With the holidays and the cooler weather come a lot of extras that might be hard on our pockets this year… especially travel. If you’re one of many Floridians opting to stay put this season, consider a cost-effective alternative: visiting one or several local public demonstration gardens in your neck of the woods.
The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service is responsible for educating the public with research-based information that helps to improve quality of life and offer solutions to everyday problems. One of the best ways to answer gardening and landscaping questions, therefore, is to showcase plants, in the form of gardens.
There are 61 public demonstration gardens scattered across the state. Many of them are located on the grounds of the Extension Office in a particular county, but many are featured in front of public buildings such as libraries. They vary greatly in size, shape, and plant choices, but they all promote the same concepts – choosing the right plant for the right place; planning for stormwater runoff and reduction of non-point source pollution; and being Florida-friendly!
And the best part? They’re all free to visit! The only cost will be a couple of gallons of gas… not bad for a day of entertainment!
While I would love to expound on the amazing features of each of the 61 gardens, I chose to highlight five particular gardens, partly because of their geographic location and partly because of what they have to offer. For a list of all 61 gardens, their locations and contact information, visit the University of Florida’s EDIS publication, Demonstration Gardens in the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP108.
The Escambia County Demonstration Garden was established in 1995 by a dedicated group of Master Gardener volunteers. Since then, 11 demonstration areas have been created to help educate the community about plants that grow on the Gulf Coast and research-based horticulture practices. Each year, Master Gardeners offer two garden festivals which are free to the public and feature talks and a plant sale. The gardens are located behind the Extension office at 3740 Stefani Road, Cantonment, FL 32533-7792.
For more information, visit: http://escambia.ifas.ufl.edu/hort/demo-garden.shtml
Northeast Florida – Nassau County
Established September 2005, the purpose of the Nassau County Demonstration Garden is to show examples of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Northeast Florida landscapes, adopted from the University of Florida’s Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program. The garden provides an opportunity for Nassau County residents, children and businesses to see the care and maintenance of landscape plants best suited for the area. These principles include: using low-volume irrigation, choosing the right plant for the right place, mulching, recycling, attracting wildlife, and integrated pest management (IPM).
The gardens are located at the Nassau County Cooperative Extension – Yulee Satellite Office, 96135 Nassau Place Road (Nassau County Governmental Complex). For more information, visit: http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/demogarden/factsheet.html
Central Florida – Lake County
The Lake County Extension Discovery Gardens are located at the Lake County Agriculture Center, 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares, Florida 32778-4262. It is situated on a 3.5 acre site made up of 20 major themed gardens, each designed to show a different gardening aspect in Central Florida. It has more than 700 different plants demonstrating landscapes that are attractive, functional, and friendly to the environment. All plants are labeled, and cultural information is available upon request at the Master Gardener Plant Clinic in the main building.
For more information, visit: http://discoverygardens.ifas.ufl.edu/tour_our_gardens.htm
Covering approximately 160 acres, the Pinellas County Florida Botanical Gardens is the largest public demonstration garden as part of the University of Florida’s Extension demonstration garden collection in the state. Over 150 types of bird, mammals, and reptiles have been documented on site. Several endangered or threatened species including Bald Eagles, Gopher tortoises and Sherman Fox squirrels make their home here. There are also a number of threatened or endangered plants found on site.
The Florida Botanical Gardens are an educational and leisure resource and a model of conservation and sustainable practices by integrating education into the exhibits and programs, applying the principles of green architecture, utilizing energy-and water-efficient Florida-friendly techniques, and focusing on local condition, native plants and appropriate non-native, non-invasive ornamentals. Find them at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo, FL 33774.
For more information, visit: http://www.flbg.org
South Florida – Indian River Research and Education Center
At the University of Florida’s Indian River Research and Education Center, located at 2199 South Rock Road, Fort Pierce, FL 34945-3138, visit the Teaching Gardens and the Linear Garden for a great south Florida landscaping experience.
In 1997, a new University of Florida teaching program was established at the Indian River Research and Education Center. Increased student enrollment and the need for hands-on laboratory activities outdoors inspired the idea of transforming a piece of fallow land into a Teaching Garden. The north half of the garden was developed as a subtropical fruit demonstration block displaying 88 specimens of mango, lychee, avocado, citrus and other tropical fruit. The south half of the garden was designed as an ornamental display garden. The garden is intended to serve as an outdoor teaching laboratory available to many classes offered at IRREC. It also serves as an ideal location for variety trial testing, master gardener training, as well as leisurely visits from the general public.
The Linear Garden may be only three feet wide, but it is 2,426 feet long (nearly half a mile) and is therefore affectionately called the ‘Linear Garden’. It spans the entire length of South Rock Road and is located on the East side of the street across from the IRREC facility and USDA. The garden includes approximately 247 different species of trees, palms, shrubs, ground covers and vines. The garden was designed to showcase specimen plants and display other common landscape plants utilized in the South-Central Florida region with attention to foliage type, color and size in addition to flowering times and color providing year-round interest regardless of the season.
For more information on both gardens, visit: http://irrecenvhort.ifas.ufl.edu/virtualgarden/details.htm