On a recent visit to the Naples Botanical Gardens in Naples, Florida, I was wowed by the gardens, available lectures, workshops, and tours for adults and children. Only in existence for 10 years, it is astounding what has been accomplished in that short time frame. Founded in 1993, construction didn’t take place until nearly 10 years later in 2009.
World Class Garden
Naples Botanical Garden is a 170-acre, world-class garden that features plants from around the world, mostly tropical in origin. They are also the youngest garden in history to receive the American Public Gardens Association’s prestigious Award for Garden Excellence. I can certainly understand why. I have been to this garden twice in the past 3 years and have come away each time with a renewed appreciation of what has been done in such a short time period. Today, the garden welcomes over 220,00 visitors a year to enjoy the tropical plantings in themed gardens.
I have been to dozens of botanical gardens around the world and I see Naples as equal or way ahead of many that I have visited. And it has ambitious plans to keep on adding to the experience.
So many botanical gardens have been around for decades – if not centuries – and Naples is right there in the mix. It takes a while for plants to mature and for landscapes to get to the right size, but tropical gardens grow fast.
Conservation is Big on Their List
Reading through their website, I was impressed that “they are partnering with other botanical gardens and arboreta in Latin America and the Caribbean, regions climatically similar to Naples, to identify and conserve threatened plants, conduct research to safeguard plants, conduct research, and share our living collection order to safeguard against the mounting pressures of climate change, natural disasters, invasive species and human development.” Lofty goals indeed!
Botanical gardens throughout the world are banking on your visit having a positive influence on environmental attitudes and I can definitely see that happening with a visit to the Naples Botanical Gardens. The educational outreach and the emphasis on Florida conservation, which is being decimated with development should be a positive influence on any visitor.
Florida Eco-Systems Included in the Gardens
Habitats included in the 90 acres of conserved natural areas, include Remnant Slough, a low-lying wet habitat where you can find native orchids. This type of environment would be found in the nearby Everglades and is familiar to many Florida residents. Pine Flatwoods, another habitat at the Garden, covers half of Florida and has shash pines, saw palmetto, and native grasses. Florida Scrub habitat is the most endangered and is habitat to the threatened gopher tortoise and many rare plants.
Lastly, Mangroves and Brackish Marsh where freshwater meets salt water which provides feeding and nursery grounds for fish and crustaceans is another habitat on display. All of these habitats are accessible to visitors.
Featuring themed gardens throughout like the Brazilian, Asian, Succulent, Water, Caribbean, and Idea Garden, I really enjoyed the Idea Garden the most. Projects of plant creations were on display as well as a demonstration by the Naples Garden Club. Using plants in novel, interesting ways is explored in this part of the garden.
Ghost Orchid Restoration
The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), is a ‘star power’ flower at the Garden. This elusive flower, as explored in Susan Orlean’s book “The Orchid Thief” and in “Adaptation,” the motion-picture based on the book, is very popular for plant watchers. Visitors can catch a glimpse of one on the Sonne Family Ghost Orchid Boardwalk when they are in bloom. Unfortunately, these bloom in the wet season of summer and I couldn’t see them.
The ghost orchid of Florida has become endangered and the Naples Botanical Gardens is trying to build back ghost orchid populations destroyed by poachers and habitat loss. In 2015, they repopulated a section of trees along a boardwalk with seedlings of the orchid on burlap, stapling them to the trees to get them going. The orchids are making a come back and not only are beautiful but have a complex relationship with many indigenous pollinators.
For fascinating footage on the pollinators actually doing their work, go to National Geographic.
Naples Botanical Gardens is always looking to the future and expanding. A new Horticulture Campus is planned with a nursery, greenhouse complex, and laboratory. Allowing them to expand their capacity to protect imperiled plant species both endemic and abroad is one of their most important goals going forward. For more information on visiting this special garden, go to Naples Botanical Gardens.