Archive for June, 2012

Florida's Botanic Gardens

Florida is always in bloom, and its array of flora is showcased in tranquil parks and sprawling gardens across the state.

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

Dutch immigrant Edward Bok created this idyllic garden sanctuary, topping it off with a 205-foot bell tower made of Georgia marble and Florida coquina rock. Stroll along the garden paths, lie upon the lawn, feel the breeze and take in the beauty of azaleas, camellias, magnolias, ferns, palms, oaks and pines, while listening to the 60-bell Singing Tower during afternoon carillon concerts.

Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando

Near downtown, this 50-acre oasis is accented with oak-shaded walkways and delightful gardens adorned with azaleas, camellias, roses and palms, as well as beautyberries, bottle brushes, bromeliads, firecracker plants, flame vines, plumbago, primrose, snapdragon, tabebuia
and violas. Soothing and serene, it’s an ideal retreat anytime, but especially during musical moonlight strolls in April and October.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville

A 1.5-mile walkway through Kanapaha’s 62 acres leads to 24 major collections that include Florida’s largest public display of bamboo, the Southeast’s largest herb garden, a hummingbird garden, rose garden, Asian garden, water lily garden and a rock garden dotted with colorful cacti. A popular setting for weddings, Kanapaha’s Summer House is ideally suited for receptions and events.

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee

Alfred B. Maclay had such a soft spot for camellias that he sent men to scour the Southeast for them. When he died, his wife continued his dream. Today, Maclay’s home is surrounded by this outstanding collection of camellias and azaleas. Of the park’s 1,200 acres, 28 are tended gardens that also include dogwoods, oriental magnolias, tulips, irises, banana shrubs, honeysuckle, silverbell trees and pansies, all nestled beside placid Lake Hall.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables

In South Florida, tropical and subtropical plants grow year round, making this 83-acre haven a hot spot for horticulturalists. Explore the Vine Pergola, where flowering vines, including the Jade Vine, bloom year round, or seek shelter among the rainforest's soothing waterfalls and shady trees. Stop for a photo in the Bailey Palm Glade, Palm Allée or the Overlook, where sun-dappled passages open up to magnificent lake and lowland views. Time it right to enjoy festivals celebrating chocolate, orchids and mangos.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota

Alluring walkways wind through this 14-acre bayfront garden. Among its enchantments are orchids, hibiscus, a bonsai display, bromeliad garden and the world’s most outstanding collection of epiphytes (air plants). The grounds also feature a banyan grove, waterfall, koi pond, fernery, palm grove, bamboo garden and butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Events include the Lights in Bloom Holiday and Tropical Fourth of July celebrations.

Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo

This park covers 182 acres, nearly half of it a permanently protected preservation area. Here, you'll find topiaries, waterfalls, herbs, tropical fruits and native plants, plus more than 300 varieties of bromeliads. The park also features demonstrations on the natural process of composting, a cottage accented by an Old World garden and programs on cultivating your own Florida-friendly garden.

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Lone Cabbage Fish Camp: Airboats, Alligators and Fantasic Food

Growing up in Maitland, one of the most anticipated occasions of the year was when my mom would take us all to Cocoa Beach. But en route we always passed a place I wanted to see, but never did. Until last week.

I’m not sure how long the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp has been hidden here on SR 520 between 528 and I-95, but it still is and that’s good. It’s good because I got to do two things I’d never done: Ride in an airboat and eat at their restaurant. Let’s start with the airboat.

It was cool. Cooler than that, even. Captain Kenny was at the controls, and when we zipped beneath Highway 520, we were riding on an entirely new highway – one made of water and reeds. If you think Florida’s getting congested, get on this airboat and you’ll be amazed when the pilot literally skims over the surface of the water as he navigates deeper and deeper into the waters of the St. Johns River on road-sized liquid lanes. For tourists, the desire is to see alligators, but, having already seen my share, I was more thrilled to round a corner and encounter something totally unexpected: cows. How they got out here is beyond me, but here they were grazing out in the middle of what passes for nowhere. Ever so often Captain Kenny would stop and wait for alligators to appear and, as we waited, fill us in on the behavior of alligators and other wildlife. I felt like I was getting a lesson from the Crocodile Hunter. He even told me that a blue heron has a beak so sharp and so powerful it can put a deeper dent in the dock than Kenny could with a clawhammer.

Then it was lunchtime. Even though I probably should’ve ordered catfish or gator tail, I chose a bacon cheeseburger, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was excellent. This was one of those purely magic days when I could sit in a booth at an “only in Florida” diner, gaze out the window at countless square miles of undisturbed wilderness, and realize how fortunate we are to have destinations like the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp waiting for us when we’re ready to see the real Florida.
 

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Brevard Zoo: A Small Zoo That Does BIG Things!

I headed over to Melbourne the other day to visit the Brevard Zoo which (they say) “is a small zoo that does big things.” It’s not massive, it’s manageable. Fifty acres where nearly 600 animals from 165 species are lazing, grazing, perched, or rambling in a variety of habitats.

Although my timing was a bit off (stop-and-go showers found animals seeking shelter), even when the animals were out of sight, I was content just reading extremely clever signage that’s creepy/cool for kids and informative/entertaining for adults. For instance, I stepped on a scale at the vulture exhibit and learned it’d take 66 days for my body to rot into bones in the jungle if left undisturbed, but when vultures pitch in the process takes less than two days.

Allow about a half-day to see the zoo, taking your time in the four loops: Expedition Africa, Australia/Asia, Wild Florida, and La Selva where you’ll see giraffes, cheetahs, lemurs, kangaroos, emus, wallabies, cockatiels, kookaburras, river otters, alligators, white rhinos, ostriches, crocodiles, tamarins, bald eagles, warty pigs, tapirs, and red-tailed hawks and dozens of other species. You can board the Cape to Cairo Express train for a round trip, take a guided kayak tour through the wetlands or on the African river, do the Treetop Trek aerial obstacle course and zipline, and drop in at Paws On Play, the petting zoo/playground.

Oh! Don’t miss the exhibit of bonsai trees. Many are a half-century old and are cared for by botanists with infinite patience. Last thing: Before you go be sure to visit their website to learn about special programs like the kid-focused Wildlife Detective Training Academy.

Man, there’s a lot of stuff here. Like they say, it’s a small zoo that does big things. Perhaps the biggest is reminding us that all wildlife serves a purpose in this web of existence.

Continue reading Brevard Zoo: A Small Zoo That Does BIG Things! »

Brevard Zoo: A Small Zoo That Does BIG Things!

I headed over to Melbourne the other day to visit the Brevard Zoo which (they say) “is a small zoo that does big things.” It’s not massive; it’s a manageable 50 acres where nearly 600 animals from 165 species are lazing, grazing, perched or rambling in a variety of habitats.

Although my timing was a bit off (stop-and-go showers found animals seeking shelter), even when the animals were out of sight, I was content just reading extremely clever signage that’s creepy/cool for kids and informative/entertaining for adults. For instance, I stepped on a scale at the vulture exhibit and learned it’d take 66 days for my body to rot into bones in the jungle if left undisturbed, but when vultures pitch in, the process takes less than two days.

Allow about a half-day to see the zoo, taking your time in the four loops: Expedition Africa, Australia/Asia, Wild Florida and La Selva where you’ll see giraffes, cheetahs, lemurs, kangaroos, emus, wallabies, cockatiels, kookaburras, river otters, alligators, white rhinos, ostriches, crocodiles, tamarins, bald eagles, warty pigs, tapirs, red-tailed hawks and dozens of other species. You can board the Cape to Cairo Express train for a round trip, take a guided kayak tour through the wetlands, or on the African river, do the Treetop Trek aerial obstacle course and zipline, and drop in at Paws On Play, the petting zoo/playground.

Oh! Don’t miss the exhibit of bonsai trees. Many are a half-century old and are cared for by botanists with infinite patience. Last thing: Before you go, be sure to visit their website to learn about special programs like the kid-focused Wildlife Detective Training Academy.

Man, there’s a lot of stuff here. Like they say, it’s a small zoo that does big things. Perhaps the biggest is reminding us that all wildlife serves a purpose in this web of existence.

Continue reading Brevard Zoo: A Small Zoo That Does BIG Things! »

Boardwalks That Won't Leave You Bored

There’s something magical about walking along a boardwalk – over waterways and swamps, through mangroves and cypress stumps. From ghost orchids to alligators, you never know what you’ll see along these walkways.

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, Marathon

Get a taste of the rustic side of the Florida Keys along this 1.5-mile trail and boardwalk. The mild temperatures of fall and winter are ideal for exploring these hardwood hammocks, but the water views are mesmerizing anytime. Watch for diving pelicans and golden orb spiders.

Anne Kolb Nature Center, Hollywood

This winding boardwalk rewards you at the end with a covered lookout point and scenic views. Keep an eye out for raccoons, crabs and egrets along the way.

Tallahassee Museum

Walk past cypress stumps, as you spy the museum’s resident eagles, Florida panther, bears and other creatures, eventually making your way to the Old Florida village. Make sure to stop by the café
for a barbecue sandwich.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples

A true glimpse into the Florida of yesteryear, with 500-year-old cypress towering over the 2.25-mile boardwalk, this Audubon center is a birding paradise where you’ll spy anhinga, hawks and wood storks. After about a mile, keep an eye out for the trail that leads to a platform with panoramic marshland views.

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Tavernier

This boardwalk isn’t long, but it will keep your interest. You’ll see hawks, owls and other birds along the way, but the real treat awaits at the end, where ibis, herons and egrets gather and always enjoy
a free handout.

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Photo: Mission San Luis, Tallahassee

History comas alive at Mission San Luis, Tallahassee

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Lighthouses Kids Will Love

Florida’s lighthouses are full of intrigue – and climbing provides amazing views, good exercise
and a glimpse into the past. These five beacons are sure to pique the whole family’s curiosity.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Guarding Florida’s oldest port, its black and white spirals are iconic, as are the views from atop its 219 steps. At night, brave adventurers, including kids 7 and up, can take the spooky Dark of the Moon tour that has been featured on Ghost Hunters.

Pensacola Lighthouse

Visit on the right day from March to October, and you can watch the Blue Angels buzz past at eye level from the top of this 171-foot lighthouse. You can literally feel the engines scream. Kids must be at least 7 years old or 44 inches tall to climb.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

At the end of Key Biscayne, you’ll find the oldest standing structure in Miami – the lighthouse. Tours are given twice daily, except Tuesday and Wednesday. While at the park, enjoy an authentic Cuban lunch, or swim at the beach, a perennial Dr. Beach favorite.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

At 175 feet, this is Florida’s tallest lighthouse. After climbing 203 spiral steps to the top, you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of world-famous Daytona Beach. Afterward, explore nature trails, or tour the grounds and museum.

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum

If you’re 4 feet tall, you can climb this 108-foot lighthouse, but there’s plenty to see on the ground. Tour the museum to see how the lighthouse keepers lived. Exhibits include a lighthouse keeper’s workshop, pioneer homestead and Seminole chickee hut.

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Photo: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Naples

Using a spotting scope on the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples.

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Photo: Pensacola Lighthouse

If you’re lucky, watch the Blue Angels from the top of the Pensacola Lighthouse.

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Photo: Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Tavernier

See birds of all sorts, including brown pelicans, at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier.

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