Botanical Gardens

Gardener's Corner


Making Your Green More Green
By Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor

Nowadays everyone is talking about going green…recycling instead of trashing, reusing instead of buying new, reducing our waste output…but what about addressing the original green, our gardens and gardening practices. There are many common garden chores that are done because “our parents or neighbors do them” without a second thought as to why or if they are even good for the environment. With gardening, “Going Green” can actually mean less work for you so it’s worth a second thought to rethink those old-fashioned practices.

When choosing plants, look for native or Florida Friendly plants; these are plants that will tolerate our extreme growing conditions, but do your homework. Just because it is native doesn’t mean it will grow anywhere. Remember “Right Plant Right Place”; find out what conditions the plant likes before plopping your shade-loving plant in the full sun. The bonus is properly planted natives don’t require extra fertilizer or water once established. In layman’s terms, this means less work and money spent on the garden.

Check your irrigation system. Make sure there are no leaks, and sprinkler heads are aimed into the garden, not the driveway or the street. It’s silly to wash your money down the drain and into the river. Also check your timer, make sure you are irrigating on the proper days at the right times. You do not want to water in the heat of the day between 10-4, in our hot summers the water evaporates before it even makes it to the ground. Remember overwatering your grass makes it weak and susceptible to disease and pests.

Improper fertilization is another offender of the Green…especially if you live on a body of water. You pay more to live next to water, why would you not take care of it?? If you are planting with natives, there shouldn’t be much fertilizing necessary; established landscapes should only be fertilized if needed. However, if you do need to fertilize, it should be done properly and sparingly. Fertilizer is one of the worst offenders polluting our river and causing harmful algae blooms. Make sure to use slow-release or organic fertilizers and don’t apply before a rain storm or within 10’-30’ of the edge of the water. Planting marginal plants along the water’s edge also helps slow the runoff of fertilizer into the water. And remember, fertilizer will not help poor growth in a plant that is planted in the wrong place.

Going Green in the yard is not difficult and will save you time and money once you put your Best Green Management Practices into place.

Cold Weather Veggies
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.



Our Fluttery Friends in the Garden
Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor

Who doesn’t like to walk through the garden and have a butterfly swish by their head on its way to the next flower?! Or examine a host plant in search of the bizarre little caterpillars? When most people think butterflies they think Spring, but actually Fall is butterfly time. All the plants are flourishing and flowers are in full bloom.

Butterfly gardens are simple to create and a great learning experience for the whole family. There are a few simple rules that must be followed that will attract the butterflies to your garden and keep them coming back each year.

  - You should locate your garden in a sunny, protected spot in the yard so the butterflies can enjoy their meal without getting blown away.

  - If you have a spare shallow bird bath or even an old frisbee or pie plate, fill it with sand or gravel and water to offer your butterflies a drink between flights.

  - No pesticides or sprays in or around the garden. Butterflies and their caterpillars are sensitive creatures.


A butterfly garden must have 2 types of plants; nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are the flowers that the adult butterflies drink from. Host plants are specific plants that the caterpillars eat. Host plants are very important in butterfly gardens. Caterpillars are fussy eaters and if you don’t have the proper plants that they like to eat the butterfly will go somewhere else to lay her eggs. Be prepared to have the host plants munched to the stems, caterpillars are hungry creatures. Don’t worry this won’t kill the plants. They will re-grow in time for the next generation of butterflies to lay their eggs.

Some nectar plants to look for are: all types of Salvias, Lantanas, Pentas, Plumbago, Stokes Aster, Porterweed. These are some of the hardier and easiest to grow nectar plants for our area. Butterflies are particular about their host plants and will only lay eggs on certain plants. Monarchs want Milkweed, Giant Swallowtails want Citrus, Black Swallowtails want Fennel or Dill or Parsley, Yellow Sulphurs want Cassia, Gold Rim and Pipevine Swallowtails want Dutchman’s Pipevine, and Gulf Frittilaries and Zebra Longwings want Passionflower Vine. By adding host plants to your garden, you will not only attract butterflies to your yard, but the host plants will help keep them there and grow your population.

These are just a few ideas but a good start to a beginning butterfly garden and the bonus is the same flowers that attract butterflies attract hummingbirds too!

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


Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden