I first visited the Naples Botanical Garden in 2013 and thought it looked like a new garden, not knowing that it had opened in 2009, only 4 years earlier. Not long when you consider how long it takes for individual plants to mature and create an integrated whole to the viewer. But this is semitropical Florida where the growing season is from January through December, there is no dormant season just growth and quicker growth.
I was hooked on the garden on my first visit especially with the bonus of a hosted exhibit of African art. I think maybe I saw a promotion for the exhibit that prompted me to visit that first time. I can’t create captions for many of the artistic works with name of the sculpture and artist because I didn’t photograph the information signs, something I regret.
2012-13 Winter Season
I continued to visit the garden but either they didn’t have yearly art exhibits, or I didn’t take photographs, or deleted the photographs somewhere along the way. I do know that I was enthralled with the orchids and lilies to took lots of photos of those. They also have a lot of hard sculptures that are are permanently built into their gardens and I took photos of those. I found this one photo of this gentle creature taken in 2015.
I watched the garden mature and expand, and it received the 2017 Award for Garden Excellence from the American Public Gardens Association. It was the youngest garden to ever receive this award. It was this 2016-17 season that the garden hosted my second favorite exhibit. They are origami created through the collaboration of Dr. Robert J. Lang, one of the world’s most renowned origami artists, and Kevin Box who used the paper origami objects to make cast aluminum replicas that were then painted.
In late 2017 this garden that had matured into an award winner was hit by Hurricane Erma – a dead-center attack. We had returned to Naples two weeks after the storm and the garden opened three weeks after Erma hit. In those first three weeks of clean-up many botanists from as far as Chicago and an army of volunteers from as far as neighboring states came to help save as many plants and trees as they could and remove material that couldn’t be saved. The garden lost more than 230 large trees, many of them were native to the grounds. The pile of debris covered 2 acres, 6 feet deep. Much was saved because as soon as the hurricane was forecasted the garden staff and volunteers carried as much as they could into protective places.
That season the garden was hosting a collection of animals and mirror art. The devastation was so great that I was disoriented during my visits after the storm. These sculptures provided beauty and a focus during this painful time. I found the animals and the mirrored pieces very challenging to photograph, maybe because the “natural habitat” no longer provided a context for them. But I was still able to enjoy their beauty.
Within a year, the garden began to fill in thanks to the staff and volunteers who moved plants from newly sunny locations to shade and filled empty places with sun loving plants and annuals. The year-round growing season also helped but it will take many years for the garden to recover. Staff are currently growing new plants from seeds and cuttings that they had routinely collected, bought and bartered from other tropical gardens around the world, and that staff have gathered from natural growing environments. The garden has not wavered from its commitment to growing rare and endangered plants.
It seems providential that my favorite exhibit was during the 2018-19 winter season by artist Hans Godo Frabel who is an accomplished glass blower. I love this exhibit so much that, after weekly visits for five months, during my first visits the next season I repeatedly would look for them to say hello and get some more photos. You can read about my enthusiasm for this collection by visiting Balancing Act, Surprise at the Garden, and Reflection of Lace.
The garden was closed for an extended period of time because of the pandemic so there was a period when I couldn’t visit in early 2020 and I didn’t return to Florida until February 2021. The garden had opened with timed admissions and they announced their exhibit for the year included works by Steve Tobin with the theme of roots (along with other works of his). I enjoyed how these works were placed in the environment and this small garden is designed so that works could be seen from multiple, very different, perspectives (and because much of the larger growth was gone because of Erma). Several of my visits were focused on capturing how well the art became integrated with the textures and landscapes of the garden.
The garden has purchased pieces from several of the exhibits to become permanent parts of the landscape. Now when I see them on my visits to the garden I feel like they are old friends, and I remember their family members from when they visited several years ago.
I think I am squeezing in under the wire for last week Lens-Artist Challenge – Gardens. You can follow that link to see more gardens, or you can join this weeks challenge by visiting Leya for her inspiration for “Dots & Spots.“