Great Gardens

by Julie Clay

I VISITED THE Naples Botanical Garden in its fledgling state four years ago, and was mildly impressed with the pretty landscaped courtyard, butterfly garden and indoor koi pond. On the other side of the parking lot was vast acreage of undeveloped land with a single paved walkway running beside a pond of runoff. And that’s just what I remember my three year old doing — running off down this path into the woods to explore. “What’s there to see?” I thought, racing after him, “more pine trees?”

“Just wait,” the staff told us repeatedly that day. “We’re not done yet.”

Then in June 2008 the Garden closed to the public to concentrate on a $36 million expansion.

Jump ahead to the present — and — my have things changed at the intersection of Bayshore & Thomasson in east Naples. Yes, that garden has grown. And Naples Botanical Garden has reopened to the public, a year ahead of schedule. Tropical overgrowth has been transformed into 70 acres of majestic beauty and natural wonder. It is also now ranked as the second largest developed botanical garden in the state. An exquisite trio of gardens comprise much of the initial offerings, including a Children’s Garden, Brazilian Garden, and Caribbean Garden, plus a 90-acre preserve. A Florida Garden and Asian Garden are still under construction, as is a Florida Gulf Coast University laboratory and classroom building slated to open soon. And overseeing it all is a 30-year veteran of botanical garden development, Executive Director Brian Holley.

A native Canadian and forestry school graduate, Holley spent 17 years at Toronto’s Royal Botanical Garden as Director of Marketing & Communications before moving on to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens to oversee their major capital expansion.

“We had an incredible time planning, developing and building this expansion,” he says, referring to his current assignment. “What I’m doing right now is what I did for the last 17 years on steroids.”

The Garden recruited some of the world’s finest landscape architects, including Made Wijaya, Robert Truskowski, Raymond Jungles, Herb Schaal and Naples-based Ellin Goetz.

It all started in 1993, when a group of eight Naples residents founded the Garden with nothing more than the dream of creating a world-class botanical garden. The plot of land was originally earmarked as a rock pit, then a low-density housing development before a strip mall was started and never completed. Thanks to a $5 million gift from the late Harvey E. Kapnick , the original board purchased the 170-acre site and proceeded to plan what would become the attraction it is today. The Kapnick Foundation followed in 2006 with a $10 million gift to ensure the project’s completion.

The Vicky C. & David Byron Smith Children’s Garden was designed by Herb Schaal, the country’s leading children’s garden designer, and winner of more awards than any other practicing landscape architect. The garden was created with a goal to be a fun, interactive, comfortable learning environment for whole families. It includes a butterfly house consisting of beautiful flowering plants and a wide array of species. Kids can enjoy a 15ft view from the top of the two treehouses. The Children’s Garden is also home to an organic garden overflowing with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Its Hidden Garden offers its own unique treasures growing in an array of unusual planters — hockey helmets, coffee cans, bathtubs, even a high-heeled shoe.

The Brazilian Garden is the brainchild of landscape architect Raymond Jungles, a leader of modern landscape design. Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx created the brilliant mosaic wall, standing as the garden’s centerpiece surrounded by water lily pools and a cascading waterfall. Amazon water lilies, some of whom measure six feet across, float in the pool, itself filled with rare plants. The pools have a rather dark hue and, as Holley explains, they have been painted black to prevent algae growth.

The Kapnick Caribbean Garden is landscape architect Robert Truskowski’s incredible collage of the landscape elements of the Caribbean. It’s also a step through Caribbean history, giving visitors a glimpse of its natural and cultural history.

The Botanical Garden also has a nod to the natural state of the land with a 90-acre Preserve complete with seven different ecosystems. Hundreds of species of animals live here, including over 50 endangered gopher tortoises. Crews spent many hours removing thousands of invasive melaleuca and Brazilian pepper trees to make way for native grasses and ferns to prosper among the prickly pear cactus, giant pines and ancient cypress. To date, close to 300 species of native plants have been catalogued. Intact native plants attract wildlife and eagles, otters, tree frogs and other animals have joined the gopher tortoises in the Preserve.

Holley notes, “There is more to the garden than beauty and fun.” There’s also their dedication to utilizing every last drop of water with the award-winning water River of Grass, designed by Naples’ own Ellin Goetz (also the designer of the Florida Garden, still under construction). Replicating the Everglades, the River of Grass is a huge bio-filter that clears runoff before it can reach the wetlands. Holley describes it as “the spine between the gardens.”

The Florida Garden itself, set to open in 2011, features the Great Circle made of sable palms, Florida’s state tree. Holley says Goetz had the most difficult challenge of all the landscape architects. “Overall there are Florida landscape elements, but there is no Florida landscape design. She actually picked up on a series of little round ponds, each one ringed by a series of concentric rings as the elevation changed. She took that as the focal point of the garden, starting with a ring made of sable palms.”

The Asian Garden, also slated for a 2011 opening, is the brainchild of Balinese architect Made Wijaya. This garden is comprised of a series of little rooms, each one reflecting different cultures within Southeast Asia. Featured plants are significant from a religious perspective, like plants they use for food, shelter and dye.

Naples Botanical Garden offers 70 acres of unique, brilliant, educational and fun landscapes for the entire family. Bring your kids and definitely bring your camera.

Naples Botanical Garden is located at 4820 Bayshore Drive in Naples — and is open seven days week, 9am-5pm. For more information, call 643-7275. •

from the January-February 2010 issue

The new
Naples BotanicalGarden
is ready for exploring

top to bottom:
Children's Garden,
Caribbean Garden,
Brazilian Garden
Butterfly House,
River of Grass