Archive For The “Florida Landmarks” Category
St Augustine in December — The Perfect Time of Year!
As Floridians, one cannot presumptuously expect cooler temperatures simply because we’ve flipped the page on our calendars to December. Grass is still green, flowers abundantly seen, palm trees remain queen, and yes… beach babes (lean and mean) are still applying that coconut sunscreen! Sound like Christmas? Not exactly!
Okay, so we may be seasonally challenged here in the Sunshine State, but annually my mind goes on a mission to somehow duplicate (or find a reasonable facsimile) of that ‘Northern’ Christmas spirit I took for granted for 42 years. I’m happy to report the lost has been found in a charming little Southern City called Saint Augustine.
Welcome to the First Coast — The Oldest City in Our Nation
Located in Florida’s northeast corner, and just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, is our nation’s oldest city — Saint Augustine. It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, and is also the oldest port in the continental United States.
St. Augustine’s narrow cobblestone streets are best explored by foot. In fact, our vehicle was valet-parked in our hotel for 4 days and we didn’t need it until check-out! Self-guided and ‘themed’ walking tours abound, everything from notable historic sites to ghostly tales. The lodging of choice for many visitors to Saint Augustine is the plethora of charming and romantic bed and breakfast inns. And, of course, the Spanish Colonial Architecture adds to the romantic atmosphere and is a photographers dream-come-true!
Historic Casa Monica Hotel — Romance Revisited!
Saint Augustine was the culmination of a 6-city east coast trek celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We love the Florida coast anytime of year, but as the weather plummeted from the mid-eighties to high-sixties St. Augustine became even more charming. There, it was easy to lose ourselves in the history of the ‘Old City’ as we explored the enchanting, walkable neighborhoods. Our hotel, The Casa Monica, was located in the center of the quaint historic district and only a few blocks away from fabulous fine-dining options, beautiful Matanzas Bay, art galleries, nightlife, and sensational little unique shops all decked out for the season.
At the historic Casa Monica Hotel you will experience Moorish-style grandeur in an 1888 property that was once owned by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. (Mr. Flagler developed much of Florida’s eastern coast.) Here’s a link to view Casa Monica rates and availability.
Photo Tour — Opulent Casa Monica Hotel
Here, romance can blossom at any old time!
Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour!
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
The Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour is one of many tours offered by The Tasting Tours Company in St. Augustine. What a fantastic gift for our 25th Wedding Anniversary! I’m not surprised Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked The Tasting Tours #1 in the best activities to do in St. Augustine. For the ‘foodie’ in your family, I highly recommend this award-winning tour as a unique special occasion gift that the recipient will fondly recall for a lifetime. The selection of food and beverage outlets vary with each tour, but you can check out The Tasting Tours slideshow below to see what delectable morsels I had.
Our Tour Included:
3.5 hours of food and wine
5 food tasting venues (at 5 different restaurants in the historic district)
4 wine sample venues (including a wine tasting to begin the tour and a bottle to enjoy on the carriage ride or take home)
A fun and informative guided tour (Jennifer, our tour guide was the best! And our carriage driver was a wealth of knowledge regarding all the historical facts of the city)
This was a delightful way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and we were not hungry again until very late that night. No dinner was necessary, just a bedtime snack!
Okay, so we didn’t go dashing through the snow, but we were in a one-horse open carriage. And, after the second or third stop on the tour, we were most certainly laughing all the way! I don’t remember any bells on bob-tails ringing… but they could have been, by then our spirits were very bright!
TIP: If you’re considering traveling to St. Augustine in the near future, check out the current available tasting tours here. Book early, as they tend to fill up fast!
Tis the Season to Be Jolly — Food, New Friends & Folly on Our Tasting Tour!
The Tasting Tours
Ranked in the Top 20 Best Overall Food Tours in the U.S.
Annual Christmas Tour of Homes
Presented by The Garden Club of St. Augustine
One of my favorite things to do in any city is a Tour of Homes. In St. Augustine the Christmas Tour of Homes is an annual tradition that typically sells out pretty fast. Tickets go on sale in early October, and it’s best to purchase them well in advance, as we did.
Our Tour of Homes included six private residences. Three of them were located in the Military District, along the beautiful Matanzas River. We toured the homes of Major General Emmett Titshaw, Colonel Perry Hagaman, and Colonel Joseph Duren. Another highlight for me was the former Kirkside Estate, winter home of Henry Flagler. It was a special treat personally meeting the owners of each home who graciously paused for photos upon my request. Our Tour of Homes concluded with Tea and Cookies, a Unique Boutique, and a Raffle at the Memorial Presbyterian Church, a St. Augustine historic landmark. In fact, Henry Flagler and several relatives were laid to rest in a mausoleum on the church grounds.
For five fantastic hours on a Sunday afternoon in St. Augustine I felt like I was ‘home’ for Christmas. Each home had their own version of snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree. Okay… so I wasn’t really home for Christmas — but I was in my dreams!
St. Augustine Holiday Tour of Homes — Photo Tour
- Photo Album Tour of Homes – 2016
Are you ready for some new decorating ideas? Grab a cup of eggnog or hot mulled cider, have your notebook handy, sit back and enjoy the slideshows from the 2016 St. Augustine Christmas Tour of Homes!
Top 10 in the World!
Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights was named by National Geographic
as one of the Top 10 places in the world to see holiday lights!
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
National Geographic magazine included Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights in its list of the ten best places in the world to see holiday lighting displays. That’s pretty impressive, considering they’re competing with places like Vienna, Copenhagen, Brussels, Callaway Gardens, Gothenburg, and Madrid. If you only visit St. Augustine once in your life, make sure it’s during the annual Nights of Lights!
Like everything in St. Augustine, the Nights of Lights has its roots in history. During the 250 years that St. Augustine served as the capital of Spanish Florida, residents would put a lighted candle in their window to commemorate the holiday season. Real candles have turned to electric, but they’re still white, and just as dazzling to behold as they decorate the old buildings. The entire historic district is lit with some three million white lights, an amazing holiday spectacle to see.
This year, you can view the Nights of Lights every night from November 18, 2017 to January 31, 2018. There are eight different ways to view the Nights of Lights display; a self-guided walking tour (free), Old Town Trolly Tours, Ripley’s Red Train, by boat with Florida Water Tours, St. Augustine Eco Tours, Gold Tours private small bus, and Helicopter Tours of St. Augustine. Whether you choose to view this holiday tradition by land, air, or sea… you will not be disappointed! Here’s a convenient link to make reservations for any of the tours — Nights of Lights advance reservations.
TIP: I’ve saved the best for last. One of the most romantic ways to see St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights is a private carriage ride. You can view rates and availability here — Nights of Lights Private Carriage Tour.
Celebrate the Holiday Season in St. Augustine
St. Augustine ranks at the top of my list for romantic getaways. And when you couple that with the annual Nights of Lights, there’s no better place in Florida to celebrate the holidays. This sleepy little Spanish town (technically, it’s a city, but it has more of a small town feel) is dripping in romance. What once was a winter playground for the rich and famous, can now be experienced by anyone with a passion for history, culture, and romance. The spirit of the Flagler Golden Era can be felt in every nook and cranny of this place. St. Augustine exudes a bygone era of grace and casual elegance that will forever be a part of this ancient city’s heritage.
St. Augustine is like the charm of Europe on the coast of Florida! There’s no other place in America like it! If you’re looking for a memorable romantic holiday, St. Augustine is sure to add another chapter to your never-ending love story.
Have you been to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, during the holidays? Please share your favorite memory with our readers in the “comment” box below!
Florida is synonymous with sunshine. And one of the many benefits of living in the Sunshine State is the spectacular year-round beauty that our semi-tropical climate produces. Something outstanding is blooming every month of the year. It’s no surprise, then, that Florida is home to some of the most breathtaking botanical gardens in the United States. Some are elegant and formal, others whimsical and amusing, still others aesthetically appealing with the addition of artistic elements and magnificent architectural components. Each one has a uniqueness all its own.
But have you ever thought about who planted those botanical beauties? Before they were drop-dead gorgeous gardens that delight you and I, they existed only in someone’s imagination. It’s interesting, to me, that the visionaries behind all that awesomeness were filthy rich businessmen. Yes, Florida’s most exquisite gardens have very, very rich roots! Buried deep within our sandy soil lies DNA from some of the wealthiest families in American history. I’ve chosen these 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots for you to add to your botanical bucket list.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens — Miami Florida
When I say Miami, “Gardens” is not usually the first thing to pop into someone’s head. Or the second, or third for that matter. Miami is best known for points of interest like South Beach, Ocean Drive, Art Decor Tours, Little Havana, Lincoln Road Mall and Bayside. But if you’ve been to this Southern Florida City and haven’t visited Vizcaya Museum and Gardens somewhere between your Cafe con Leche and Tostada Cubana, you’ve missed a botanical masterpiece!
Vizcaya’s Rich Roots
Vizcaya is a stunningly beautiful American Villa inspired by the palaces of Europe — a subtropical interpretation of an 18th-century Italian countryside villa. It was built in the early 1900s as the winter home for northerner James Deering, a retired millionaire businessman, and one of America’s wealthiest families. Mr. Deering was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, so his doctor recommended sunshine and a warm climate to lessen the effects of his affliction. (Turns out his pain was our gain!) As an avid sailor who owned three yachts, he also had quite a passion for landscaping and plant conservation. All of these things combined to play a huge role in the location of his 180-acre winter estate.
Vizcaya’s old-world European-inspired gardens are among the most elaborate of any in the United States. The formal gardens of Florence, Venice, and Rome served as the inspiration for James Deering. I absolutely love the use of sculptures, elaborate fountains, and other architectural structures strategically placed throughout the garden landscape. There are statues, urns, busts, and vases reminiscent of the Renaissance, which I find remarkably romantic. Apparently I’m not the only one that gets romantic vibes here, as Vizcaya Gardens is a popular wedding destination for multitudes of brides looking to create an enchanting fairy-tale backdrop for their special day. There are tons of charming, picturesque spots to choose from.
The horticultural collections in Vizcaya’s Gardens are so extensive and diverse (it took almost eight years to create the Garden), they have to be catalogued in a plant database. The Gardens include a subtropical forest, a mangrove forest, an exotic 2,000-specimen orchid collection, massive live oaks, Royal Palms imported from Cuba by boat, unusual plants such as Peach Palm and Giant Elephant Ear, and many endangered plants. Some are so rare they only exist here and in one or two other places in the world!
Vizcaya still remains an outstanding garden oasis for the rich and famous. It’s not unusual for Hollywood to come here for film shoots. They’ve recognized what we Floridians have known all along: Vizcaya showcases the history of the Mediterranean, the glamour of the Jazz Age, and the heat of the tropics! For hours, admission, calendar of events, and frequently asked questions, visit the Vizcaya website.
Bok Tower Gardens and Pinewood Estate — Lake Wales Florida
Tranquil and serene. Bok Tower Gardens gets my vote for the most peaceful place in Central Florida. It’s the ultimate great escape from Orlando’s thrilling [and sometimes over-crowded] tourist attractions. Since it’s one of my favorite places, Hubby and I have an annual membership to the Gardens. One of the great perk’s of membership is that we receive reciprocal benefits (including free admission) to many other spectacular gardens in Florida and around the country — places like Harry P. Leu Gardens and Museum in Orlando. Bok Tower Gardens is a mere 30-minutes from my home, so we visit frequently. There’s always something new blooming!
And with the recent addition of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, an educational and fun children’s learning area, I can introduce my toddler grandson to the beauty of “natural” Florida. Part of the expansion project also included an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen. The Bok Tower Gardens special event calendar now includes various chef demonstrations and other culinary activities. This area also hosts after-dark soirées perfect for intimate gatherings. A favorite of visitors to Bok Tower Gardens is the infamous 205-foot-tall Singing Tower which houses one of the world’s finest carillons. Concerts occur twice daily, with additional live performances during peak periods.
Pinewood Estate’s Rich Roots
Pinewood Estate is a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion from the 1930s. The Estate is open for self-guided tours throughout the year, with docents on hand to answer questions. The holidays are my favorite time to tour the mansion which features one of the best Christmas Home Tours in all of Florida. Each year, the local Garden Club creates a holiday “theme” and decorates each room of the mansion accordingly — truly spectacular! Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel vice president was the original owner of this elaborate residence. And, like so many other historical homes in Florida, this was only a winter retreat. Can you imagine having a 20-room mansion that you occupied a mere 6-weeks out of the year? Mr. Buck was so wealthy that he brought 7 – 9 servants from his home in Pennsylvania with him each winter. He hired a manager to live in the house and take care of it the rest of the time.
For a glimpse of Pinewood Estates at Christmastime, read my article about Bok Tower Gardens during December.
TIP: Wear comfortable shoes… it’s easy to spend an entire day at this National Historic Landmark!
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens — Winter Park Florida
The Albin Polasek Sculpture Garden is located just a short drive from Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, in beautiful Winter Park, Florida. I’ve always loved everything about Winter Park — the architecture, casually elegant restaurants, shopping on Park Avenue, the yummy Winter Park food tours, museums, art festivals, and relaxing Central Park with its inspirational Peacock Fountain. But of all my visits to this wonderful place, only recently did I discover the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. Hubby and I spent several hours here, and had we packed a lunch we could have lingered longer.
Mr. Polasek was a world-renowned Czech sculptor. In 1950 he retired to Winter Park, at the age of 70. Prior to that, he headed the Department of Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago for nearly three decades. The Polasek Museum is the actual home and art studio where Albin Polasek lived and worked. Many original paintings, drawings and small clay sculptures are on display here. While touring the Museum, I learned about the history of this incredibly talented man. But no amount of reading could have prepared me for what I was about to see in the Polasek Sculpture Gardens located on the property behind the Museum, right along the edge of scenic and serene Lake Osceola.
My goodness, these sculptures are absolutely amazing! When intermingled with many native Florida and subtropical garden species, it becomes a botanical utopia; simply perfect! I was blown away by both the created and natural beauty represented in this three-acre Garden. Not withholding the fact that some of Albin Polasek’s greatest artistic achievements came as a severely disabled person. Wow… if only these sculptures could speak! (You may be interested in a more comprehensive article on the life and legacy of Albin Polasek here.) This is truly a “not to miss” attraction if you appreciate outstanding outdoor gardens and are ever in the Central Florida area.
Winter Park’s Rich Roots
The entire town of Winter Park was founded by wealthy Northern industrialists as a winter getaway. This classy place might be geographically close to Disney and other Central Florida tourist attractions, but it’s a world apart in almost every sense. Its got style and substance! Winter Park has never lost its late-19th-century charm — brick-paved streets, stately turn-of-the-last century historic homes, 200-year-old live oaks with Spanish moss, and meandering canals once used for logging. And because money begets money, Winter Park still attracts multimillionaires today. Don’t be surprised if you rub elbows with a member of the Orlando Magic or see a movie star at a Park Avenue sidewalk cafe…
Edison & Ford Winter Estates and Botanical Garden — Fort Myers Florida
Did you know Thomas Edison (the innovative inventor) and Henry Ford (the Ford Motors car mogul) were very good friends? Yes, indeed. Such great friends that they purchased adjoining properties in southwest Florida in the early 1900s as their winter estates. The 21-acre estate features the former homes of the two men, a research laboratory, museum, and botanical gardens.
It’s a lovely waterfront location right alongside the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers. Here, you’ll get a taste of what tropical, “old-Florida” used to be like. Whether you choose the guided or self-guided tour, you’ll receive so much historical information you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time. In the Gardens, it’s hard to believe that a few of the original trees planted during Edison’s time are still standing. Hint: check out that famous banyan tree! Good golly miss molly, wait till you see the size of that thing. I won’t give away all the fascinating facts, but you practically need a wide-angle lens to capture the whole thing. Additionally, there are 1700 plants representing 400 species from six continents on display. Hard to find a more diverse horticultural collection anywhere! To get a heads-up of what’s blooming in any given month, check out the Edison Ford Gardens “what’s blooming” page on their website.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates’ Rich Roots
Of course we’re talking about Henry Ford and Thomas Edison here. This popular Florida attraction represents some serious wealth. The net worth of these two men individually is massive, with a capital “M!” When combined, it’s mind-boggling. By the mid-1920s, Henry Ford’s net worth was estimated around $1.2 billion. That’s billion, with a “b!” At age 57 he was worth $188 billion, making him one of the 10 richest people of all time! When Thomas Edison was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928 Congress valued his work at nearly $15.6 billion. Imagine the good times they had together on that property in Fort Myers that you and I get to visit…
Harry P. Leu Gardens and Museum — Orlando Florida
Leu Gardens is vintage Florida at its best! It’s easy to imagine Florida the way it used to be while strolling this massive Garden comprising nearly 50 acres. It’s nicely divided into 14 distinctly different areas (you’ll need a map). A few of them are formal, like the Rose Garden, but most sections appear more “natural.” While meandering through the landscape that contained the Palms, Cycads & Bamboo, I envisioned old-Florida — the way the Sunshine State looked pre-Disney. I was waiting for a gator to emerge at any moment from the dense subtropical terrain. Stand still long enough on Lake Rowena Overlook and in your minds-eye you’ll see the logging of humongous cypress trees that were transported via steamboat through Florida’s chain of lakes and canals.
Yes, old-Florida is becoming extinct. Vanishing. Endangered as our beloved manatees. But there are remnants, if you know where to look. Thank goodness Harry P. Leu Gardens is doing their part to preserve Florida’s cultural identity, for many generations to come, I hope. You’ll notice Leu Gardens has a personality all her own; it’s old Florida today!
Make sure you save time to tour the Leu House Museum; it’s included in the entry fee. A restored 19th century Victorian-style home, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Central Florida. Some of the architectural details include a tin roof and pine floors. Before it opened to the public in 1961, four different families resided there. The stories told by our docent about these wealthy owners were captivating. If you want a sense of what turn-of-the-century Florida living was like for affluent landowners, take this guided tour!
Harry P. Leu House’s Rich Roots
From a cotton farmer (1st owner) to an actress (2nd owner) to a steel manufacturer (third owner) to the Leu Family (4th and final owner), this house-turned-Museum has had quite a rich history. The most intriguing of the occupants was Duncan Pell, a prominent New York businessman who divorced his first wife in order to marry actress Helen Gardner. Ms. Gardner went on to create her own film company (a first for a woman) and became very well known throughout Orlando. Joseph and Martha Woodward were the 3rd owners; wealthy industrialists who only used the home as a winter residence. Mr. Leu, the last resident, owned a very successful industrial supply company. He and his wife traveled the world and brought back seeds and plants for their gorgeous gardens.
Have you been to any of the 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots? Or perhaps you know of another garden here in the Sunshine State with roots back to the rich and famous. Please share with our readers via the comment box below!
Bok Tower and Gardens ~ National Register of Historic Places
Bok Tower Gardens is a 50-acre garden located in Lake Wales, Florida. It’s perfectly positioned on Iron Mountain within the Lake Wales Ridge, one of the highest elevations in peninsular Florida. Rising 295 feet above sea level, for me it’s the most peaceful place in all of Central Florida. As a Florida resident looking to take a break from the craziness of Orlando’s theme parks and myriad of other touristy places, Bok Tower Gardens provides a place of solitude, and seemingly shelters me from the over-crowded venues synonymous with the Sunshine State. Even when the parking lot is full, I feel like I’m all alone; just me nestled amongst nature’s finest.
Bok Tower Gardens has been inspiring locals and visitors for the past 88 years! It was established almost 9 decades ago by Edward W. Bok as a gift to the American people. Mr. Bok spared no expense in creating this garden oasis, hiring famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the designer. After 5+ years in construction, Bok Gardens was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by President Calvin Coolidge. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The history of Bok Tower Gardens is truly fascinating!
Edward W. Bok was the editor of the women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal!
Bok Tower Gardens ~ 7 Distinct Areas
Bok Tower Gardens consists of 7 distinct focal points:
- Olmsted Landscape Gardens
- Wild Garden
- Singing Tower
- Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
- Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen
- Pine Ridge Nature Preserve
- Pinewood Estate & Gardens
Each one is unique and provides for leisurely strolls, enlightening moments, or engaging activities. There are a multitude of meandering paths and strategically placed benches perfect for reading, journaling, reflecting, meditation, or praying. The informal woodland setting is also a haven for bird-watchers, butterfly fanatics, nature lovers, and photographers. Keep your camera handy — in addition to songbirds, wildlife may include turkeys, raptors, lizards, or the rare gopher tortoise listed as “threatened” and thereby protected under Florida State law.
If you plan on thoroughly investigating all 7 areas in one day, it’s a good idea to arrive when they open at 8 a.m. Pack a picnic lunch or stop by the Blue Palmetto Cafe, their on-site spot for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. (You have got to try the Beer-batterd French Fries! They were even better than my beloved Sweet Potato Fries.) Here’s a peek at the Blue Palmetto Cafe menu and prices.
Begin your visit at the Visitor’s Center & Museum with a brief orientation film. Here, you can also learn about the history of the Gardens and view changing art exhibits. Be sure to pick up a brochure with photos of some of the plants that will be blooming during your visit; these change on a monthly basis. Additionally, there is a table right outside the Visitor’s Center with a sampling of what’s currently in bloom. Take a look, and then see how many you can locate! Save some time to explore the Tower & Garden Gift Shop with unique treasures (and a live plant shop for your own garden) to commemorate your visit.
Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year, from 8 – 6. Visit their website at boktowergardens.org for visitor guidelines and frequently asked questions.
Bok Tower Gardens ~ Colorful Creations 365 Days a Year!
Regardless of which month you visit Bok Tower Gardens you’ll find a variety of flowers and plants in bloom. That’s the beauty of having a botanical garden right in the middle of the Sunshine State! During every season (and yes, Florida has them!) color abounds. For example, when I went in December there was Plumbago, Tropical Gardenia, Chinese Hat, Popcorn Senna, Beautyberry, Brazilian Red Cloak, and Camellias, just to name a few. The citrus trees were at the height of their growing season, and poinsettias were everywhere. And the mansion at Pinewood Estate was decked out in all its holiday splendor. Christmastime is truly one of my favorite times at Bok Tower Gardens.
Bok Gardens in February
My most recent visit was a few days ago in February. I didn’t expect to see much midway through winter, but Mother Nature proved me wrong. The Gardens were remarkable! Sensational Snapdragons were blooming in a variety of bright colors and ranged in height from dwarf to medium to tall. Their showy slender stalks appeared throughout the Gardens, from potted containers at the entrance to Pinewood Estate, and places in-between.
And speaking of “showy,” the Camellias were the crème de la crème! They were found in various sections and provided breathtaking eye-candy for anyone with a passion for botanical beauty. The red, white, and pink flowers (oftentimes mistaken for a rose) were in full bloom during my February visit. Bird of Paradise, one of my all-time favorite tropical flowers, were also blooming. The Azaleas… oh my goodness, those Azaleas! Even though they’re quite common compared to a lot of the offerings here, were extraordinarily beautiful. It seemed like there were acres of them, in so many varieties — such as Amelia Rose, Gloria, Mardi Gras, Southern Charm, Kissimmee, Edward Bok, and Eugenie.
Pinewood Estate ~ Mediterranean Revival Architecture
A trip to Bok Tower Gardens is not complete without a leisurely stroll around the grounds of Pinewood Estate. The enchanting 20-room mansion is Mediterranean Revival Architecture, and just under 13,000 square feet. This area is comprised of nearly 8 acres and was built in the early 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, the vice president of Bethlehem Steel. “El Retiro” was the original name, which means “retreat” in Spanish. I purchased a book with the history of Pinewood Estate and Bok Tower Gardens in the gift shop, which I highly recommend. It was fascinating!
General Admission to the Gardens is $14, and a combo ticket that includes the Pinewood Estate tour is $20. It’s well worth the $6 up-charge which includes the home’s history, and docents are available throughout the mansion to answer questions about the Estate and its furnishings. Even if you don’t purchase the interior tour of the mansion, do yourself a favor and peruse the immaculate grounds. You’ll be able to see the formal Mediterranean-style garden, the Spanish frog fountain, an enchanting stone grotto at the front of the house, an Oriental moon gate fountain, and an English-style country garden with a rolling lawn and reflective pond.
The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens
Towering 205 feet above the Gardens is the neo-Gothic Singing Tower. It houses one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells. The Art Deco style is made up of stone native to the Southeast, ironwork, tile mosaics, and the infamous sun dial and brass door. Unfortunately, few people will get to tour the inside of the Singing Tower and see what’s behind the brass door. To receive a private tour invitation you must hold a Sustainer Level Membership or above. Even so, the outside of the Tower is worth seeing; it was awarded the grand prize for design in 1930 by the American Institute of Architects. Carillon concerts occur at 1 & 3 p.m. daily. They can usually be heard almost anywhere on the grounds of the Gardens.
The carillon musical instrument was designed and built in England, in 1928. There are only 4 in Florida and 600 worldwide. Bok Tower Gardens will be hosting the 23rd International Carillon Festival March 4-12. Daily concerts and special events will be performed by world-renowned carillonneurs. This world-famous music festival only happens twice every 5 years!
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden ~ New at Bok Tower Gardens
One of the new additions to Bok Tower Gardens is the children’s play area called Hammock Hollow. What a fantastic idea! Young children are generally not as interested or impressed by botanical gardens as adults are, therefore, this add-on was a win-win for everyone in the family. Mom and Dad no longer have to fight with the little ones to go to the Gardens. In fact, with an activities area like this one, the only battle will be getting the kids to leave.
At 2.7 acres it’s much larger than I envisioned. The children can enter through the pint-sized keystone gate, where the adventure begins. There are rocks to climb (careful… you may get wet!), a gigantic spiderweb to maneuver, logs to climb, a painting area for the next Van Gogh to be discovered, sand play area complete with sand pails and water, a stick stack for building forts and other structures, a chickee hut with an outdoor kitchen, frog hop for jumpers, acoustic musical instruments, bird feeding stations, and lots more. There’s a decent amount of shady areas to escape the hot Florida sun with places to rest and cool down; rope hammocks, secret nap benches, fountains, spray jets, misters, and foggers. You can read Florida Fun And Fork’s complete review of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden here.
***Note: This is not a babysitting service. The children must be supervised at all times.
Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen ~ New to Bok Tower Gardens
Another upgrade to Bok Tower Gardens is the addition of an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen. Developed by the University of Florida and other growers, it features fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Of course, the varieties planted are those well suited for Central Florida weather. This area hosts special events and culinary classes such as Grilling with a Twist, Sippin’ & Suppin’ Under the Stars with Celebrity Chefs, Kids in the Kitchen, Fermentation Festival, Craft Beer & Cuisine, and Brining & Pickling.
A Slice of Old Florida
Bok Tower Gardens gives me a sense of Old Florida — the way our great state used to be before scores of people discovered our little secret. It’s off-the-beaten-path, yet so easy to access from almost anywhere within Central Florida. I highly recommend this peaceful piece of paradise. And even though there’s been a noticeable increase in attendance since the new spaces have premiered, you won’t have tons of tourists stepping on your toes. The serenity is addictive.
Bok Tower Gardens Membership and Reciprocal Program
If you’re in a geographical area that will allow you to return again and again, consider purchasing a Membership. With 11 different Membership Levels, there’s one that fits most budgets. Hubby and I purchased the “Duo” right before the price increase (we paid $55). But even at $70 for 2 people it’s a bargain. Not only do you get unlimited visits to Bok Tower Gardens and discounts at the Blue Palmetto Cafe and Tower Garden Gift Shop, it also includes a reciprocal admission program that allows free or greatly reduced entry prices for other select botanical gardens and museums in Florida and throughout the country.
For example, Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando offers free admission simply by showing your Bok Tower Gardens Membership Card (and photo ID). Here’s my Leu Gardens Review and Photo Tour from a recent visit. This is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum that is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park has free reciprocal admission. The sculptures in this outdoor sculpture garden are amazing! To me, if a facility is on the National Register, it’s usually worth seeing. In total, there are 47 botanical gardens and/or museums in the state of Florida alone that participate in this program.
You can check out the Membership Application for Bok Gardens on their website.
Bok Tower Gardens Map and Directions
ADDITIONAL READING FOR BOTANICAL ENTHUSIASTS
What do you get when you combine a passion for botanical beauty with America’s wealthiest families? You get 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots! It’s a fascinating article revealing the connection between the richest people in America and their winter homes here in Florida!
SPECIAL EVENT: EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE
WHERE: Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853
WHEN: April 16, 2017, 7:00 am — Gate opens at 6:00 a.m
COST: Complimentary Admission until 8:00 a.m
In addition to an inspiring Easter message, enjoy a carillon performance by Geert D’hollander
For an additional fee a buffet breakfast will be served in the Blue Palmetto Café following the service
Have you been to Bok Tower Gardens? Please share your experience or any questions about this National Historic Landmark in the Comment box below!
The Back Porch — A Unique Dining Experience
As a Florida resident living in Disney’s backyard (well, not literally, but a mere 30 minutes away!), I’m perpetually searching for off-the-beaten-path non-touristy eateries and attractions. Alas… I found a hidden little gem that many Central Florida residents don’t even know exists. The Back Porch restaurant is a one-of-a-kind, unusual dining experience. The concept is one I had previously never seen. I’ve had lunch there about a half-dozen times, and it never disappoints.
So, what makes The Back Porch so uniquely different from most other restaurants? The following Restaurant Review shows why it’s distinct and noteworthy.
The Back Porch — Along Florida’s Antique Trail
The Back Porch is located in The Barn Antiques and shopping complex in Lake Alfred, Florida. It’s in an area of Central Florida known as The Antique Trail whereby serious antique buffs spend 3-4 days making a loop from Lakeland to Winter Haven to Lake Alfred to Plant City and Lake Wales to find that one priceless treasure they hope The Antique Road Show will appraise exponentially higher than what they paid for it. (You know… the trash to treasure kinda thing!)
The Barn Antiques is a family owned business selling high-end antiques since 1969. But what began five decades ago as an antique store on a family ranch has grown into a magnet for shoppers. It’s now a sprawling complex of shops. Right next to the antiques store is The Stable Home Decor which sells moderate to high-end home furnishings and women’s accessories. On the opposite end is The Season’s Gift Shop, overflowing with holiday and seasonal decorations. Across from that is The Back Yard Garden Shop, an outdoor shopping experience under a canopy of native shade trees. All four shops and the restaurant have been managed and run by members of the Wales family for the past 48 years. (Here’s my article and photos of the four retail shops.) The Back Porch was created for a delicious break for hungry shoppers who tend to spend hours browsing the ever-changing jammed-packed shops in this complex.
The Back Porch — A Picnic Lunch
The unique thing about The Back Porch is that it’s a picnic-style lunch that’s mostly self-service. Here’s how it works…
- Upon entering, pick up a paper menu (photo above) and seat yourself
- Fill out your menu with the pencils provided on the table
- Put your name and table number on the little yellow sticky tab
- Take your menu to one of the registers to pay
- Help yourself to a soda, spiced raspberry tea, or coffee (beer & wine available on the deck)
- Your lunch is delivered in a quaint wooden picnic basket
Country Flare Meets Shabby Chic
I really like this place. Even when busy (which is most of the time), it’s relaxing. It has a comfortable atmosphere and the decor is a cross between country flare and shabby chic. The ambience, like the restaurant concept itself, is truly unique. There are large stained glass windows in the main dining room, and the table tops are hand painted with wild flowers by Jan Wales (this whole family is so darn creative and talented!). Off of the main dining room is a smaller private room that can be reserved for special events such as birthdays, showers, or a women’s luncheon. Another seating option is the wrap-around covered deck, called The Shady Deck. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the year-round warm Central Florida weather. The deck overlooks a beautiful nature pond and has its own outside entrance. The Shady Deck serves ice cream and refreshing beverages including beer, wine, frozen sangrias, frozen mimosas, frozen lemonade, and soda (with free refills).
Charming Spot for Inexpensive Casual American Eats
At The Back Porch you won’t find escargot, oysters Rockefeller, pub burgers, trendy flatbreads, creme brûlée or any other gourmet fare. Nope. This is good old fashioned American casual eats! Choices like creamy vegetable soup, potato salad, blue cheese slaw, chicken salad on a croissant, ham bar-b-cue, and Florida strawberry cream cake. And they always offer specials-of-the-day. The best value is to choose one item from each of four categories — soup, salad, sandwich, and dessert for $8.52, a good deal in which owner Drew Wales says there has not been a price increase in 7 years, even though the price of doing business has gone up considerably. If you have little tikes, they can have their own “Teddy Bear Picnic Basket” with at least 3 choices, all under five dollars.
Now typically, a four-course lunch would be a little much for the middle of the day, but not at The Back Porch. Portions are not huge, but I always leave comfortably satisfied. This is not the kind of lunch that will cause you to forfeit dinner, and I’ve never seen anyone asking for a doggie bag. You won’t feel stuffed and lethargic, just pleasantly full and energized for more shopping. Even men with larger appetites seem to enjoy the lunches here. As long as you realize it’s a lovely place for a “light” lunch, you won’t be disappointed. After all, it is a picnic-style lunch, not the likes of an Olive Garden with all-you-can-eat soup, salad and breadsticks. But that’s the beauty of The Back Porch!
Even though the food is simple, many of the items have a unique twist to them, like the Slaw for example, made with their own Blue Cheese Dressing (an excellent choice!). Everything is homemade, with recipes that have been in the Wales family since opening 45+ years ago. I also appreciate the seasonal options they incorporate into the menu. When I was there right before Christmas, I had the red velvet cake with red and green sprinkles for dessert. Quite yummy, and very festive looking! And, in keeping with the picnic theme, everything served in the individual wooden picnic baskets is eaten from disposable containers… just as if you were on a real picnic!
***TIP… It’s not unusual for The Back Porch to serve up to 500 meals a day, therefore, a late lunch between 1:30-2:00 seems to be less busy.
***TIP… The restrooms in The Back Porch also serve the rest of the shopping complex. As a result, there is typically a bit of a wait; plan accordingly. The good news: While you’re waiting feel free to browse the great selection of food items offered for sale. There are jams, sauces, dip mixes, soup mixes, etc. along with cute little sessional gift items.
The Back Porch… A Slice of “Old Florida!”
The Back Porch is a refreshing change of pace for locals looking to get away from the touristy hustle and bustle that is synonymous with Central Florida. I’m always amazed that despite being in the middle of nowhere, business is bustling here. Nevertheless, people are not in a hurry, no one is stepping on my toes, and any wait time is spent chatting with like-minded souls yearning for a slice of “Old Florida.” There are no billboards or other advertising means, simply word-of-mouth. But as they say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
The Back Porch — Directions and Hours
Like me, you may have driven near The Back Porch a thousand times with no idea it existed. It can be somewhat difficult to find unless someone tells you about it. Years ago, my girlfriend told me about this special little spot — and now, I’m passing my little secret on to you…
From Interstate 4
Take Exit 48, Hwy. 557, 3 miles South
From Hwy. 17/92 in Lake Alfred
At the intersection of Hwy. 17/92 and E. Pomelo follow signs to Interstate 4 on Hwy. 557 – 4 miles
Lunch served from 11 to 3, Tuesday though Saturday (closed Sundays and Mondays)
Have you been to The Back Porch restaurant for a picnic lunch? Please share your experience. Or, perhaps you have a little-known secret dining spot of your own. Our readers would love to hear about it. Simply post a comment in the reply box below!
Central Florida — So Much More than Theme Parks
Typically, when One thinks of Central Florida, antiquing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind… or the second or third, for that matter. But among the many reasons to take a theme park break is the plethora of fine antique shops throughout the Sunshine State. Florida’s Antiques Loop (as we Floridians affectionately call it) includes Lakeland, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, Plant City, and Lake Wales. But even if you’re not an antique freak, it’s worth a visit to The Barn Antiques in Lake Alfred. As you’ll soon see, this little gem located just 5 minutes from Interstate 4 (exit 48 in Lake Alfred) is a quaint little complex consisting of multiple shops and even a restaurant for hungry shoppers to take a delicious reprieve.
The Barn Antiques — A Family Affair
Ednamay Wales dreamt of opening an antique shop, and in 1969 her dream became a reality. It was located on the family ranch in rural Polk County, in a small, tin-roofed building. She called it The Barn Antiques. But Ednamay wasn’t the only visionary in the family. Today, in its 6th decade, The Barn Antiques has expanded into much larger quarters and involves all of the Wales family. In fact, it’s one of Florida’s most popular destinations for quality antiques. Some of the collector’s items come from extensive local buying, but many of the hand-picked treasures come from their frequent trips abroad.
The collectible heirlooms include dining room and bedroom pieces, armoires, sideboards, chairs, bookcases, desks, stained glass windows, and so much more. You don’t have to be particularly fond of period pieces to enjoy browsing this shop. I’m not an antiques aficionado, and yet, it’s fun just looking at all the classics. As the owners like to say, “Heaven’s a little closer at The Barn!”
The Stable Home Decor
Ten years (or so) after successfully launching The Barn Antiques another expansion project took form. Right alongside the antique shop the Wales Family opened a home decor and gift shop called The Stable Home Decor. Oh my gosh… this place is packed with goodies! From floor to ceiling, I don’t think there’s a foot of spare space. The Wales Family certainly are gifted designers. I have purchased a few of their floral arrangements and wreaths, but they also have framed prints, candles, bath and body items, very unique women’s fashion accessories, and so much more. I like the way everything is displayed in vignettes, so it looks more like a designer home than a retail shop. They also do a great job of balancing traditional home decor with the latest trends. So pretty much whatever your taste, you’ll likely find something you just can’t resist at The Stable!
The Seasons Gift Shop
A short stroll down the sidewalk from The Stable is The Seasons. Another gift shop, but this one features holiday and seasonal (hence the name) decorations for the home. Another jammed-packed shop that requires a few trips around the store in order to see everything. The displays at The Seasons are ever-changing. Depending on the calendar month in which you attend, you may see Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Spring, Easter, Summer, 4th of July, Fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas decorations and home accents. It’s fun here, because I never see the same things twice. Even when I don’t purchase anything (a rare occasion) at The Seasons, I leave with tons of decorating ideas! On my last visit they were all decked out for Christmas. The entire shop transforms into a winter wonderland filled with holiday decorations in a variety of styles and themes — traditional, trendy, whimsical, and everything in between. I absolutely love this place at Christmastime! Who says you can’t get into the Christmas spirit in Florida?
The Back Yard Garden Shop
Of course no well-dressed home is complete without taking care of the front porch and back yard… kinda like getting all decked out in your fanciest 5th Avenue attire and forgetting your shoes or jewelry. But alas, the Wales Family has you covered with that too. Adjacent to The Seasons Gift Shop is The Back Yard Garden Shop. It’s a really cool outdoor shopping area underneath a canopy of shade trees. In keeping with “the barn” theme, it has rustic wooden rafters for the ceiling, a straw floor, and bales of hay that double as display cases.
Just like the other shops in this complex, every nook and cranny is crammed with merchandise. Here, you’ll find decorative garden accessories including fountains, arbors, birdhouses, flags, colorful pots, garden statuary, wind chimes, outdoor pillows, plaques, and many more unique items. And, if you’re in the market for some Florida-friendly native plants, you’ll find a wide variety that changes often. There are seasonally appropriate selections as well.
Make sure you walk through The Back Yard Garden Shop at least once. Because, well, how many gift shops have a live tree growing right through the center of it?
The Back Porch Restaurant
It’s quite easy spending several hours browsing through all the antiques and home decor awesomeness this complex has to offer. Hubby and I usually allow 2-3 hours every time we visit. I’ve noticed that even men that don’t like to shop do not have a problem coming here. Perhaps it’s because of the strategically placed benches along the walkway where the men seem to gather. Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to believe it’s the promise of a relaxing lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant. Nestled nicely between The Seasons and The Stable, this cozy little luncheon spot has a unique twist compared to most restaurants. It’s actually a picnic lunch. Everything is served in individual wooden picnic baskets and eaten from disposable plates, just as if you were on a picnic.
The Back Porch serves casual American eats in a very comfortable atmosphere. You get to choose between indoor or patio dining. And, did I mention how inexpensive it is? It’s a wonderful change of pace from the typical stereotype restaurant concept. After reading my Back Porch Restaurant Review here, I think you’ll agree!
The Barn Antiques & Shops — Directions and Store Hours
Whether you’re a local who was born and raised in Florida or a visiting tourist, The Barn Antiques and shopping complex is worth a few hours of your time. The inventory is constantly changing; and, quite honestly, you never know what you’ll find! It’s an off-the-beaten-path kind of place which can be difficult to find unless someone tells you about it. It’s a short 25 minute drive from Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park, 50 minutes from Tampa’s Riverwalk (longer if you take the back roads, which I recommend). If you’re using GPS, simply input The Barn Antiques, Lake Alfred as your destination. Here are the directions and store hours…
From Interstate 4
Take Exit 48, Hwy. 557, 3 miles South
From Hwy. 17/92 in Lake Alfred
At the intersection of Hwy. 17/92 and E. Pomelo follow signs to Interstate 4, on Hwy. 557 – 4 miles
- The Stable, The Seasons, The Back Porch, and The Back Yard are open all year. The Barn Antiques is open seasonally, from the first Saturday in October through the last Saturday in May
- Store Hours — 10 to 4, Tuesday through Saturday (the shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays)
- The Back Porch serves lunch from 11 to 3
Have you been to The Barn Antiques and shopping complex? Or maybe you’ve stumbled across a unique and quaint shopping/dining experience of your own. Please share with our readers in the comment box below!
Leu Gardens — Vintage Florida!
As a 16-year Florida resident, I’m always searching for little hidden gems off-the-beaten-path from the hustle and bustle of Central Florida theme parks and other tourist-driven attractions. Amazingly, I’ve found one in the most unexpected place… 2 miles from downtown Orlando! So close to ‘the Mouse’ and his house at Walt Disney World, yet a million miles away (at least that’s what it seemed like to me). Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of Mickey’s fondest fans, but every now and then I crave some of God’s handiwork more than man-made Disney magic. The Harry P. Leu Gardens satisfied my appetite for an authentic “Old Florida” respite. They have perfectly preserved the beauty, culture, history, and environment of vintage Florida.
Harry P. Leu Gardens — Celebrating 55 Years!
In 1961, 55 years ago, the City of Orlando was given a grandiose gift. Harry Leu and his wife Mary Jane donated their home and gardens to the “City Beautiful.” The restored 19th century home has become the historic Leu House Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The botanical gardens contain nearly 50 acres of cultivated tropical and semi-tropical plant collections from around the world, thanks to the extensive international travels of Mr. and Mrs. Leu. [Of course, that was prior to governmental regulations that restrict bringing certain agricultural products into the United States.] Their passion for horticulture is what transformed their estate into the botanical oasis that we enjoy today.
Leu Gardens — 14 Dedicated Areas
Leu Gardens is strategically divided into 14 different areas to better appreciate the offerings. Interpretive signs, QR Codes, and plant labels can be found throughout the gardens. I did, however, think the signage could have been better. Even with a map, my hubby and I found the navigational aides to be sparse for such a vast property. Although, we did encounter several staff members in golf carts who were more than willing to help with directions and any questions we had.
Following is a listing of the 14 dedicated areas within Leu gardens:
- Garden House Welcome Center
- Tropical Stream Garden
- Idea Garden
- Herb Garden
- Butterfly Garden
- Vegetable Garden
- Rose Garden
- Color Garden
- Leu House Museum
- Palms, Cycads & Bamboo
- Floral Clock
- White Garden
- Arid Garden
Leu Gardens — Free Admission The First Monday Of Every Month
My husband and I visited Leu Gardens in early October. We happened to be there on the first Monday of the month, and received free entry, as is their policy every month (excludes special events). Although adult admission is a modest $10 (parking included), the “freebie” was greatly appreciated. Additionally, if you have a Membership in any of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) Gardens throughout the country, you can take advantage of the reciprocal admission program and receive free admission to Leu Gardens simply by showing your Membership Card and photo ID. Florida has some outstanding botanical gardens and museums that participate such as Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, and Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park. With nearly 50 reciprocal partners in the Sunshine State, the cost of Membership will certainly pay for itself many times over! Here’s a link with additional information on a Leu Gardens Membership, including pricing and benefits.
Leu Gardens Self-Guided Walking Tour
Our tour at Leu Gardens began at the Garden House Welcome Center where we picked up a map for our self-guided walking tour. This building also provides space for business meetings, receptions, retreats, art exhibits, and plant groups. Classes are offered year-round for gardening, landscaping, history, wildlife, art, photography, and cooking.
For the plant enthusiast, be sure to stop by the botanic library. The Gift Shop was small but had some unique items to memorialize your visit or suitable for gift giving. A practical purchase would be the all natural botanical herbal insect repellent for your leisurely stroll amidst the gardens.
Leu Gardens In The Fall
As previously mentioned, I visited Leu Gardens in early October. Since the climate of Central Florida is conducive for year-round plantings, I was expecting much more color. There were a few pockets of gorgeous autumn hues in the Color Garden, but generally speaking, flowering plants were not plentiful. This was my greatest disappointment. I enjoyed the gardens enough to return, but will choose a different season when I do.
Leu House Museum — National Register Of Historic Places
The Leu House Museum is included in the entry fee, and should not be missed. I truly enjoyed my guided tour through this restored 19th century home. It was fascinating to see and hear about turn-of-the-century Florida living. Four families owned the property before it opened to the public in 1961, and each story was captivating. Our docent was extremely knowledgeable and answered questions without hesitation. Many of the furnishings in this historic home were originals left by Mrs. Leu; others are period reproductions.
Tours last about 25 minutes and are available on the hour and half hour. From November 13 – January 2 you can see the Leu House Museum decorated for the holidays. Creative juices flow as 9 local interior designers work their magic in each of the 11 rooms of this estate — everything from Christmas trees, tablescapes, wreaths, vintage ornaments, and much more. You’ll go home with a few decorating tips, for sure!
Leu House Museum Photo Tour
The Majestic Rose Garden — In Memory Of Mary Jane Leu
The Rose Garden at Harry P. Leu Gardens is nothing short of spectacular! The fact that Mary Jane Leu loved roses is quite evident here. She created it as a place of beauty and education for future generations. It contains some very old garden roses; those existing prior to 1867, as well as more modern varieties. This is the largest formal rose garden in the state of Florida! No wonder Leu Gardens is a favorite wedding destination that hosts over 300 weddings every year. It has been voted as one of the best wedding venues in Orlando.
The Floral Clock At Leu Gardens
There are certain not-to-be-missed sections of Leu Gardens, and the Floral Clock is one of them. This feature was inspired by the famous floral clock of Edinburgh, Scotland. The Scottish version was commissioned in 1903, and was the first of its kind in the world. This one was donated by the Kiwanis Club of Orlando in 1975. The unique and stunning display is an actual working clock and the floral designs that fill the face of the clock are changed seasonally. Although not as intricate and well-groomed as I had expected (it appeared somewhat overgrown and the hands of the clock were difficult to see), it is worth a few minutes of your time.
Palms, Cycads, And Bamboo
This specialty garden is sometimes referred to as “the dinosaur garden” because it contains many plants dating back to the prehistoric age. For example, Cycads are primitive plants that existed for nearly 200 million years. During the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth they were the main plant life. Even though they are palm-like in appearance, they are cone bearing plants and have no relation to palms.
The Palms in this collection rank among the most extensive in the United States. It is vast with nearly 400 species that are well suited for our Central Florida climate. Palms are useful for providing food, furniture, and even wax for surfboards (Carnauba Wax Palm). While strolling the Palm Garden, take a moment to read the plant labels that identify the common name, botanical name, plant family, and origin of each specie. They’re quite interesting.
If you’re a lover of Bamboo like I am, you will be fascinated with nearly 50 varieties in this garden. Bamboo is a woody-stemmed plant in the grass family. Some grow only a few inches tall, while others reach over 70 feet with canes 5 inches in diameter. If you’re considering planting Bamboo in your Central Florida backyard (or even in a controlled indoor environment) I highly recommend visiting Leu Gardens first, where you can check out tons of different species. Some of them have been growing for more than 30 years. When you’re ready to buy, Beautiful Bamboo in Groveland, Florida is a nursery that specializes in Bamboo, about 30 minutes from Orlando.
The Butterfly Garden
Always a favorite of mine is the Butterfly Garden. I’ve been to many in Florida; some were pretty awesome, other’s not so much! The one at Leu Gardens is worth a few minutes of your time. There’s just something about this flying insect that puts a smile on my face every time I see one. To me, this gentle creature that floats in the wind is the epitome of beauty and grace. In this specialty garden, a wide variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees are planted to attract different types of butterflies. Some of them are nectar plants, others are larval plants that caterpillars eat. Many also attract hummingbirds and night-flying moths.
While in the Butterfly Garden, another visitor pointed out the presence of a snake that was trying hard to go un-noticed. Obviously, he got busted! I didn’t stick around long enough to see what kind it was, for even the harmless ones freak me out. Because of my speedy departure from this area, I didn’t spend any time looking at the Herb Garden which displays both culinary and medicinal herbs. The fragrant aroma, however, was proof enough that it existed! The Vegetable Garden area seemed barren. The fenced-in plot of land didn’t have any visible crops. Perhaps they were in-between the summer and fall plantings.
*TIP… Although Leu Gardens is impeccably manicured and maintained, be aware that it is a vast, open area with dense, lush plantings that may be desirable to wandering animals and critters like the one mentioned above. I highly recommend staying on the dedicated walkways. Be vigilant and keep your adventurous spirit in check!
Lake Rowena Overlook
The Tropical Stream Garden is appropriately named. There’s a variety of tropical and subtropical plants throughout this garden that create the atmosphere of a tropical rainforest. This is where you’ll see bird-of-paradise, bananas, bromeliads, heliconias, and other tropical beauties. If you’re looking to momentarily escape the Florida heat you’ll want to linger the peaceful paths here. There’s an abundance of shade in this garden. There’s also a sparkling little stream that winds its way into Lake Rowena.
The Lake Rowena overlook was beautiful and relaxing. The boardwalk and gazebo are named for John Wyckoff, one of Leu Gardens original board members. This is one of the newer additions to the Gardens. Take a walking break and enjoy the stunning vistas here. An aquatic wetland garden contains mostly native plants. And… have your camera ready — I’d be surprised if you don’t see heron, turtles, and an occasional alligator!
Peak Season Pops — A Refreshing Respite
Although Leu Gardens does not currently have a cafe on site, frequently there are visiting approved vendors that offer sandwiches or snacks. Hubby was hoping for a hot dog stand, but got to try some popular popsicles instead. Peak Season Pops are gourmet ice pops that are all-natural and handmade with local seasonal ingredients. We met the owners who are an awesome husband and wife team. Honestly… they were the best ice pops I’ve ever had! I’m not usually a popsicle person, but it was very hot and they looked so refreshing. I had the Autumn Roasted Peach and hubby had the Pineapple Lemongrass. Both were outstanding. If you’re in the Orlando area, check out Peak Season Pops for delivery options, special events, birthdays, etc. I highly recommend them. Brooke Chen (owner) was telling us they just did a wedding wherein the bride and groom opted to serve gourmet popsicles instead of traditional wedding cake! Apparently this trend is catching on here in the Sunshine State. For additional information visit the Peak Season Pops website.
*TIP… If you’re planning to be at Leu Gardens for a while, small bag lunches are allowed on the patio of the Garden House Welcome Center. Beverage vending machines are also available in the lobby of the Welcome Center.
Beyond The Gardens — Educational Classes And Workshops
It’s very difficult to see the entire 50-acre botanical Garden in less than 2 hours. We did a leisurely stroll for more than that, yet still managed to miss a few key points of interest. We did not view the Mizell Cemetery or the Idea Garden. The world famous Camellias (largest documented collection in Eastern North America) were not in bloom so we didn’t spend much time in those areas. A 2 hour window is recommended for adequate viewing of the Gardens. We’re planning a return trip, but possibly in the spring, hoping for significantly more color.
Visit the Leu Gardens website for a calendar showing what plants are in bloom in any given month. There’s also information on upcoming events and classes — things like monthly outdoor movie night, monthly storytelling for young children, seasonal concerts, annual plant sale, seed swaps, gardening for honey bees, aroma therapy for intestinal health, bats of Florida, the Leu House holiday lecture, wreath making, mini gardening and fairy gardens, casual Tuscan cooking, and on and on and on! The diverse educational offerings are impressive at Leu Gardens.
*TIP… Bring (or purchase) bottled water, apply insect repellant, and wear comfortable shoes!
UPCOMING SPECIAL EVENT:
Dinosaur Invasion — January 13 – April 30
A one-of-a-kind, outdoor exhibit featuring life-size prehistoric creatures throughout the 50-acre botanical gardens
Price: Included in the daytime Garden admission of $10 (adult)
Leu Gardens is an urban display of botanical beauty just a short drive from the “happiest place on earth!” It’s not nearly as magical, mind-blowing, or mesmerizing as ‘the Mouse,’ yet memorable in many ways. You’ll experience a sense of serenity that is instantly calming as you intentionally distance yourself from the insanity that sometimes exists in Central Florida tourist areas. Wildly tropical with formal gardens. I know, sounds like an oxymoron, but at Leu Gardens they co-exist in perfect harmony. So go ahead and do your crazy theme park thing, then swing by here for a perfect portrait of what Florida used to be!
Question: Have you been to Leu Gardens? If you have visited this Central Florida attraction, please share your experience & helpful information with our readers by replying in the comment section below!
Davidson of Dundee — A Taste Of Old Florida
Davidson of Dundee is one of those “Old Florida” icons. The company has been featured on the Food Network, Fox , CBS, ABC, and has been featured in Smart Money and Southern Living magazines. The citrus candy factory and retail store is located in Central Florida right on busy Highway 27, in Dundee (about a 30 minute drive from Kissimmee). It’s a family owned business and has been operated by members of the Davidson family for three generations. There’s a short video about the history of the company that is worth watching if it’s your first visit. Back in the early 1900s T. W. Davidson grew oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines near Dundee. In the 1960s his son, Glen, planted his own citrus groves.
When Glen was a child his mother made a delicious confection from citrus juice and sugar cane from the Florida Everglades. Later, Glen created his own version of the citrus candy, using the fresh juices from his groves. The candy had a sweet-tart flavor along with a unique jellied texture and instantly became a hit with friends and family. Back-in-the-day there was no social media marketing, but through old fashioned word of mouth people from all over began asking for a taste of the Florida citrus candy.
Florida Citrus Candy — Yummy Free Samples
Today Glen’s son, Tom Davidson, runs the family business. Tom still produces the same beloved flavors that his father did for the very popular jelly citrus candies, but has also enjoyed creating new flavors. A few additions have been the Fuzzy Navel, Margarita, Sunset Jelly, and [of course] Florida Hurricane. The store encourages visitors to try the plethora of flavors by offering free samples. Since this is my hubby’s favorite candy, I can assure you he has tried every single flavor. Even so, he usually sticks to the more traditional flavors like Orange, Key Lime, Orange-Pineapple, Cherry, Blueberry, and Grapefruit. They’re available for purchase in various size packages, but hubby buys 10-12 of the small bags so he can mix and match all of his favorites.
While they do advertise a tour of the candy factory, it isn’t much of a tour — only glass windows to peer into the operations from the gift shop. But, the real attraction here is the fresh fruit, jams, and citrus candy. As you can see from the photo above, the citrus candies are made by hand, one small batch at a time. And, very important to me, I’m always impressed with the cleanliness of this facility. I guarantee once you try these citrus candies, you will never go back to buying those mass-produced artificially flavored cheap imitations sold in drugstores around the country. (Prior to discovering Davidson’s that’s where hubby used to get his!) There’s no comparison… plus you’re getting a healthy dose of vitamin C in every bite!
Creamy Coconut Spread — It’s Not Just For Toast!
Davidson of Dundee also has a wide variety of homemade jams, jellies, marmalades, and spreads. Hubby loves anything coconut, so the Creamy Coconut Spread certainly caught his eye. Not only is it great on toast but you can get a little creative with this product. For example, it makes a delicious and super easy icing on chocolate cupcakes, or use it to fill the hollow center of chocolate thumbprint cookies! Think outside the box… spread a bit on some good quality dark chocolate and be prepared for it to melt in your mouth. Or, try stuffing a fresh date with Creamy Coconut Spread. Simply yummy. I bet you’ve come up with a few suggestions of your own just now…
Choc-o-gator — The Perfect Florida Souvenir
One of the most popular gift items and souvenirs is Davidson’s chocolate candy in the shape of an alligator. After all, alligators are synonymous with the Sunshine State. Take a few of these back home for your jealous friends that couldn’t come with you. But be warned… chocolate melts very quickly in the Florida heat, especially when kept in a hot vehicle. While the gator will not spoil in hot weather, it will become a discolored and unrecognizable thingamabob! If you’re driving, I’d suggest keeping them in a small cooler or some sort of reusable cold packs.
A Sweet Treat From Florida
Eat your way through Florida — literally! Another one of Davidson’s best-selling candy items is this assortment of citrus delicacies in a basket shaped like a Florida map. It includes pecan log slices (another of hubby’s favorites!), pecan orangettes and your choice of a solid chocolate (or white chocolate) alligator.
Bag Your Own Citrus Fruit
Another popular draw to Davidson’s is the ability to bag your own fruit. They are flat out fresh from the citrus groves and put in large bins like the one in my photo above. Sometimes they’re not the prettiest looking — there’s no waxing or shining of the peels like in the traditional grocery stores — but the taste more than makes up for their blemishes and outward appearance. The bags are sold in various sizes, and once you make your selections, you can choose to take them with you or have them shipped (additional fees apply) to addresses within the United States and Canada. The latter is extremely popular during the holidays.
I can remember living up north and receiving shipments of Indian River citrus in the middle of winter. There was no better antidote for the wintertime blues than some fresh Florida sunshine showing up at my front door! We would always order a mixture of the “fab 4” — Tangelos, Navel Oranges, Ruby Red Grapefruit, and White Grapefruit, all of which are available (seasonally) at Davidson of Dundee.
Pick Up Some Florida-themed Gifts At Davidson’s
Although the main attraction at Davidson of Dundee is the fresh fruit, citrus candies, jams and jellies, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the assortment of Florida-themed gifts available in the shop. In the photo above, my best friend from Pennsylvania is agonizing over which floppy hat to buy. She also purchased a tiny little bottle of Orange Blossom Perfume which made a great long-lasting Florida souvenir for her. Most of the gift products are not actually made in Davidson’s, but many are manufactured right here in Florida, like the perfume.
Davidson’s is also where I was introduced to Citrus Magic. This amazing product is not just an air freshener but the best all-natural odor eliminating product I have found. In other words, it doesn’t simply cover up that “fishy” smell in your kitchen, it eliminates it. It works so well because it’s made with organic citrus oil, specifically oils from citrus peels.
***TIP: If you’re interested in trying Citrus Magic I highly recommend purchasing it through an online outlet like Amazon. After my first purchase at Davidson’s I found it much cheaper online.
Davidson of Dundee — An Old-Florida Landmark!
In all honesty, Davidson’s is not the type of Florida Attraction I would go too far out of my way to visit. However, don’t pass this place up if you’re on your way to popular destinations like Legoland, Bok Tower and Gardens, antique shopping at The Barn in Lake Alfred, and points south of Orlando. It’s a great piece of Old Florida history if you happen to be “passing through!” (Note: The parking lot is large enough to accommodate buses and RV’s.) And… even if you’re a million miles away from this little town called Dundee, Florida, many of the goodies I mentioned in this article are available through the Davidson of Dundee website!
Here’s A Great COUPON for Davidson of Dundee!
$5.00 OFF EVERY ORDER! (excluding fruit) USE CODE: sunshine5
Have you been to Davidson of Dundee? Or perhaps you have a favorite old-Florida landmark you’d like to share with our readers. Please reply in the “comment” box below!