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.
Cold Weather Veggies
By 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.