Recently, my father decided to relocate down to Florida in order to enjoy his retirement. He settled on Naples, which is located in what is known as the “Paradise Coast.” Sounded like a good choice. Southeastern Michigan is nice but I would never venture to call it paradise.

I volunteered to drive down with him and spend a week helping him get settled into his new place. I know, what a sacrifice on my part. Well, I suppose I’m just that kind of altruistic human. The thought of escaping the north in what is generally the bleak month of January had me very excited, but not as excited as finding out that he was going to be living a mere ten minute stroll from the Naples Botanical Garden. After spending every morning of my visit there, I can safely say that they are the reason for the area’s moniker. 

In order to take full advantage of living so close to the gardens, a membership was procured upon arrival. There was so much else to get done, we had no time to explore, but we did venture over to the Fogg Café to have a quick bite. We had surprisingly delicious al pastor fish tacos, on a beautiful patio setting, immersed in the lush greenery that I was going to become accustomed to during future visits. I reluctantly left after our meal to head over to the local Big Lots so we could purchase various amenities for my dad’s new place.

I was happy to find out that under the new membership, I was allowed to enter the gardens an hour early, at eight in the morning. I am a very early riser, so I was out the door at seven-fifty and headed towards what was to become my new favorite place in Florida. 

Naples Botanical Garden Infinity Pond | Jamiel Dado


One of the nicest aspects of the gardens is that as soon as you enter the gate, you are immersed in extreme tropical beauty. I appreciated how there were labels on all the plants even before you entered the ticketing area.

The grounds are separated by several garden setups representing different aspects of tropical environments. I first decided to explore the Brazilian garden that had an incredible “infinity” pond with a giant mosaic that has a connected bench so you can sit and lose yourself in the gentle sound of water cascading over the edge of one pond into the next. It was here that I first noticed that so many of the plants were what I have as houseplants, only much bigger in “the wild.”

It’s funny how we keep all these tropical plants without really ever considering how they look outside. I mean, I take a lot of mine out for their “summer vacation” but they always look like tourists in my garden. Here, they were in their element, and I could appreciate their true nature. 

There are several signs around the gardens that contain qr codes that allow you to access some very informative sound bites about whatever it is you might be observing at the time. I found them well done and they added much to my experience. I ended up utilizing them all week. 

Temple Ruin | Jamiel Dado


After the Brazilian Garden, I decided to head towards one of two connected lakes on the premises. I was greeted by a peculiarly Floridian sign warning me about the possible presence of alligators. I found this very amusing but my Michigan brain failed to make me consider the reality of it. A mere five minutes later, I was walking along the path when I looked out to see an alligators head moving along the water about twenty feet from me. This was to be my only gator sighting of the week. I feel lucky that I was able to be in its presence and have the full Florida experience.

I am nothing if not a creature of habit, and that first venture around the gardens laid the groundwork for the following five visits. I would spend the first two hours of my day exploring every garden they had to offer, take a hike through the Florida uplands trail, and end up at the café for a chamomile tea. Then it was back to my temporary existence of making myself useful to my father. That is why, after all, I was down there. 

The Uplands Trail ended up being one of my favorite parts of my mornings at the garden. Being there so early meant I never once ran into another person along the sandy trail through the indigenous Florida landscape they had so painstakingly laid out.

Like many plant owners, I have a small collection of Tillandsia, or air plants, dotting my house. These curious things are known as epiphytes and have no need for soil. I was amazed to discover that this area of Florida was one of the places that these little guys come from. Only they are much, much bigger. Along the trail they can be seen hanging out in trees all around. Some were as big as basketballs and were perched like monkeys staring down at me. 

I got very interested a couple years ago in making arches in my garden out of willow saplings. Although I am pleased with the result, it is nothing compared to the massive sculpture at the gardens entitled Stickwork by artist Patrick Dougherty. This impressive piece is sixteen feet tall and wide, and seventy feet long. Walking through it is a gorgeous experience; almost, otherworldly, in its beauty. 

All of the individual gardens had their own unique vibe while being seamlessly connected by the various tropical plants that made their way into multiple locales. It was thrilling to see philodendrons climbing trees and golden pothos trailing along the ground. There was a bridge over what was called the “river of grass” that I developed a particular fondness for. I dislike lawns but have a strange love of ornamental grasses. I have five different varieties in my own garden. 

Any orchid lover will be pleased by the small garden dedicated to the stunning flower. For some reason, I have always been standoffish about owning one of these but being around them for the week has me trying to figure out where I will put my future orchid collection, in the ever dwindling space that I have for houseplants. 

I was lucky enough to catch their limited time exhibit Frida and Her Garden that will be in place through September tenth of this year. It’s a wonderfully immersive walk, through an abstract version of her blue house, that utilizes various plants to tie her story together. 

If for any reason you are going to find yourself in this area of Florida, you must put these gardens on your itinerary. Even if you aren’t a plant geek, you will marvel at the wonderous environment that they were able to put together. It is hard to believe that they have only been around since nineteen ninety-three. There is such a sense of timelessness that thirty years seems like an impossible amount of time to have created such a feat of natural beauty. 

I was able to spend ten hours at the gardens over the course of my week there and I am now left with a sense of longing. In a perfect world, I would be able to start every day of my life walking around those grounds, meandering amongst the tropical foliage and breathing in the intoxicating scents that surrounded me.

Now, that it has become my responsibility to see my dad as much as I am realistically able, I will continue to be a good son and to visit as much as possible, right?



Jamiel hanging out at Naples Botanical Garden


Jamiel Dado is passionate about plants and wants to spread his love of gardening to anyone who will listen.