Botanical Gardens

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

Gardener's Corner

Atypical Evergreens
By Harry Owens, Horticulture Technician II

Is your yard full of brown, crispy-leafed plants from fall to spring? It does not have to be, the solution: evergreens. Evergreens are exactly what their name implies, plants that keep green leaves all year. Evergreens do lose leaves, they just do it more gradually than deciduous plants, which drop all their leaves at once and do not grow any more until spring. When most people hear evergreen, they probably think of conifers such as pines and firs but there is a wide array of plants that can keep some color in your yard even during the colder months. Here are a few plants that we have in the gardens that keep their leaves through the chilly temps.

We will start with low-lying groundcover. Cast Iron plants (Aspidistra elatior) are commonly used as indoor plants but were originally understory plants in the jungles of Asia, so they do well with little light. They have long, strap-like leaves and some species come in cool variegations for more color. They have strange spider-like flowers located at soil level that are key to identifying them since most are indistinguishable the rest of the year. Leopard plants (Farfugium japonicum) also originated in Asia. They have large leathery, kidney-shaped leaves on long stems resembling big dollar weeds. They produce daisy-like, yellow flowers that stand tall above the green clusters of leaves.

The next step up the plant pyramid is shrubs. Camellias are another Asian native that do well in our area and hold their leaves all year. There are many different Camellia cultivars and hybrids, offering many sizes and colors to choose from. They have simple, serrated, often glossy leaves and their flowers bloom in varying shades of white, pink, or red, in double flowers or single with yellow stamen in the center. If you are looking for a pop of color in the cooler months, many species bloom throughout the winter.  Another evergreen shrub, Pineapple Guava or Feijoa (Acca sellowiana) is native to South America. They yield edible flowers and tropical fruit. The flowers are white with red pom-poms in the middle, the white pedals are the edible part. The fruit is green and egg-sized and is described as tasting like pineapple, apple, and mint.  Simpson Stopper or Twinberry (Myrcianthes fragrans) is lesser known native shrub that is quickly gaining in popularity. It is slow-growing, drought and salt tolerant, and fairly cold-hardy. The plant itself gives off a nutmeg smell when leaves are crushed and produces tiny white fragrant flowers followed by red berries that attract wildlife. Pineapple Guavas and Simpson Stoppers can be easily trained as shrubs, hedges, or small trees. 

The next natural progression from shrubs is to full-sized trees. This section will be more generalized because you are probably already familiar with and might already have some in your yard. Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), and pines (Pinus spp.) are all native trees that keep leaves on their branches. If you do have these you are probably already aware that they drop leaves but they leave enough on the limbs to not look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree for 4 months. Another large evergreen that actually is not a tree but a grass is bamboo. Asian Lemon bamboo (Bambus eutuldoides ‘Viridi Vittata’) is a good option if you are looking for some added color, because the canes are bright yellow with green vertical striping. 

These are just a few of the atypical evergreens that we have at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. With a little research you can find the right plant for the right place and have a landscape with green in it year round.

Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden