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If I told you that you could take your children on a magical fairy hunt (Harry P. Leu Gardens), listen to a carillon concert (Bok Tower Gardens), find a hidden unicorn (Miami Beach), or spot a Jesus lizard walking on water (Mounts Botanical Gardens), would you be ready to set out on garden adventures all year long? Now, add that you can do this for under $50 a year and you are not just limited to Florida.
You can access a passport to Public Gardens throughout Florida and North America when you join the American Horticultural Society or any participating garden (Reciprocal Admissions Program). There’s over 345 gardens that you can enjoy special admission privileges and discounts at with your membership including a few in Canada and some Caribbean islands.
When choosing a local garden to join, be sure to check the 90 mile exclusion rule if you have several nearby. Some gardens will not allow you to visit using the reciprocal membership if you live within 90 miles of that garden. There are gardens that are very strict about this.
***Always call ahead as some gardens have changed procedures or suspended tours during the pandemic. Some now require a reservation while others may not be accepting reciprocal members at the time.
Florida Botanical Gardens
You can visit 24 participating members throughout Florida. Each has its own individual style and gardens with something worth finding.
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
633 Osceola Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789
Explore the home of renowned Czech sculptor Albin Polasek while learning about his life, artwork, and enjoy the beautiful gardens that back up to Lake Osceola.
American Orchid Society
10901 Old Cutler Rd
Miami, FL 33156
Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Boulevard
Lake Wales, FL 33853
Bok Tower Gardens belonged to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward W. Bok. The Singing Tower sits on one of the highest elevations in Florida. The Children’s garden is a child’s dream of adventures from the spider web to crawl to the imagination rousing outdoor kids theatre and splash zone.
Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings Resort
845 East Gulf Drive
Sanibel, FL 33957
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
829 Riverside Avenue
Jacksonville, FL 32204
One of my favorite places to visit in Jacksonville, the gardens overlook the St. John’s River. The Art museum offers an interactive children’s area with hands-on activities to make and take.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
2350 McGregor Boulevard
Fort Myers, FL 33901
Not only will you get to see Ford cars but also Edison’s lab and private swimming pool he created. The gardens overlook the Caloosahatchee River.
Everglades Wonder Gardens
27180 Old 41 Road
Bonita Springs, FL 34135
Wonder Gardens provides a refuge for Florida’s rescued wildlife including alligators, flamingos, tortoises, macaws, and more.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road
Coral Gables, FL 33156
Head to this one for the best outdoor tropical rain forest experience in the United States. Let the kids become certified explorers as they venture off on a mission through the Expedition Discovery program. The missions change monthly and are self-paced.
3750 South Flamingo Road
Davie, FL 33330
A once upon a time orange grove turned into one of the last natural jungles in South Florida, featuring the largest tree in Florida.
Florida Botanical Gardens
12520 Ulmerton Road
Largo , FL 33774
A busy schedule of events include yoga, hops night, plant sales, garden tours, and holiday lights. A 2-in-1 stop awaits you as you head over to the Heritage Village with its 33 historic attractions including homes, a general store, a railroad depot, schools, and a church. The Majeed Discovery children’s garden continues to take shape as fundraising is ongoing. Numerous gardens make this a pleasantly vast walking experience.
Goodwood Museum & Gardens
1600 Miccosukee Road
Tallahassee, FL 32308
Feel free to explore the main house and grounds virtually. Learn about its link to the Marquis De Lafayette and embrace a history told of the exchanges and fall of wealth and slavery in North Florida. The four antebellum buildings that still stand were built by the enslaved although little else remains of their story.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 North Forest Avenue
Orlando, FL 32803
They keep it interesting here with alternating exhibits like the Fairy Hunt during summer and the Alphabet Plant Hunt (Sept. 10 to Oct. 31, 2021), movie nights, and concerts.
Heathcote Botanical Gardens
210 Savannah Road
Fort Pierce, FL 34982
The children’s garden features a chickee hut built in the traditional Seminole way with open sides and a thatched roof, a Pioneer cabin, and a mosaic hopscotch. Other features of interest are the Japanese garden with traditional elements and symbols, the reflection garden and pond, and the Palm & Cycad Walk through the tropics with unique specimens from all over the world.
Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens
1445 Millcoe Road
Jacksonville, FL 32225
This one is awesome for its nature trails marked from easiest to hardest. The live oak trail is a moderate 0.5 mile trail with a 125-year-old live oak tree, pine flatwoods, and native honeysuckle azalea. Look for the blooms in white or pink with red in early spring.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – Downtown campus
1534 Mount Street
Sarasota, FL 34236
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – Historic Spanish Point campus
337 North Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229
McKee Botanical Garden
350 U.S. Highway 1
Vero Beach, FL 32962
The children’s garden here features Exploration, Storytime, and Moving to Music in the gardens. It’s an 18 acre tropical hammock filled with splashing and adventure for the kids. It’s not all about the kids though, walking through the Grand Central Stickwork Sculpture will have you feeling like a kid in a magical garden too.
Miami Beach Botanical Garden
2000 Convention Center Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139
In the heart of Miami Beach, you’ll find this quiet treasure with a hidden unicorn to search for and garden seats perfect for reflection or chatting. Regular events include Wednesday yoga, open air concerts, and meditations in the gardens.
Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County
531 North Military Trail
West Palm Beach, FL 33415
Try an art journaling class or just some quiet time in the Garden of Tranquility. The best thing I’ve ever spotted here was a Jesus Lizard (Brown Basilisk) skipping across a pond and it’s the only place where I’ve spotted one living its best life. It is called a Jesus lizard because it appears to walk on water as it runs across it. Keep your eyes out for it! They are becoming a more popular sighting in South Florida as this nonnative lizard grows in population.
Ormond Beach Memorial Art Museum and Gardens
78 East Granada Boulevard
Ormond Beach, FL 32176
You will find interactive experiences here that blend art and garden well, such as a color hunt in the gardens in summer, a virtual felt pumpkin workshop in October, and a free virtual family art night monthly.
Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
5800 Riverside Drive
Punta Gorda, FL 33982
Look forward to the Gardens Aglow in December for a walk-through experience among the twinkling lights with S’mores, Christmas Carols, & a socially distant Santa.
Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens
2410 SE Westmoreland Boulevard
Port St. Lucie, FL 34952
This gorgeous surprise is a delightful stop when traveling between Central Florida and South Florida along I-95. It’s ADA compliant with a six foot wide walking path that takes you past an alluring outdoor orchid room, the faerie forest, a hibiscus garden, bromeliad island garden, and even a secret garden. Along the way you’ll also see sculptures and art that have been remarkably blended into their surroundings.
1825 Fourth Street North
St. Petersburg, FL 33704
Visit the oldest tropical plants in the area at this hundred year old garden that used to be an Old Florida roadside attraction. It’s also home to a captivating flock of flamingos.
University of South Florida Botanical Garden
Pine and Alumni Drives
Tampa, FL 33620
Numerous studies discuss the healing power of nature and its benefits on both physical health and cognitive functioning. When compared to an urban walk, a recent study found that the nature walk resulted in a greater increase in memory with a greater decrease in anxiety and the positive effects of the walk sustained for longer on general well-being. Another report found that adults benefited from a positive association with good health and well-being when they spent at least 120 minutes per week in natural environments.
You can easily take a simple walk in the many gardens but if you’re looking for more interactive experiences, there’s several ways to get more involved and active in your exploration.
Try a hashtag challenge – while walking around the garden find plants worthy of certain hashtags and get creative with your shot of the plant or a selfie. (This idea is courtesy of Selby Gardens so feel free to tag them @selbygardens)
Bring a nature journal and pencils/markers to try these impromptu, low prep activities:
- Use the sun to capture a drawing of your shadow or any other shadow.
- Signs of the season – write down the colors you see, sounds you hear, time of day, temperature, and clues to what season it is. (dying flowers, ice, buds, acorns)
- Up in the Sky – you can record the skies without even leaving home, any window will do. Note the time, describe the clouds, the sun, birds, and weather changes.
- Draw or trace the different leaves you find.
- Find your favorite tree – study and record its leaves, bark, height, and shape.
- Do the same with your favorite animal or flower.
The Children & Nature Network supports healthy, active family play in many ways due to the important impact that time in nature can have on developing bonds, improving communication, and making memories. Their Family Nature Club kit can help you organize events for your family and others.
One more way to save and experience all of these gardens and more for less: Occasionally some gardens have memberships available on Groupon as well. I bought a family membership pass 2 years in a row to Sunken Gardens for $30 because I saw it there first.
If you use any of these ideas, I’d love to hear about it. We’re at 14 and counting, which ones have you been to? Comment below and tell me your favorite.
Are you too far from Florida? No worries, there’s gardens everywhere! Find yours and visit the others whenever you can. Your local garden may even be one that is always free.