Two words perfectly describe Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg – lush and exotic.
What, you say, is it still there? Oh yes, Sunken Gardens, an old Florida family roadside attraction, is still alive and thriving right in the middle of a traffic jammed city.
Who knew a sinkhole could be so beautiful?
Ever so long ago, George Turner Sr. did. He was a hybrid kind of guy, a plumber who was also an avid gardener. Think about that. Perhaps only this unique combination of talents let him have visions where everyone else saw a piece of property with a shallow lake that had filled an ancient sinkhole.
Sunken Gardens has waterscapes and exotic plants
In 1903 he bought that four-acre property and drained the sinkhole exposing super rich soil. Just what every gardener wants – super rich soil. Turner knew this soil was perfect for growing exotic plants and fruits from all over the world. So the entire sinkhole became his dream canvas.
And the plumber side of Turner got to go wild. Turner build waterscapes everywhere – ponds, waterfalls, meandering water connections. They are still here today, recycling the water. I would have loved to know this man in person – such a dreamer and doer.
By 1935 the doors opened to Turner’s Sunken Gardens. People paid .25 cents to see all the exotic plants, papayas, citrus, Royal palms and bougainvilleas.
In 1967 the World’s Largest Gift Shop opened. That building, now restored, is the entrance to Sunken Gardens. In 1998 Sunken Gardens was designated a local historic landmark. Purchased by the City of St. Petersburg in 1999, city staff does a super job of keeping Sunken Gardens lush and tropical, promoting Sunken Gardens as a wedding venue and hosting events here.
If a place is truly tropical then exotic birds can’t be far away. Parrots in cages drawn bird enthusiasts but the showstopper has to be their flock of Chilean flamingos. Exotic indeed.
New to Sunken Gardens – a flock of Chilean flamingos
The Flamingos Forever Committee raised the money to bring these beauties here. Not your bright pink flamingo, these birds are delicate shades of orange. Get our your cameras. Run the video.
When I arrived the flamingos were waiting to be fed, all on full alert with heads held high. Coming back a half hour later most had their heads tucked under their wings, mealtime over.
A few observations:
Hardly need a hat here. The walkways are crowded on both sides with tall vegetation casting shadows across the pavement.
Consider bringing a small hand towel. It does get humid down in the sinkhole (the low point is 15 feet below street level). Sunken Gardens is, after all, tropical to the 10th degree.
Flowers in bloom – all ready for their close ups. No makeup needed.
Get the brochure. Carry it with you. It includes a map of the walkways with numbered stations and their names. Can’t get lost, it is a meandering circle walk.
I wasn’t going to sit on the Growing Stone (perhaps a relative of the Blarney Stone?), a fossilized limestone found in the center of the sinkhole. Not until I read that legend has it that if you sit on the Growing Stone you will be granted tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.
Make things grow? That did it. My buns found that stone and stayed sitting there for a good fine minutes.
Can’t hurt, might help.
The sign also noted that the Growing Stone is always on the Sunken Gardens first day tour for new employees. It is a tradition.
Sunken Gardens is tropical to the 10th degree
On an upper level I found an extensive butterfly garden. A sign said this would be the site of a future Children’s Garden. Sitting on an alcove bench I watched butterflies visiting red and white Pentas, milkweed, pipe vine and plumbago. A pleasant place designed for some Zen moments.
Behind a low wall past the Butterfly Garden lies a small desert area with three boxes, homes for tortoises. The day I visited no tortoises made an appearance. But there is a low step on the other side of the wall for children to look over, so I’m assuming there are times when the turtles appear.
What you need to know
Sunken Gardens, 1825 4th Street North, St. Petersburg, FL 33704. Phone: 727-551-3102.
Web site: http://www.sunkengardens.org
Admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors (age 62 and up), $4 children (ages 2-11)
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 4:30 p.m.
Signing at Bookstore1 Sarasota, 12 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL phone 941-365-7900
Tuesday, July 11th, 2017, at 11:00 am
Click here to RSVP
SUMMERTIME/LOCALTIME. Come to the bookstore to meet the author of three books: 50 Great Walks in Florida, Florida Gone Wild(er) and Mar Margaret Manatee: the adventures of a young Florida manatee (in English and Spanish).
Lucy Beebe Tobias is an award-winning author, photojournalist and illustrator creating lively and engaging books on environment, exploration and ecology. Her writing is family focused, senior welcoming and always eco-friendly. Tobias is a former newspaper reporter and photographer for the New York Times Regional Group. She served as Authentic Florida Expert for Visit Florida with blogs, stories and videos. She lives in Sarasota and if you see a tall woman walking a Welsh Corgi it is probably Lucy.
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