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.
Being Florida Friendly Around Water
Jennifer Best, Horticulture Supervisor
Many of us have yards that back up to retention ponds, waterways, or have low spots that never seem to drain. Instead of forcing turfgrass to grow in these hard to manage areas why not create a garden bed using plants that require less maintenance and chemicals, and like the extra water around their feet.
Garden beds at the edge of the water not only enhance the aesthetics of your yard, but also are extremely beneficial to the environment and wildlife. If your yard is at the edge of a pond or river, it is ideal to create a 10’ maintenance free zone between the water and your landscape, one which needs no mowing, fertilizers or pesticides. This can be an area that is left un-mowed and completely natural or a landscaped garden bed that is planted with natives and Florida Friendly plants which like the extra water. This area will help slow the runoff of yard debris and chemicals into the water system as well as provide habitat for wildlife.
Creating a landscape that will be happy along the water or in a wet spot in your yard is simple when using the right plants for the location. Water loving trees help provide shade as well as homes for wildlife. Some native varieties that can handle the wet are: River Birch, Dahoon Holly, and Coastal Plains Willow, a less messy alternative to the weeping variety and is a host to the Viceroy butterfly. Southern Magnolia, Bald Cypress, and Maples love moist soil, but don’t plant them next to the house or driveway because they grow very large and the roots can buckle concrete.
Marginals are plants that grow right at the waters edge providing protection and food for water fowl and other wildlife. They need no fertilizing and require little maintenance. A few water loving native marginals are Pickerel Weed, Duck Potato, Louisiana Iris, and the carnivorous Pitcher Plant. Anise, an evergreen shrub, is an excellent native for a natural fence in an area prone to staying wet. Sweetshrub, Buttonbush, and Itea are hardy deciduous native shrubs for the shady wet areas. Joe-pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, and Swamp Hibiscus are wonderful water loving perennials for attracting humming birds and butterflies. All of these wet loving marginal plants will also grow well in a regular garden bed; they are just more prolific when given that extra moisture. Make sure to research your plants before you buy, some of these can get quite large but have dwarf varieties on the market. Remember when planting in the yard to not plant in the swale, the long shallow ditch used to help drain the yard. Planting in the swale will block the flow of draining water and can cause more flooding throughout the yard. For more tips and ideas on how to make your yard more Florida Friendly check out these websites.