Naples Botanical Garden: Gardens with Latitude

Over spring break we drove 3,200 miles (5,149 km) round-trip to Florida, with stops in Orlando, Miami, Everglades National Park, the Keys (all the way to Key West), and finally Naples to see the brand-new botanical garden there. Planted last August and opened to the public in November, Naples Botanical Garden is in its infancy, but it will grow up fast under the Florida sun.

The approach from the parking lot sets the stage with bold color. A lime-green wall with hot-pink bougainvillea contrasts with the salmon-colored entry planted with palms and orange, red, and green rainbow bromeliads.

The gardens showcase subtropical plants that grow around the world between the 26th latitude north, where Naples is located, and the 26th latitude south.

The centerpiece is the Brazilian Garden…

…where a negative-edge waterfall and pond are overlooked by a large mosaic tile mural by renowned Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

Miami landscape architect Raymond Jungles, who studied under Marx, donated the mural and designed the contemporary Brazilian Garden.

Swaths of one kind of plant…

…blocks of color…

…and contrasts in form: it’s a mod, mod world.

So many of the plants were entirely foreign to me, Seussian in shape, and their deeply colored, broad, glossy leaves were strikingly different from the silvery green, small, and often fuzzy leaves I’m used to seeing on xeric sun-lovers here in Austin. This is Neoregelia petra.

This one, in the foreground, looks more familiar. In fact, I mistook it for a yucca at first, but it’s actually a bromeliad called Alcantarea odorata.

More Portea, I think

Neoregelia mcwilliamsii

Climbing up to the pavilion behind the waterfall, you look out over the negative edge at a colorful and palm-studded garden. You can see that some of the trees were still bare. According to a horticulturist I spoke with, some of the plants were recovering from transplant shock and the same January cold snap that hit much of the southern U.S. It dipped down to 31 F (-.5 C) in the garden one night and remained cold for several days, killing some of the subtropical plants and setting back others. For all that, I thought the garden looked remarkably healthy and established considering its recent planting.

Tropical water lilies

Red water lily leaves look like stepping stones

A path on the other side of the pond…

…leads to the Caribbean Garden.

The focal point of the Caribbean Garden is a turquoise cabana-like structure, providing welcome shade and open to cooling breezes.

The front yard, with crushed-shell “gravel” that looks almost like beach sand.

View from a bench inside

Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grows outside.

As does a cultivated grove of pineapple.

Palms dominate the view, no matter where you are in the botanical garden. I noticed a beautiful yellow fruit on this palm.

A closer look

The name of this one intrigued me: zombie palm.

A river of grass represents the Everglades, which begins just south of Naples.

Several lakes, whose excavation during the garden’s construction provided soil used to create topographical interest, offer a naturalistic experience and good bird-watching opportunities.

But signs warn you to look out for alligators! The horticulturist I spoke to assured me that alligators do inhabit their lakes. But they haven’t eaten anyone yet.

The only reptile we spotted here, however, was rather small: this little lizard on a fence in the Children’s Garden.

Kids would have a fun time exploring this garden—as did we, even though our children are too old for many of the features, including an interactive fountain for cooling off in and a charming playhouse, where children are invited to use one of numerous watering cans to water the vegetables growing all around.

Aside from a treehouse, a tall watchtower, a stream with stepping stones, chalk for drawing on the sidewalk, a sandpit, and a stroll-behind waterfall, the children’s garden entices small gardeners with colorful flowers like this pink cosmos…

…and fun purse planters that decorate a garden wall. Many other everyday objects were planted up and placed throughout the garden to provide a little surprise.

Bees were attracted too.

A few softer flowering plants like this beautiful vine…

…and this pink trumpet tree stood out amid the sea of colorful, dramatic foliage in the gardens.

But my main impression was of foliage—palms and bromeliads, especially. I never knew there were so many varieties of each, and such diversity of form and color.

I would love to see Naples Botanical Garden again in a few years, when the palms and other plants have had a chance to spread out and fill in and create even more drama.

My thanks to Shannon Palmer, NBG’s communications manager, who tweets about happenings in the garden at @NaplesBotanical, for taking the time to say hello and sharing some of the garden’s publications with me.

All material © 2006-2010 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    Seeing those purses used as planters reminds me of some austin gardens :).

    I thought so too, Eric. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Wow. This will be so lush when it fills in. I was wondering if that was all white sand as mulch around those bromeliads. I always thought bromeliads needed shade. I was wrong. There are so many I am not familiar with. This garden looks like it is in another world. I am impressed that you were in a car for 3200 miles with two children and a husband and came back alive and sane. ;) Just goes to show that gardens are very good for the soul.

    I know virtually nothing about bromeliads, Lisa. These obviously love sun and hot weather, but I suspect they do get a lot of water. —Pam

  3. Gail says:

    Pam, This garden SO resonates with your style! From the moment you stepped into it your heart must have been soaring…the colors of the building, the contemporary touches, the mass planting, the plant forms, the texture…even the corrugated metal! I love it, too! Thank you for the tour…It’s now on my MUST SEE list. gail

    Hi, Gail. You are right that I love color, bold foliage, and contemporary garden design. But in all honesty I have never been an enthusiast of the tropical look and only recently have come around to trying a few palms in my own garden. I lean more toward billowy and bold Southern CA and, yes, xeric Austin gardens than the flamboyant subtropical style. I really did enjoy our visit to NBG, but it didn’t steal my heart. —Pam

  4. Your water lilies photo is my favorite! Gorgeous capture!

    So many architectural plants. I love the Rainbow Bromeliads.

    Those rainbow bromeliads were almost otherworldly. It was a Dr. Seussian experience to stroll around the Brazilian Garden especially. —Pam

  5. So glad you could visit Pam, it was great meeting you and your family! Your pictures are spectacular and really capture a lot of what we have. I’ll keep you posted on the additional Asian, Florida and Water Gardens that are set to open this November and hopefully you all can come back to see how much we’ve grown in the future!

    Shannon, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It was so nice to meet you in person after tweeting with you. Good luck with your work at Naples Botanical Garden! —Pam

  6. Pam, great post! Those purse planters are definitely going to find a spot in my garden, that’s a wonderful, creative idea. That tropical vibe gets me excited just to see it in your pics, it resonates with my psyche so much. I am curious, though…as you mentioned, we are accustomed to sun-tough plants having small leaves and blooms. Yet those sun-tough plants are just the opposite. Is it because of the greater amount of moisture they receive in their climate? Are the small leaves of our southwestern plantings that way to be drought-tolerant, and the tropical ones don’t have to worry about that? I’ve never realized what a difference until you showed it so blatantly with your posts.

    I assume many of these big-leaved sun lovers from the subtropics are quite thirsty, based on Florida’s moist climate. But who knows. I wish I’d thought to ask a horticulturalist about it. —Pam

  7. I LOVE all of the foliage! Re: all if the bromeliads, though… don’t those require a TON of watering?

    Robin and I were just speculating about that in the comment above yours. Florida’s climate does seem very wet. —Pam

  8. David says:

    Wow, thanks for showing more GOOD design – the basics of form, repetition and without dependence on flower color. And a garden connected to it’s place – in that case, the 26N to 26S latitudes, particularly the subtropical areas.

    David, the gardens were designed by several highly regarded landscape architects, but the contemporary slant still somewhat took me by surprise in a botanical garden. —Pam

  9. Loved your post, the photos were terrific, and I think better than the “official” website.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the images, CCB. —Pam

  10. Jenny B says:

    Absolutely lovely!

    Thanks, Jenny. —Pam

  11. Birdwoman says:

    What a magical place. Makes me want to hop in the car and go.

    It’s worth a visit. You should go. —Pam

  12. Christine B. says:

    All those bright colors and wild sillouettes and shapes really give that tropical or jungle feel. I don’t know how that style would translate across the country and 8 climate zones, but it brought a smile to my face on a cold day. Thanks.

    Christine in Alaska

    Yeah, I imagine this would look pretty weird in Alaska. It seemed pretty out-of-this-world even to this Texan. —Pam

  13. I love the water plants and how bright all of the colors are of all the plants. I love the texture as well. But, my favorite picture is of the purses with plants growing in them…priceless!

    The purses seem to be a hit with garden bloggers. ;-) —Pam

  14. Beautiful photos, as usual.

    Another example of how foliage can make a beautiful landscape.
    I just put together a post for later in the week, on the mostly foliage landscape around our resort in Mexico. Beautiful tropics….

    I look forward to seeing it, Linda. —Pam

  15. Loree says:

    What a remarkable garden considering it was just planted and then endured a cold snap. It looks so lush and “other-worldly” in your photos. Thank you for taking us there!

    My pleasure, Loree! —Pam

  16. Les says:

    Thank you so much for the tour, I enjoyed it.

    I’m glad to hear it, Les. —Pam

  17. Lola says:

    I didn’t know this existed. It is not far from me. Will have to put this on my list. It sure would be a lot of enjoyment.

    I didn’t realize you were so close to Naples, Lola. Lucky you. —Pam

  18. OK. I just gotta say it: weird! So many of the plants seem foreign and, well, a bit harsh. The repeated use of the big blocks of mono-plantings may be a “modern” approach, but their over-use is static to my eye…That said, as these gardens mature and are viewed by walking through them, they will no doubt be an asset to the gardening community. Loved the mural. Loved the “shadows” photo, too. Thanks for the tour, Pam!!!

    Jocelyn, I hear you. The plants seemed weird to me too. I was gawking at everything like a camera-toting tourist. (Wait, I was a camera-toting tourist.) I found the garden fascinating, and there was much beauty to be seen. But the strangeness of the flora kept me at a bit of a distance. I did appreciate the area of contemporary design (which was mainly in the Brazilian Garden), which I hadn’t encountered in a botanical garden before—not that I’ve been to very many. —Pam

  19. Town Mouse says:

    That garden looks too tidy by far! Well, maybe in a few years things will break down a bit. Glad you got to go, though. Some of those plants are indeed amazing.

    I don’t know these plants at all, TM, but I could see that things were going to fill in fast. I think that expanse of white shell-gravel will be hidden in much of the garden before too long. —Pam

  20. chuck b. says:

    It’s always wonderful to hear about *new* public gardens. Great pictures!

    Thanks, Chuck. It was a treat to be able to visit a new garden at its start, although it makes me wonder what it will be like when it gets established. —Pam

  21. Chris G says:

    Hey Pam – I simply adore those purse planters. My time is all soaked up this week with Master Gardener/Zilkerfest preparations – but in the next weekend or two, I want to visit goodwill for some purses and then plant them up with colorful annuals….. what a sweet idea!

    Thanks so much for sharing.


    Have fun with it, Chris! —Pam

  22. Daricia says:

    pam, what a fantastic post! i was in central florida at the same time you were, but couldn’t quite take the time to go to naples. (we were there just three days.) your photos make me feel i got to go anyway – they are just like a walk through with a design-savvy tour guide. wonderful!

    I’m happy to have given you a tour, Daricia. :-) —Pam

  23. […] how about these tongue-in-cheek purse planters hanging on a fence in the children’s garden at Naples Botanical Garden? What a clever way to bring the garden up to eye level in a narrow […]