by Katie Vincent | June 16, 2022

Explore a Horticultural Haven at Naples Botanical Garden

From Asian gardens bursting with lotus flowers to activities that invite all ages into the fold, the gardens remind visitors that nature is for everyone.

“Sea Change” by artist Patrick Dougherty at Naples Botanical Garden.

Thirty thousand pounds of sticks doesn’t sound glamorous. But in the skilled hands of sculptor and environmental artist Patrick Dougherty, it’s nothing short of mesmerizing. In one of Dougherty’s recent installations, “Sea Change,” a special two-year exhibit erected last fall at Naples Botanical Garden, four interconnected circles of woven willow saplings swoop and fold like waves. Standing 16 feet high, 70 feet long, and 16 feet wide, the sculpture has beckoned children to explore its tunnel-like structure, yogis to imitate its graceful movements, and fashionistas to pose for magazine spreads and Instagram posts.

“Naples Botanical Garden melds the beauty of tropical landscapes with thought-provoking art exhibitions and events that bring our community together,” says Jenny Fuentes, the garden’s content manager. The impetus in commissioning Dougherty, she explained, was the way his work connects people with nature and “reminds us all of the possibilities of plants.”

Naples Botanical Garden melds the beauty of tropical landscapes with thought-provoking art exhibitions and events that bring our community together.
— Jenny Fuentes

Founded in 1993 by a group of local plant enthusiasts, Naples Botanical Garden opened to the public in 2009, and in 2017, became the youngest garden ever to receive the American Public Gardens Association’s prestigious Award for Garden Excellence. Its 170 acres features nine separate gardens dedicated to the flora that flourishes between the 26th latitudes, which includes Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and—naturally—the Sunshine State. Among its wonders: lush, flowering plants and trees such as crepe myrtles, magnolias, and mussaenda; sleek and striking aroids, bromeliads, palms, and waterlilies; perfume-like plumeria; countless orchids species, from delicate dendrobiums to fat phalaenopsis blooms; a robust collection of endangered and prehistoric plants; and more than 60,000 square feet of water features that beg visitors to unwind.

The picturesque venue sets the stage for unforgettable special events, from the Johnsonville Night Lights in the Garden during the holiday season to springtime soirees, such as Blooms & Brews, Hats in the Garden (The Garden’s largest fundraising event), and the Naples Flower Show & Garden Market, featuring a flower and plant competition, floral design demonstrations, and plant sales. Seasonally (winter and spring), the garden extends its hours for “Sunset Wednesdays,” when guests can peruse the grounds—and enjoy half-priced bottles of wine and food specials from the Fogg Café—while watching the sky erupt in a magnificent display of orange, yellow and pink.

The Lea Asian Garden takes visitors on a journey through Southeast Asia.

The garden’s main purpose, however, is serving as a regional resource for plant science, conservation and education. It features 6,200 collections of more than 13,000 species and 18,000 living plants. More than 500 of those plants are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Worldwide Endangered Species list, as well as Florida’s Regional Endangered Species list. The garden hosts daily educator-led tours and provides “W.O.N.D.E.R.” activity packs that prompt families to walk, observe, navigate, draw, explore and read together during their visit.

Additionally, it offers special therapeutic programs, including “Sensory-Friendly Saturdays” for visitors on the autism spectrum from January to May. Those with memory impairment can enjoy guided activities alongside their caretakers during “Meet Me in the Garden,” developed in tandem with the Naples-based Alzheimer’s Support Network. (Researchers have found that being around plants and flowers eases anxiety and depression, boosts cognitive ability, and fosters feelings of joy and calmness.)

You get to travel the world and explore the Everglades from Naples.
— Renée Waller

“Meet Me in the Garden helps participants create new memories together,” says garden educator Adrienne Lewis, who fondly recalls a class she led for a Spanish-speaking senior center before Valentine’s Day 2019. “I made a playlist in advance, with the help of my mom and aunt, who suggested songs my Colombian grandparents liked. The participants instantly recognized them and sang together while they made their floral arrangements. A few even got up and danced with each other.”

In March, the garden broke ground on a $15.5 million facility that marks a new era in its conservation efforts. The 66,000-square-foot Evenstad Horticulture Campus will house specialized greenhouses, nurseries and laboratories, as well as the garden’s collection of more than 200,000 seeds representing 40 species from Southwest Florida and the Caribbean, for restoration and preservation projects.

The garden’s W.O.N.D.E.R. programming inspires families to explore and interact with nature together.

“South Florida and the islands share many of the same plants, soil conditions, weather patterns, so it makes sense to pool our resources and share our expertise,” says Chad Washburn, the garden’s vice president of conservation. “We face a lot of the same threats, too, such as increased temperatures and sea-level rise. We’re working together to conserve plants and habitats that are at risk and find nature-based solutions to environmental problems.”

In addition to specializing in horticultural conservation, the garden’s beauty attracts visitors of all interest levels, from well-versed plant enthusiasts hungry for educational immersion to casual observers just looking to get lost in a maze of Mother Nature’s finest.

“The garden is a regional highlight,” says Renée Waller, the garden’s director of communications and marketing. “You get to travel the world and explore the Everglades from Naples.”

Sponsored by the Naples Botanical Garden