The first day of our Florida vacation, we journeyed a bit farther south to Sarasota. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, located on Sarasota Bay in the Gulf of Mexico, is just one of Florida's treasures and though I visited them last year, Romie went golfing that day and I wanted him to see them for himself. Neither of us was disappointed, as they lived up to their reputation of being voted the #1 botanical gardens in the state by Florida Monthly and one of the top ten botanical gardens in the country by Country Living Gardener magazine.
The gardens are the result of Marie Selby's "Passion For Plants" and 180,000 visitors a year are the benefactors. Mrs. Selby led a fascinating life with her husband, William, and because of his fascination with the first cross-country automobile race, she accompanied her husband on a cross-country trip by car and was the first woman to do so.
After entering the visitor's center and having the $12 admission fee waived because we are both members of the American Horticultural Society, we walked into the conservatory, which houses more than 6000 orchids. There had apparently been an orchid show of sorts prior to our arrival, as there were displays of orchid specimens with award ribbons attached to them. The scent upon entering the conservatory was definitely tropical and deliciously ambrosial. The different scents of the various species of orchids created a blend that was intoxicating and indescribable. Romie said to me, "Could you imagine living here and having this to go to in the dead of winter?" No ... really, I couldn't. It was too heavenly.
We spent quite a bit of time in the conservatory, which had trickling waterfalls along one side, that emptied into a small pond. Pennies and other coins had been tossed in. There was a buddha carved into the wall which was covered in green moss. Some of the more valuable orchids were in a glass cabinet of sorts, but the rest were as close as you wanted to get to them.
There were other plants in the conservatory, of course, such as bromeliads, carnivorous plants, and vines of all kinds. But the focus was on orchids. As we were perusing and discussing the incredible detail in some of these, I overheard one woman say to her friend, "So many people come in here and take so many pictures that they don't stop and just enjoy the flowers themselves." I wanted to tell her that some people do both. We were not in a hurry and we spent enough time in there and in the rest of the gardens that we took in the sights and the smells in great detail. The photos I was taking were so that I could enjoy the visit again, once I returned home to Ohio. And when I see these pictures, I have excellent peripheral vision. In my mind's eye, I can remember what it was like when I was standing there and can see beyond the borders of the photo.
It was a beautiful sunny day today, with temperatures in the mid-80s (°F) and a slight breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico to our west. We spent considerable time strolling through the outside gardens, which included a fragrance garden, a butterfly garden, a banyan grove, a bamboo garden, a cactus and succulent garden, a Koi pond, and a boardwalk through the mangroves. Somehow we managed to miss Wild Things, which was a small building housing poison dart frogs. I guess we'll just have to make a return visit to see them!
There are two residence buildings on the property. The mansion where William and Marie Selby lived, and the Christy Payne mansion. You can enter both of them, and see examples of southern architecture. They house art displays and today, we saw the Rainforest Masks, carved by the Borucan Indians of Costa Rica. The art of three-dimensional mask carving, which is done in balsa or cedar, began before the Spanish Conquest (1524 A.D.) and is one of the few indigenous crafts still being practiced. The detail in these carved masks was incredible! All were available for purchase, with a large one, measuring approximately 7" by 24", selling for about $725.
Marie Selby Gardens maintains a weather station, which is part of the Global Canopy Program. "The Selby Gardens weather monitoring station logs local weather adjacent to Sarasota Bay. Data from ground and canopy levels include temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind direction and wind speed, solar radiation, soil moisture, and precipitation."¹ Growing conditions at the top of the forest canopy can vary widely from those on the forest floor and scientists at the gardens document those conditions and study the data.
There are two customer shops on the premises, The Rainforest Store/Garden Shop, which sells a large number of gardening books, garden decor, and many, many orchids. Banyan Treasures is a more traditional gift shop with fine art, home decor, ceramic pottery, Venetian glass, and unusual jewelry pieces. I somehow managed to make purchases at both stores, and enjoyed a 10% discount, again, courtesy of my AHS membership.
It's impossible for me to recount every beautiful flower blossom, every wonderful view of the harbor, and each charming vignette that we encountered today while leisurely walking down the paths criss-crossing the 9.5 acres, but I hope some of my pictures will give you an idea of the beauty at 811 South Palm Avenue in Sarasota.
Note the bromeliads and orchids growing in this tree behind the Christy Payne mansion.
Buddha and the Bromeliad
Unknown orchid I
The little anoles were everywhere!
Roots of a banyan tree
Can someone ID this beauty?
Blooms on a tapeworm plant
Great white egret in the backwater
"Two Teeth" carved in cedar
Detail of carved mask
Unknown orchid II
Sarasota Bay View
Unknown orchid III
Unknown orchid IV
One of many different colored tropical hibiscus in bloom
The Fragrance Garden
Unknown orchid V
Pothos as a ground cover
I'm not familiar with this one...
¹Selby Weather Station