The Florida Botanical Gardens began on a modest 10-acre site occupied by the Extension Service. Its emergence as a world-class attraction came through a masterful combination of visionary and practical planning, public support, the intensive-participation of horticultural experts and creative land use.
The gardens have been described creation of an environment where flora, fauna and natural resources are showcased in a way that inspires visitors to practice responsible, environmentally sustainable techniques.
The original master plan envisioned a campus where art, history and the environment would intertwine. That concept, Pinewood Cultural Park, held together until the closing of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and limited access between the Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village.
FBG’s genesis was in 1991 when the Cooperative Extension Service proposed the founding of a new outdoor learning center. The plan gained support from the county commission, which pledged $1 million and 13 additional acres for the new facility.
The plan soon expanded beyond a learning center into a full-fledged botanical garden. The new park would replace the Suncoast Botanical Garden, which began in 1962 at the southeast corner of what became Walsingham Park. Remnants of that garden area, clustered around a small lake, can still be seen off 102nd Avenue in Largo.
The Florida Botanical Gardens emerged from a careful and extensive planning process. Input came from interested citizens, noted horticulturists and plant societies. Market research and analysis were employed to help refine the vision for the gardens. Once a consensus master plan was agreed upon by Extension Service and county staff, development of the gardens began.
Preparation of the site presented challenges from the outset. Flooding was a major concern. McKay Creek, which ran through the property, had been straightened during a prior improvement-to more resemble a ditch than a creek. The waterway was restored to a meandering stream, offering an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for the vegetation. Invasive species dominated parts of the property and needed to be taken out. Finally, design modifications were required to accommodate a bald eagle, which decided to nest on the property.
With the site readied, design and construction of the gardens moved forward in 1997. Following months of preparation, the Florida Botanical Gardens officially opened to the public on Dec. 2, 2000, showcasing 10 gardens with 10,000 plants on 182 acres.