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.
Container Gardening for the Cold~
These chilly days early in the season, are just a warning that there is more to come this winter. Instead of putting your containers in storage, why not change out those heat loving plants for others that like, and can take, the colder weather. With the right plants, winter container gardening is almost easier than summer gardening. There are so many plants that you can choose from for interesting, utilitarian, or aesthetically pleasing winter container combos. Let me give you a few examples…
Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ is wonderfully hardy in a pot. Its soft white leaves remind you of Dusty Miller but the Powis Castle Artemisia will grow larger and show no signs of cold damage. Add to the Artemisia, colorful snapdragons or Amazon dianthus for height along with the beautiful pink hued Vista supertunias for hanging over the edge of the pot, and you have an all winter low maintenance container of color just add water and you’re done. For other combo ideas try Nemesia ‘Bluebird’, mixed with white Lobularia ‘Snow Princess’, (which many of you may mistake for sweet alyssum...the Lobularia gets much bigger and lasts practically all year!) and add a clump or two of the colored foliage of coral bells, Heuchera sp. and your holiday containers are done.
If you want to be more involved with your pots all season, you can use a mixture of edibles. Red mustard and Bright Lights Swiss chard are fabulously colorful greens, the mustard with its burgundy foliage and swiss chard with its bright pink, orange, or yellow stems add insta-color to any pot; mix in bronze fennel for a fuzzy, tall, dark-colored texture, and some chocolate mint to fall over the edge of the pot, and you will have wonderful additions to holiday cooking just out your door. All of these can be continually harvested and will keep growing and producing as long as you do not cut out the core of the plant. Herbs also do great in mixed containers, rosemary along with oregano, parsley, thyme, chives, and sage thrive in the cold, and you can throw in some edible flowers like violas or dianthus to add a little color to the green herbs. Remember that the rosemary likes to have root room, but the others won’t mind sharing a crowded pot.
And of course, you can always mix the regular flowers with the edibles, it’s all about what combinations work for you. The most important thing to remember when container gardening is to HAVE FUN. For more exciting plant combination ideas check out the container gardens here at the Zoo.