Sunken Gardens Grows Lush and Exotic

Sunken Gardens Grows Lush and Exotic

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.

Sunken Gardens

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.

Sunken Gardens flamingos

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.

Sunken Gardens flower

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.

Parking: Free.

 

Upcoming Events

Lucy with books

Lucy Tobias

Signing at Bookstore1 Sarasota, 12 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL phone 941-365-7900

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017, at 11:00 am

Bookstore1Sarasota

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.

More to Explore

Flutter with the Butterflies in Fort Myers

jack Keroyac lived for a while in College Park, Floraida

Naples Loves Outdoor Farmers Markets

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

September in Florida can be cruel. An early morning breeze caresses our cheeks like a lover’s touch and then bam! An hour later the thrill of fall is gone, replaced by yet another hot day and humid night – enough already!

So here is your September survival plan – stay in air conditioning a little longer. But don’t do this at home. Head for your nearest Florida art museum. Seriously. The AC is turned on. Florida art museums have exciting exhibits you don’t want to miss. Gift shops are loaded with temptations. An art museum café is a great place for taking a food break.

Sounds like a plan. I beat the heat and head to St. Petersburg to see the special Escher exhibit (Aug. 22, 2015 through Jan. 3, 2016) at the Dali Museum.

Florida art museum, Dali window view, St. Petersburg
View of St. Pete waterfront from the second floor of the Dali Museum. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Escher has long fascinated me. His intricate playing with positive and negative space (birds flying one way with the spaces being birds flying the other way) makes the viewer wonder – how many levels of reality are there? Good question.

The Escher exhibit is included in the price of admission to the Dali. I recommend the free audio guides. Museum hours are 10-5 with extended hours on Thursday (10-8). Parking onsite costs $10 for non-members but there are nearby surface lots and street parking too.

Close by on Beach Drive the venerable Museum of Fine Arts has a visiting exhibit called Five Decades of Photography (June 20 through Oct. 4) and another one called 50 Artworks for 50 Years. Notice a lot of “5’s” in the titles? That is because in 2015 MFA celebrates 50 years as a Florida art museum.

See the admission page for fees. MFA is open Monday through Friday from 10-5, Thursday from 10-8 and Sunday from noon -5.

Come back to MFA for a launch party on Oct. 21 when, as part of their anniversary celebration, they will launch a new cookbook called Food and Art, their first new cookbook in 40 years.

Over the Skyway to a Unique Art Museum

Just over the Skyway Bridge in Sarasota is the famed Ringling Museum of Art. Admission prices vary. On Mondays the museum is free while admission is required for other buildings on the grounds such as the circus museum. John and Mable Ringling, of circus fame, traveled widely, collected wildly and brought home every bit of Europe they could carry. The result – an exciting, restless collection of buildings that house in depth collections and changing exhibits.

Florida art museum, statue, Ringling Museum, Sarasota
A statue in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

One current exhibit called Back and Forth: Thinking in Paint (Aug. 14-Oct. 25) is a dialog between contemporary painting by the faculty of Florida State University and the Ringling’s permanent collection.

Florida Art Museum Buildings Are Worth Exploring

Buildings housing Florida art museums get a lot of attention. The Dali museum building and grounds, modern and playful in the Dali “look at me” spirit, can be a destination in itself but what’s inside is even better than the outside.

The same is true of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. The setting is the former Hotel Alcazar built in 1887 by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. It is grand, elegant, meant to be a showpiece. And it works – inside and out.

 

Florida art museum - Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
Lightner Museum, St. Augustine. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Chicago publisher Otto Lightner bought the building in 1946 to house his extensive collection of 19th century life, often called “The Gilded Age”. Wander all three floors of the old hotel. Rooms are filled with cut glass, Victorian art glass, costumes, furnishings, paintings and my personal favorite – a section with the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Admission prices vary. The Lightner Museum is open every day (but Christmas) fro 9-5. Last admission is at 4 p.m.

Museum Galleries Galore in Gainesville

In Gainesville the Historic Thomas Center occupies a former private residence and hotel built in Mediterranean Revival Style. The popular center has galleries in rooms with high ceilings and lovely light. The current exhibit is Beauty and the Beasts (June 26-September 19). To know more, contact Russell Etling, cultural affairs manager, at 352-393-8532 or visit www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.

The Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus offers rotating exhibits in well-appointed galleries. It is a year for birthdays. The Harn is celebrating its 25th birthday.

Admission is free. Open Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m. Open the second Thursday evening of each month from 6 – 9 p.m. for Museum Nights. The Museum is closed on Mondays and state holidays. The Harn Museum Store is open during museum hours.

Downstairs at the Harn is the Camellia Court Café, a lovely spot for a light lunch or coffee break.

At the other end of the art museum building spectrum, the Morse Museum of American Art in downtown Winter Park occupies a building so bland it could pass for generic office space. Looks are deceiving. The inside is pretty exciting.

Florida Art Museum - Morse Museum of Art, Winter Park
Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

The collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) includes jewelry, paintings, pottery, leaded glass lamps and windows. There is no other Tiffany collection this comprehensive anywhere.

Best of all (in my humble opinion) is the recreation of his chapel interior for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Admission varies. Museum hours are 9:30–4:00 Tuesday through Saturday (Open until 8:00 p.m. Friday, November through April and 1:00–4:00 Sunday. Closed Monday and most major holidays

Note: During the month of September holders of Sunrail tickets – show your tickets and get free admission.

There is an air-conditioned Florida art museum near you. Here is Artcyclopedia’s list of Florida art museums with both fine art collections and an online presence.

More To Explore

Art and Food Go Together in Puerto Vallarta

Discover Downtown St. Petersburg

Venice is a Vision Worth Visiting