Aside from beaches and theme parks, Florida has so many beautiful gardens to visit that I’m forever discovering incredible new ones. In the state’s year-round favorable temperatures, flowers and trees thrive, making it an ideal place for impressive gardens. Being a travel writer, I’ve seen a lot of amazing attractions. I’m constantly wowed by and attracted to botanical gardens, so I visit many of them. Here are eight of the most beautiful I’ve encountered in Florida.
1. Naples Botanical Garden, Naples
Winding trails with surprises at each turn are what you’ll encounter at the Naples Botanical Garden. You’ll be in awe of the waterfall, nestled in a secluded part of the park laden with bromeliads, and the eye-catching blooms around it. The park is easy to walk through, too.
You’re in for a real treat at the Kapnick Caribbean Garden, which you’ll smell long before you arrive. The alluring aroma of the frangipani is intoxicating -- a little piece of wonderland. You’ll also see tropical fruits and vegetables here. This part of the botanical garden is why the Naples Botanical Garden is my favorite, and the unusual themed gardens, including the Brazilian and Asian Gardens, truly set this place apart.
Don’t miss the stellar gift shop full of home goods, glassware, gourmet foods, and plants you can take home and grow.
Pro Tip: On Sunday and Tuesday mornings, the Naples Botanical Garden allows visitors to bring along their four-legged friends.
2. Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales
The peaceful Bok Tower Gardens is best known for its 205-foot-tall tower of carillon bells played by a live carillonneur. But these simple, elegant, and highly enjoyable gardens offer much more. Fulfilling namesake Edward Bok’s lovely vision for the space, there are quiet places throughout the 250-acre property for sitting and reflecting or meditating. A cart sits at the front of the gardens with the seasonal flowers you will see in bloom on that particular day. I found that it helped me to identify the blooms I was seeing.
The space is also a bird sanctuary and is home to Pinewood Estate, an elegant 20-room Mediterranean mansion -- even more reason to explore this peaceful place. At Christmastime, the mansion and grounds are dressed in holiday decor. It is spectacular!
The Bok Tower Gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., one of the world’s most famous landscape architects. Olmsted also worked on design projects at the National Mall, the Jefferson Memorial, and the White House grounds.
Pro Tip: Enjoy a tasty chicken blueberry salad or turkey and smoked gouda sandwich at the Blue Palmetto Cafe, the on-site restaurant.
3. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota
Featuring tropical plants aplenty, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the former home of Marie Selby and her husband, William, is a lesser-known 15-acre Florida garden gem you won’t want to miss. I was blown away by the orchid collection at Marie Selby, with more than 6,000 picturesque beauties on display. The bromeliad gardens are rich and stately, while the living plant collection is one of the world’s best. Don’t miss Banyan Grove, great for stunning photo ops.
This garden should take about 2 hours to walk through; an audio tour is available. Be sure to save time for the butterfly garden, which has helped to reestablish the native population, and the koi pond, possibly the most picturesque spot on the grounds.
Pro Tip: Have lunch at the Selby House Cafe, where the tropical chicken salad and Catalan tuna bowl are both delicious choices. Save room for a lemon rosemary bar.
4. McKee Botanical Garden, Vero Beach
Waldo E. Sexton, an eccentric and artsy Vero Beach native, created the beautiful McKee Botanical Garden, a subtropical paradise on Florida’s Treasure Coast. It is filled with native Florida plants and trees and a few rare exotics. Living part-time in Boquete, Panama, I was shocked to see shampoo ginger plants at McKee. These go for big bucks to nail salons in cities around the world.
You’ll adore the water lily ponds and be impressed by the Hall of Giants, built around an enormous table made of a single slab of tropical wood. The outdoor Spanish Kitchen is an architectural marvel, too.
McKee is 18 acres and manageable for anyone to get around. The temporary art exhibits are worth exploring, and there are beautiful statues and artwork throughout the property. Keep your eyes open for hidden treasures. McKee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pro Tip: On customer appreciation days, admission only costs $1.
5. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville
Within the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are 26 different gardens. This gorgeous 62-acre attraction sits on a lake and is home to the most incredible bamboo forest I’ve seen in Florida. You simply must take a photo in the bamboo garden, Florida’s most extensive public collection and the perfect background for a social media profile picture.
Kanapaha is another great place to see picture-perfect water lilies and lotus flowers. Other gardens feature conifers, roses, butterflies, azaleas, ginger, container plants, herbs, hummingbirds, and much more. Don’t miss the labyrinth, a unique feature of the property.
This is definitely one of Florida’s best and most beautiful gardens.
6. Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee
Oodles of delicate, colorful, beautiful camellias and azaleas canvas the 1,176-acre Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. Come in late fall to see them blooming beneath the live oak canopy and along the brick-lined walkways.
Maclay, a cotton plantation-turned-vineyard-turned-quail-hunting estate, is a botanical and architectural masterpiece. It is also a Florida state park that offers fishing, kayaking, and swimming. It contains multiple historic sites and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park is home to a 1909 house that you can tour, as well as other points of interest, including a fantastic reflecting pool (with great photo ops!) and the many secret gardens of the Maclay winter home.
7. Cummer Museum Of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville
Set on the stunning Saint Johns River in Jacksonville, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens offers beautiful views of Fuller Warren Bridge, impressive formal gardens, and a stellar art museum all rolled into one. It is the largest fine arts venue in Florida, but the gardens are my favorite part. Containing rare horticultural pieces, they are adorned by sculptures, fountains, arbors, and reflective pools.
The English Garden is my favorite, a rarity in Florida. Delicate blooms peek out from beneath the canopy of live oak trees. It is a mesmerizing sight and one that is as pretty as a famous painting. However, the jewel of Cummer Gardens is the Italian Garden, where you will find two gorgeous reflecting pools and Italian marble garden ornaments.
Pro Tip: You can experience an interactive garden tour from the comfort of your home by going to the Cummer Museum’s website.
8. Miami Beach Botanical Garden, Miami Beach
Miami Beach Botanical Garden is an urban green space filled with incredible plants and trees, all carefully labeled. This 2.6-acre garden is very walkable and absolutely free -- a great way to spend an hour in nature. You’ll be amazed at the giant milkweed, a beautiful plant I immediately wanted to take home and plant in my own yard.
The gardens here feature native, edible, and Japanese plants, with koi ponds and fountains dotting the landscape. There are at least 100 types of palm trees, too. Expect to see kapok, silk floss, and banyan trees; crepe myrtles; magnolias; frangipani flowers; and lots of bamboo. The Japanese bridge is an excellent spot for pictures.
Pro Tip: A few blocks away is Miami’s famous Lincoln Road open-air pedestrian mall, perfect for shopping, dining, and people-watching.
As a college-age Southern girl, I was in the Indian River Garden Club of Vero Beach. In Central and Southern Florida, garden clubs were all the rage. It was a treat when we took annual field trips to see private gardens. If you currently live in Florida or are contemplating moving there, be sure to look up the local garden clubs -- they perform many civic duties and contribute much to the state’s beautification.