Stop. Look. Listen. Feel. Breathe.
This season, the Garden focuses on the Here and Now, inviting guests to slow down, unwind, reflect, and take in the natural beauty around them. We’ve asked five staff members to share their favorite, out-of-the-way spots where they find quiet moments of contemplation. These are places easily accessible but often overlooked. We encourage you to step off the paved pathways in our cultivated gardens and find hidden nooks. Or venture onto our lakeside trail, the Sönne Family Ghost Orchid Boardwalk, and the sandy trails beyond it. Enjoy our staff’s favorite places. And then discover your own.
Scott Doris, Mechanic
Hidden Space: Swing along the lakeside trail
I found this spot by walking the trail before I even started working here. Now, I pass by it all the time as a mechanic doing test rides on golf carts and things like that. It was just always attractive to me as a relatively secluded spot in the Garden.
It’s always been a good place to come out here with a book, or even just to reflect and meditate. If you sit on this bench long enough, even after five or 10 minutes without moving, you’ll see quite a bit of wildlife. I’ve seen half a dozen different butterfly species flying by here and lots of birds. Basically, anything that you can find in this area is likely to pass over this spot at any given time.
I do really like the one little clump of mangroves out here. I think that’s pretty cool. And maybe, more broadly, just how much (plant) variety is packed into this small area right here on the shoreline.
You have the pollinators that are attracted to these flowering plants. You have the birds roosting in the trees across there. It’s just a heavy abundance of life in this small cross section.
When I think about this spot, I just think of solitude and serenity and reflective peace.
Lindsay Williams, Gardener
Hidden Space: Chickee just beyond the Sönne Family Ghost Orchid Boardwalk
Lindsay stumbled upon her favorite hidden spot during her very first visit to the Garden, prior to employment, when she was unaccustomed to Florida’s heat and humidity.
It’s really hard to enjoy the splendor of a garden if you are dehydrated and fatigued. Being able to rest for a bit helped me appreciate the area more. Sitting down, I could hear the birds. I could hear, I think, what might have been cicadas, and I could just see the pines swaying in the breeze.
Stop and listen and try to open your minds to the fact that there’s different tropical biomes. I think we imagine tropical areas as the same thing, copy and paste, you know, the white beaches, the palms … I feel like when you’re in natural areas, you discover things. Just like seeing a parrot in the wild would be different from seeing a parrot in the zoo. I think it’s the same when you’re seeing plants, the way they grow and interact naturally is a little different from seeing them in the ornamental gardens. The ornamental gardens are cool; they represent the best that humanity is able to collect and cultivate …
… but there’s just something magical about being able to be in a native area and experience that seclusion and the quiet and the discovery of things.
Beth Thomas, Festival Coordinator
Hidden Space: Connie and John Vandenberg and Family Pier, Kapnick Brazilian Garden
I wander the Garden whenever I can and try to find the hidden spots. And the pier is one of my favorites. Sometimes I come here just to reset if I’m having a really crazy day and have been in front of the computer. Sometimes, it’s just a nice place to have a cup of coffee in the morning. Close your eyes — or keep your eyes open. And just take it in and be part of it and let everything else go.
(The waterfall sound) is very relaxing. I love any form of water. The waterfall is a good place to just, you know, get that fix. The waterlilies and the lotus are among my favorite plants. Along the shoreline, I love looking at the water chestnut tree, especially when it flowers, and the bromeliads along the shoreline. They change color depending on the season.
I mean, there’s just so much to look at and take in. And it looks different every time I come out here.
Ian Talty, Natural Resources Manager
Hidden Space: A pine tree along the Preserve lakeside trail
The Garden conducted a prescribed burn in July at the site Ian describes. In Florida, nature regulates itself with fire, but until recently the Garden’s natural areas had not been burned for decades. Garden conservationists wanted to reduce excess pine, clear accumulated plant debris, and prompt fresh, new growth. They shielded this tree because of its age and character.
This spot is centered around a very old slash pine. I don’t know how old; they’re not easy to estimate and age. I think (this tree) is significant because it’s telling a story of the absence of fire in the landscape. Typically, slash pines that have had fire around them have branches that are very high. This guy has branches you can hit your head on … I think it just looks gnarly. He’s got a pretty nontypical branch structure for a pine, especially in Southwest Florida. Very pagoda-like.
It has air plants on it. You can see the old, broken branches are made from the hardest material, that “lighter pine” that is just impossible to break. It’s a shady spot in a relatively unshaded area. So, it’s a unique tree in that way. And then, you know, right behind us, we have a significant development going on with the Hamilton Avenue bioswale and the new plants growing there. (The swale was designed to capture and purify stormwater runoff generated by a nearby Collier County project.)
This guy has stood the test of time like this, and some things are just better left untouched, and we’ll see what happens. Luckily, he’s shown great signs of making it through.
Avelina Cruz Lopez, Community Relations Manager
Hidden Space: Seating area behind the Pastore Family Caribbean House
You know, I started working here going on five years now. When I started, I was working in (Fogg) Café. After work, you know, everyone’s gone, so I liked to walk the Garden while there was still light out. And this has always been my favorite spot. I still come here. I love hearing the wind. It is very, very peaceful.
You don’t hear too much back here. Further out in the Garden, you sometimes hear some traffic or other noises, but here is like you’re in a different place. And I love that.
I like the diversity of plants back here. (They include mangos, Barbados cherry, and Neobuchia trees with their spiked trunks.)
It’s a great spot for guests to discover. It’s definitely tucked away. It’s a great place if you’re coming to the Garden to try to get away from everything.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Cultivate, the Garden’s magazine.
About the Author
Jennifer Reed is the Garden’s Editorial Director and a longtime Southwest Florida journalist.