Florida Botanical Gardens

Last year, my brother at invited me to offer two guest posts. This year, I’m excited that I can reciprocate. I am unable to post anything myself this week and next, so you will have the pleasure of seeing what Florida has to offer! Actually, many of the plants there are the same that we have here in Hawai`i, except that Florida has soil as well as higher humidity. It is with great love and joy that I present my brother, Hilton.

A hui hou!


The pictures in this post are all of the Florida Botanical Gardens
and are in random order, unrelated to the text.

Kids have “mountain top” experiences that key in to fundamental aspects of their intrinsic personalities and unlock an affinity that lasts for the rest of their lives. Visual memories come floating up throughout their lives whenever circumstances similar to the peek experience occur. Such a formative experience for me was visiting the Jewel Box, in St. Louis, Missouri, as a child.

Forest Park is a very large St. Louis park (descriptions vary from 13 ½ to 17 acres) dating from the late 1800s that is home to the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Muny opera (outdoor light opera), the St. Louis Science Center, the McDonnell Planetarium, and the Jewel Box.

The Jewel Box is a several storey Art Deco greenhouse built in 1936, partially with WPA funds. It’s on the National Historic Register. Their website describes its dimensions as “50 feet high, 55 feet wide and 144 feet long, containing about 7,500 square feet of floor space.”

It’s recently been rehabilitated to the condition it was in when I was a child. It was a safe place and my parents would let me wander among its labyrinthine paths amidst fake grottos, hills and small waterfalls, or climb the stairs to look out over the spacious interior. When I first read Arthur C. Clarke’s description of the interior of the vast interstellar spaceship in Rendezvous with Rama, the image I formed in my mind bore a strong resemblance to the Jewel Box of my childhood.

A related set of experiences for me, about the same time in my life, were on the grounds of a small inspirational publishing house in Litchfield, Illinois, called the Sunshine House. Much smaller, it nonetheless shared many of the same features of the Jewel Box: wishing well, wandering paths, flowers and plants in faux rock garden settings, soft, piped-in classical music. I still remember hearing J.S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on one particular childhood visit to the Jewel Box.

Somewhat later in my life, my love affair with botanical gardens continued into my adolescence with the many hours I was allowed to wander, unescorted, through the numerous parts of the University of Illinois Arboretum while my father was taking professional development courses in Urbana every summer.

The trend continued right up to the present including forays through the U.S. Botanical Gardens in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and, of course, large open parks with similar enchanted paths such as Forest Park itself, San Diego’s Balboa Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate, and New York’s Central Park. Just south of St. Petersburg, Florida, is Sarasota’s Shelby Gardens that I have tremendously enjoyed and which definitely fits the wandering-through-the-magic-of-nature mold. I suspect that the reason botanical gardens attract us so much is that they resonate to the motif of the enchanted land into which the hero must venture and then return that is part of The Hero’s Journey explained in the book of the same name by Joseph Campbell.

Which brings us—finally—to the topic of this post: The Florida Botanical Gardens, located right here in Pinellas County. The gardens are actually one of three attractions at the Pinewood Cultural Park: the Florida Botanical Gardens, the Gulfcoast Museum of Art, and Heritage Village. A map of the entire grounds can be found here. You will definitely need the map as the grounds are quite extensive. So far, I have only been to the botanical gardens portion. That alone took several hours to enjoy, so I would not attempt all three attractions in the same day.

The Florida Botanical Gardens features native Florida flora (and some wild fauna), primarily Bromeliads, Palms, and Herbs. In addition to some large areas such as the Wildlife & Natural Habitats and the Aquatic Habitat Demonstration Area, it’s organized around smaller themed gardens: the Patio Garden, Herb Garden, Tropical Fruit Garden, Seasonal Garden, Succulent Garden, Butterfly Garden, Bromeliad Garden, Palm Garden, Formal Gardens, Wedding Garden, Topiary Garden, Rose Garden, Jazz Garden, Cottage Garden, Tropical Walk, Tropical Courtyard, Sculpture Gardens, and the Native Plant Garden. (That’s a heck of a lot of Gardens!)

One feature of their website is worth making note of: What’s In Bloom by Month. That will help you plan the timing of your visit to best advantage. Information can also be found at their website on the Wedding Garden, mentioned above, that is available for garden weddings.

When your out-of-town relatives visit, take them to the Florida Botanical Gardens. I highly recommend it. (Especially if they are getting on your nerves and you need some space and silence!) Admission is free and it’s an excellent environment within which kids may have formative emotional experiences as I did, long ago at the Jewel Box.

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