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.
I LOVE this time of year. Yes this chilly-most-perennials-turn-brown-and-crispy time of year. This is a good time for letting Mama Nature cull the weak. If you want a low maintenance yard then a mild winter like this should not worry you or your plants one bit. Yes some may turn brown but that is naturally what perennials do, they need a little dormancy time…a little rest so they can come back next year twice as strong.
For some strange reason people think that brown in the yard is ugly and run for the clippers at the first sign of frost; up north we call the brown ‘winter interest’. Remember to not go rampaging thru your garden beds cutting every bit of brown as it appears. Dead foliage not only acts as an insulator for the plants it also helps protect the wildlife you are trying to attract to your yard. Brown plants may have seeds, they also house little insects, and both help nourish birds during these chilly times. And any good butterfly gardener with host plants knows that caterpillars wander all over the yard before they go into chrysalis. There is no way of knowing how many are being tossed to the compost if you cut your brown in the cold.
If your garden is like mine filled with horrible hydrophobic sandy soil, the way to make it better is to add organic material yearly. Fallen leaves should be raked into your beds, not to the curb. Oak and pine are great for mulching beds, because they help acidify your soil as they slowly decompose. Even fast decomposing leaves like maple, sycamore and sweetgum offer a nice little blanket of warmth in these chilly times. Plus a blanket of leaves helps suppress weeds, adds organic material to the soil and costs a lot less than buying mulch.
Just remember to enjoy this wonderful chilly weather for the short time we have it. March is the time for your pruning and cleaning, when there is less chance of new baby leaves getting hit by the frost. All too soon it will be unbearably hot August and we will be asking for the cooler weather back.