Botanical Gardens

Gardener's Corner

Cold Weather Veggies
Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor

YEA! The weather is finally cooling and hopefully going to stay that way. You know what that means…time for a ‘green’ winter! It’s time to be sowing and planting those lettuces and kales and collards and chards and mustards…I could keep going but you get the idea. The cooler weather is the perfect time to get those leafy greens in the ground. Even if you don’t like cooked greens many of them are wonderfully delicious raw in salads, on burgers or straight out of the garden.

Giant red mustard is one of my favorites; I put it in my garden as well as use it in containers at home and in the Zoo. The gorgeous dark burgundy leaf is a beautiful contrast to the other winter flowers and I can just step out my front door and harvest a few leaves for the evening’s meal without disturbing the look of the container arrangement.

Bright lights Swiss chard is another green that doubles as a beautiful container plant with its bright pink, orange, and yellow stems as well as being a tasty addition to the dinner plate. What’s even better is the mustard and chard need no protection from frost or the winter cold. Even if they look black on a chilly morning give them a couple hours to warm up and they are back to their splendid colors.

Leaf lettuces, like bib, red leaf and mescaline mix are great because you can continually harvest all season long. Carrots, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage should also be on your list to plant this time of year. And after all these veggies you don’t want to forget about the strawberries! Yes, they too like the cold weather, and now is the time to get them in the ground. Remember to mound up the area before you plant them. Strawberries like to have good drainage and raising the soil or putting them in containers also helps get the fruit up off the ground.

Most of these plants have no problem with the cold, but if you are in an open area that is known for regular heavy frosts, you can use cardboard boxes or empty nursery pots to easily cover your babies for those nights that Jack Frost visits. Just remember to uncover them for their daily dose of sunshine.



Our Fluttery Friends in the Garden
Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor

Who doesn’t like to walk through the garden and have a butterfly swish by their head on its way to the next flower?! Or examine a host plant in search of the bizarre little caterpillars? When most people think butterflies they think Spring, but actually Fall is butterfly time. All the plants are flourishing and flowers are in full bloom.

Butterfly gardens are simple to create and a great learning experience for the whole family. There are a few simple rules that must be followed that will attract the butterflies to your garden and keep them coming back each year.

  - You should locate your garden in a sunny, protected spot in the yard so the butterflies can enjoy their meal without getting blown away.

  - If you have a spare shallow bird bath or even an old frisbee or pie plate, fill it with sand or gravel and water to offer your butterflies a drink between flights.

  - No pesticides or sprays in or around the garden. Butterflies and their caterpillars are sensitive creatures.


A butterfly garden must have 2 types of plants; nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are the flowers that the adult butterflies drink from. Host plants are specific plants that the caterpillars eat. Host plants are very important in butterfly gardens. Caterpillars are fussy eaters and if you don’t have the proper plants that they like to eat the butterfly will go somewhere else to lay her eggs. Be prepared to have the host plants munched to the stems, caterpillars are hungry creatures. Don’t worry this won’t kill the plants. They will re-grow in time for the next generation of butterflies to lay their eggs.

Some nectar plants to look for are: all types of Salvias, Lantanas, Pentas, Plumbago, Stokes Aster, Porterweed. These are some of the hardier and easiest to grow nectar plants for our area. Butterflies are particular about their host plants and will only lay eggs on certain plants. Monarchs want Milkweed, Giant Swallowtails want Citrus, Black Swallowtails want Fennel or Dill or Parsley, Yellow Sulphurs want Cassia, Gold Rim and Pipevine Swallowtails want Dutchman’s Pipevine, and Gulf Frittilaries and Zebra Longwings want Passionflower Vine. By adding host plants to your garden, you will not only attract butterflies to your yard, but the host plants will help keep them there and grow your population.

These are just a few ideas but a good start to a beginning butterfly garden and the bonus is the same flowers that attract butterflies attract hummingbirds too!


Time to BEE Responsible

Cheo Rodriguez, Senior Horticulture Tech

Many of us are aware of the importance of honeybees and the role they play when it comes to their contribution to pollination. I think it’s past time that we shed light on a group of some of the hardest working pollinators often overlooked but their impact is felt every day. I’m talking about our 325 native bee species found right here in Northern Florida.

What are Native Bees?

Native bees include many different sized solitary species who don’t live in communal hives. They are nomadic as well as opportunistic. They are responsible for the vast majority of pollination and they are the ones rushing to get things done behind the scenes, never getting the notoriety that they truly deserve. Let’s change that... Our native bee species are the ones picking up the “pollination slack” to ensure all those fruits and veggies we enjoy end up right where they are supposed to, on your table.

Why are they so important?

Well simply put, without these hardworking Bees our native ecosystems would collapse. Many of our native species are in serious trouble. Habitat loss, the overuse of pesticide, and over fertilization of lawns all contribute to the demise of species. An example being the Rusty patch bumblebee (Bombus affins) whose numbers have decreased by 87% in the past 15 years.

But we have honeybees……Right?

Honeybees simply can’t keep up with the pollination demand, which would intern cause an overall food shortage due to lack of overall pollination. But have no fear! Getting involved is easy it just takes some time and elbow grease to make a positive impact for our future.

That small pile of sticks you’ve been putting off picking up that resides as a fixture in your backyard, why not let the native bees utilize it? Fallen branches make perfect homes and provide suitable nesting structures for homeless bees. You want something more functional and aesthetically pleasing? Offer a “Bee House”, a non-treated piece of wood that different sized holes can be drilled into to offer the perfect size and space for our natives to lay their eggs. Planting native fruiting trees and flowers will increase the number of pollinators you will see in your yard. If you aren’t sure what plant material to use, please contact your local nursery and they can help you select plants that are bee friendly. As an added bonus you get a yard full of different pollinators and increased biodiversity. These hardworking girls need our help and it’s our duty to answer the call, together we can SAVE THE BEES.

Botanical Garden Concept Plan: Setting a New Standard

For decades, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has given Jacksonville and Northeast Florida residents a place to love animals. Now our mission is to offer our community a public place to love plants, while setting a new standard for zoos in the process. We are in the process of building a first-of-its-kind botanical garden inside our Zoo that, unlike other zoos, is integrated among the animal exhibits. Unlike most other growing and culturally-rich cities, Jacksonville cannot list a botanical garden as one of its cultural treasures.

Beyond filling an educational need, botanical gardens benefit their communities in many ways. They become tourist attractions, benefit the green industry, serve as an employer and pump millions of construction dollars into the regional economy. Over the past 400 years, botanical gardens evolved from a menagerie of medicinal plants to entering the 21st century with a strong focus on the concept of environmental sustainability. While some zoos have enhanced the natural habitat of their animal collection, none to our knowledge have committed to the idea of combining a zoo and botanical garden. This combination will only serve to strengthen each institution’s ability to foster a clear vision of sustainable conservation of our natural resources. With the help of a nationally-renowned botanical garden design firm, the Zoo developed three major garden zones in its Botanical Garden Concept Plan:

The Main Path, known as the River of Color: Visitors will begin their garden journey in the Main Camp Garden greeted with a celebratory display of striking foliage and flowering plants. They will be drawn toward the River of Color by drifts of colorful bloom swirling through ribbons of contrasting foliage and textures in the distance. Throughout the Zoo, the River of Color will be a linear garden that links garden destinations and animal exhibits.

Themed Pocket Gardens: Distinct and unique garden jewels of horticultural display that immerse the visitor in through plant themed forecourts to the animal exhibits that follow. Each garden is about 2 acres in size. Currently our Pocket Gardens include the African-Savanna Blooms Garden, South American-Range of the Jaguar Garden, the native gardens of Wild Florida and Play Park, the formal Gardens of Trout River, and the Asian Garden.

The Primary Gardens: In Jacksonville, visitors to the Zoo have recognized the unique relationship the Zoo shares with the Trout River. The beautiful native water-edge plants and spectacular panoramic views over the River set this area aside as something quite special. Recognizing this potential, we selected this area as the home for the Primary

Gardens which will cover approximately twelve acres and include Collection Gardens and the Conservatory.

Garden Tours


Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden