idea Garden

The Enabling Garden

A simple, pretty "vertical garden" in the Enabling Garden

Beyond the the Florida Garden lies the Asian Garden, pleasantly unusual in that it does not draw on the horticultural and architectural traditions of Japan or China but rather those of Southeast Asia, with the most notable influences being Thailand and the Indonesian island of Bali. It was designed by the renowned Australian-born, Balinese-by-choice landscape architect Made Wijaya - whose website can be found here - and tries to emulate not simply a garden space but a whole cultural landscape, with lotus ponds, pavilions, vegetable beds, two small rice paddies, a little stream, and even artificial temple ruins. I personally did not really like the latter because they had too much of an air of theme-park artificiality for my taste. The rest, however, is quite lovely, despite the fact that this is one of the youngest parts of the Botanical Garden and therefore one in which the plantings still look very new and a bit unsettled. Given a bit of time this garden will likely become truly enchanting.

Sign at the entrance to the Asian Garden

View across one of the rice paddies towards the Thai pavilion

A Balinese shrine set on an island in one of the ponds

The vegetable patch below the rice paddies

The little stream that runs through the garden

Next to the Asian Garden is the Caribbean Garden, which displays both native vegetation of the Caribbean islands as well as historically or currently important crops of the region, such as tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), pineapples (Ananas comosus), and bananas and plantains (Musa acuminata x balbisiana). The centerpiece of the garden is a bright turquoise hut, and there is also a beautiful long pergola that curves along a large lawn.

Pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) and banana plants (Musa acuminata x balbisiana) in the Caribbean Garden

The little house in the center of the garden

The large lawn and pergola

Between the Caribbean Garden and the entrance area and adjacent to the Brazilian Garden lies the Water Garden, a essentially a large, rounded lily pool not unlike those in the Brazilian Garden. It is filled with all sorts of tropical water lilies and other aquatic plants and a boardwalk across its center allows one to get much closer to these beauties than is usually the case.On one side the Water Garden also connects to the River of Grass, a recreation of the Everglades landscape which serves to filter run-off from the gardens.

A view from the boardwalk out to the edge of the Water Garden

A view along the boardwalk

Another view of the Water Garden with the River of Grass in the background

On the whole, the Naples Botanical Garden was a really great place to visit. I loved seeing a brand-new garden project of such magnitude, intricacy, and diversity since usually such a big concern with gardens one can visit is conservation rather than creation. Besides, considering that it is growing, the garden is likely to get even better. At $12.95 for anyone over 14 the admission fee is a bit hefty but perhaps understandable in light of the fact that this garden is the product of a private initiative by local individuals and is sustained by entrance fees and charitable contributions. If you want to learn more about the garden, you can visit its extensive website here.


  1. Thanks for an interesting peep into a beautiful garden with so many familiar (to me) plants.

  2. It looks like so much fun! I would love to go

  3. thanks for a wonderful description of a beautiful place. It really is a gem. I hope to go back again soon. Shelly from Alva

  4. Wow, this is garden is really coming on! Haven't been for a year, but was planning to go next week when I get to Florida and your lovely pictures have made me even more determined!

  5. Thank you for sharing. I just love flowers in Naples, FL. They are always the most beautiful, must be the water!


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