Florida Sunken Gardens

(Note: all the individual pictures in this post link to larger images in Flickr; just click on the smaller images you see here.)

Last year, my brother at invited me to offer two guest posts. This year, I’m excited that I can reciprocate. Be sure to check out last week’s post, which was also from him. When I visit him in Florida later this year, I will know I’ve gotten on his nerves when he takes me to visit the Sunken Gardens! It is with great love and joy that I present my brother, Hilton. I’ll be back next week. Mahalo, Hilton!

A hui hou!




That’s the “tag line” for the St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens. It’s well chosen. The afternoon I first visited the St. Petersburg Sunken gardens, was following a particularly stressful job interview and negotiations. I bought my ticket to the gardens—actually, I bought a year pass which I’ll discuss shortly—and entered into four acres of solitude and reflection right in the heart of downtown St. Pete. Slowly walking along winding paths that conceal then reveal verdant surprises, the tranquility helped me make up my mind about how to proceed with the issues that led me to seek some respite. The experience totally satisfied my need for garden paths, ivy covered rugged stone walls, miniature water fall fountains, and koi ponds. The Sunken Gardens botanical experience was exactly what I needed that day.

It was apparently what other people needed, too. A small troop of kindergarteners immediately fell silent upon walking into this magical world. A middle aged woman and her mother spending an afternoon together walked about. A soon-to-be bride and groom and their best-man and bridal attendant where there checking out the area where weddings are conducted. The occasional other single senior, such as myself, moseyed about, taking pictures, sitting on benches, or just standing, listening to the birds.






Here’s a quote from the Sunken Gardens brochure about the history of the attraction:

“Sunken Gardens has been a landmark in St. Petersburg since 1935, when it officially opened as Turner’s Sunken Gardens. In 1903, the four acre property was purchased by George Turner, Sr., a plumber, who was an avid gardener. He drained a shallow lake, that dropped 15 feet below street level to provide a rich soil to grow fruits and exotic plants from all over the world. By 1924, his amazing garden was attracting visitors who paid 25 cents for a stroll through the beautiful, lush gardens. Papayas, citrus and exotic plants brought the tropics to this subtropical area. Grover heaters were brought in to heat the magnificent Royal Palms, bougainvillea and other cold sensitive tropical plants during the winter. The garden became world renowned for its unique collection of plants and colorful blooms. In the 1950s, exotic wildlife was added to the growing botanical attraction… In 1998, Sunken Gardens was designated a local historic landmark, and in 1999 it was purchased by the City of St. Petersburg.”

There are 24 different areas of the botanical gardens. My personal favorites are the Chilean flamingos, the parrots and other exotic birds, the bromeliads, the lily ponds, the various koi ponds and miniature waterfall fountains, the Japanese garden, the arched bridge, the little spots to meditate and rest, the tropical fruit garden, and the butterfly garden.

Adjoining the gift shop for the Sunken Gardens is the Great Explorations Children’s Museum. Although it is adjoining the gardens, it is completely separate physically so the quietude of Sunken Gardens is preserved.




Another quote from their literature describes their facilities for weddings and private parties:

“Since 1935, Sunken Gardens has been a favorite setting for exchanging those special vows…The Garden Room, a great location for your banquet or reception, is located in the historic 1926 main building. It was designed keeping its history in mind, creating a loft-like feel with high wood ceilings and metal beams. Overlooking the exquisite gardens, this special room’s uniqueness makes it unlike any other wedding experience.”



The following are the best links I found for additional information and reviews of the Sunken Gardens.



I find it particularly interesting that the Sunken Gardens began as a non-commercial enterprise, the private garden of an individual expressing their love of the garden experience. My sister’s website, Lava to Lilikoi ( covers her own garden and farming on the side of a volcano on the Big Island (the Island of Hawaii) in the state of Hawaii. Weekly, she chronicles her gardening in photos and narrative. She has also had posts on private gardens of other people (mostl in Hawaii) that show the kind of personal devotion to gardening George Turner, Sr. had with what became, eventually, the St. Pete Sunken Gardens. Please take a peek at these posts of Lucy’s on some lovely private gardens:

I know absolutely nothing about plants or flowers. I’m just a person who loves to bask in their beauty and oxygen. But, Lucy is the opposite in that regard. Horticulture is definitely one of her things! She helped me identify the flowers in the pictures I took for this post. But, even she wasn’t entirely certain of a couple so if we made a mistake, please let us know.



I don’t buy many yearly passes to local attractions, but I bought one for the St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens. For a senior, it’s only $35 ($40 for non-seniors; $50 for Family, that includes membership for two adults in the same household and dependent children through the 12th grade or two grandparents with their grandchildren—which I think is a lovely idea). The annual membership is much, much more than free admission for one year. It also includes invitation to members-only events, discounts on special workshops, 10% discount in the gift shop, the newsletter and access to horticultural information. What sold me on buying an annual membership, however, was the free admission to over 145 botanical gardens participating in the American Horticultural Society Reciprocal Admissions Program (reciprocal program brochure). In Florida, alone, there are 16 participating gardens, including the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens just across the Skyway Bridge down in Sarasota and the Florida Botanical Gardens up in the northern part of the county that I covered in the Inkwatu Florida Botanical Gardens post.



There are also joint plans that combine the gardens with tickets to Great Explorations. It is especially important in a depressed economy that those who can donate to educational causes such as the Sunken Gardens do so. They have a variety of options from Contributing members at only $100, that gives you a family membership plus 5 free admissions guest passes, up through Private Benefactor, that includes quite a number of special privileges, and Corporate Benefactor, that includes such really nice features as a special employee day with free admission and special activities, company signs during special events, complimentary individual memberships for employees, and several other benefits.



There are a number of workshops and special shows throughout the year, most of which are either free with the annual membership or offered at a discount with the membership. One coming up in March which I plan to attend and cover in Inkwatu is the Orchid Festival, Sunday, March 22, 10am to 4:30pm. which features commercial orchid growers from Florida, lectures throughout the day and thousands of orchids for sale. It will be free with paid daily admission: $8 adults, $6 seniors (55+), $4 children (2-11) or free for annual members.

Sunken Gardens is located at 1825 4th St. N., St. Petersburg, FL 33704; general information 727-551-3102; wedding and rental information: (727) 551-3106. It is open Monday through Saturday 10am to 4:30pm and Sunday, noon to 4:30pm.


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