Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Hawthornes Visit St. Petersburg. The Sunken Gardens.

A month ago, the Hawthornes took a trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, to visit one of our Little Hawthornelets.  Our first adventure was to The Sunken Gardens, a historic gem nestled in the midst of a vibrant residential and commercial area in this bustling city.

In 1903, George Turner, a plumber who was an avid gardener, purchased a six-acre property in St. Pet.  There was a four-acre shallow lake on the property which had filled an ancient sinkhole and dropped 15 feet below street level.  Turner, putting his plumbing skills to good use, drained the entire lake, a feat which would be met today, no doubt, with horrified outrage from city planners and environmentalists. The rich, fertile soil lying 15 feet down at the bottom allowed Turner to plant citrus trees and a small vegetable garden - the beginning of his below-sea-level garden.  Over the years, winding walkways and tropical plants were added and, eventually, a small jungle of over 500,000 plants and flowers filled this little humid bubble, sunken below the rest of the neighborhood.

Sunken Gardens is one of the oldest roadside attractions in the United States and one of the last remaining Florida roadside attractions.  Visitors were attracted to this sanctuary and neighbors so enjoyed strolling through the lush gardens of this botanical paradise that by 1924, Turner was charging a nickel for tours.  In 1935, the garden was fenced and Turner started charging 25 cents for admission.  Three generations of the Turner family have continued the vision created by George Turner Sr., offering meandering paths, lush tropical displays, dense vegetation, cascading waterfalls, flowing ponds, exotic wildlife, and a unique collection of plants and blooms.  Over 500 kinds of tropical and subtropical plants are on display and curving walkways lead along cacti, succulents, bamboo, oaks dressed in Spanish moss, a Japanese garden, fringed palms, orchids, bromeliads, frangipani, waterfalls, ponds stocked with koi, water lilies, shrimp plants, fruit trees, angel trumpets, turtles, butterflies, lizards, Amazon parrots, and a flock of Chilean flamingos.

In 1998, the Sunken Gardens were designated a local historic landmark and treated to several years' efforts of restoration.  In 1999, the City of St. Petersburg purchased the Gardens from Turner's sons, Ralph and George Jr for over $2.26 million, with a goal to preserve the botanical gardens and provide cultural and educational opportunities.

Come along with Rosie and take a tour.

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