Once the third largest city in Florida, Lakeland is a quiet, pretty place with three lakes within its downtown core. This is a college town, home to the University of Southern Florida and Florida Southern College, where the latter’s campus boasts a number of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. It’s also been the spring training camp of the Detroit Tigers baseball team for 70 years.
Established in just 2000, the garden has matured well and packs some 10,000 plants on its 1.2 acre grounds. There you will find Florida natives, as well as annuals, fruits, vegetables and herbs in some 16 garden rooms, along with water features, grottoes and more.
The garden has other, quirkier, charms. A number of offbeat sculptures keep the space from looking too prissy. And I was especially enchanted by the historical Trees of America section. There, pollarded to maintain a manageable size, are trees with a direct connection to their famous owners–some of them come from seedlings or the original trees found in their gardens. You can admire the Abe Lincoln overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), the Elvis Presley weeping willow, the George Washington tulip poplar and the Patrick Henry osage orange, to name just a few.
Seldom-encountered curiosities, such as this Buddha’s hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus), above left, from China may also be seen. Yes, it’s a citrus and loaded with Vitamin C, but according to our guide Stacy Smith (shown in middle photo, above, with sugar cane) it must be cooked before it’s eaten. Another interesting plant is the popcorn cassia (Cassia didymobotrya), above right. Native to South America, it’s so named because it really does smell like buttered popcorn.
Once you’ve strolled around the garden, you might want to head over to the nearby Hotel Lakeland Terrace, which also overlooks Lake Mirror, for some refreshment. Originally built in 1924, the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of Historic Hotels of America. Its impeccably restored interior, including the beautiful pecky cypress ceilings, makes it a fine spot for a relaxing drink or a full meal.
Some gardens need more space than a mere blog can give them. To explore central Florida’s historic Bok Tower Gardens, view Lorraine Flanigan’s slideshow.
Next: Citrus groves and more