Amid stop-and-go traffic on searing blacktop pavement lies a tropical roadside oasis. St. Petersburg’s Sunken Gardens is one of Florida’s last roadside attractions. Its humble beginnings started as a hobby for the landowner who drained this land of its marshy water and created the tropical garden we continue to enjoy over a hundred years later.
Aaron and I have a collection of patio plants we strive to keep alive. While Aaron has plants creating many offspring with minimal effort, I sometimes love them too much, leaving me with a few pots of shriveled cactuses. As we stood at the entrance of the Sunken Gardens, I felt like we walked onto the set of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. The palm trees were so enormous they could be posing as undercover cell phone towers.
We followed the winding path stopping to read the labels of the plants that caught our eyes. I found myself looking at plants that looked familiar, like Bromeliads or Ponytail Palm but on steroids. More than once, I caught myself saying, “I didn’t know they could get that big.” I only see these plants in their infancy at garden centers. The unlucky ones that come home with me are unlikely to see adulthood.
Tranquil Places to Reflect
Not a plant person? There are areas sprinkled around the gardens to break up the overwhelming beauty of the tropical foliage. Exotic birds are posted along the walking path like greeters to a store entrance. Each bird had a placard with its name, breed, and a fun fact. Some of these garden greeters learned phrases to gain a few moments of attention from passing visitors. In their best parrot accent, a familiar “Hellooo” broke through the sound of wind rustling through the leaves. They slyly bobbed their heads from side to side as if they were waving desperately, looking for acknowledgment.
The most popular attraction can be heard before it is seen. For those who didn’t get a copy of the Sunken Gardens map at the entrance, the surprise of this enclosure forces air to rush into everyone’s lungs as they gasp a deep breath before exclaiming, “Flamingos!”. I am guilty of following suit as we passed a wall of bamboo to find myself wide-eyed staring at thirty fluorescent flamingos. All around me, children’s voices were parroting the same tone of excitement.
Each flamingo seemed to take turns dipping their heads under the water while others supervised the growing crowd of humans beyond the fence. I could have sat there for hours watching the vibrant pink feathers blend as the flock’s formation shifted from one side of the water’s edge to the other— moving in unison like a field of wheat in a summer wind.
A tropical garden wouldn’t be complete without a Koi pond, and a gumball machine-turned fish food dispenser strategically placed off to the side of the walking path. Swirling Koi poked their heads just above the water. Their mouths silently move as if they are trying to speak to the child above them, waving a fistful of fish pellets. The child throws the pellets, and the water boils as these gentle Koi thrash over the water’s surface to consume as many kernels of food as they can. Just as quickly as they start to fight to the death, they just as quickly return to docile overgrown goldfish peacefully meandering in an untraceable pattern about the pond.
Sunken Garden’s Special Events
The exquisite beauty of the thoughtfully curated Sunken Garden is a tranquil destination for a casual stroll to connect with friends or perfect for an afternoon date. It should be no surprise that this space can become the ideal backdrop for an outdoor wedding or unique event space. The lush garden wraps around the wedding lawn like hands around a warm mug of tea.
The turf lawn felt deceiving lifelike, as we picked a spot to sit to enjoy the seasonably cool temperatures. We watched people move around the open space, some taking the time to bask in the sun, others stopping to take photos at the visitor sign. I thought to myself, “this would be the perfect setting to roll out my yoga mat.” The sounds of bamboo clicking together and the wind rustling the leaves like a tambourine made me feel at peace.
After doing a bit of post-visit research, I stumbled upon the St. Pete Events Calendar. The Sunken Gardens host a yoga class twice a week. Visitors can enjoy an hour and fifteen-minute class focusing on breath work, postures, and guided relaxation, suitable for yogis of all levels.
Save A Money on Admission to the Sunken Gardens
While I was fully prepared to pay the regular admission price, Aaron thoughtfully decided to check Groupon for a discount on admission to the Sunken Gardens. By shopping through Groupon, we saved $15 on entrance into the Gardens. You can save too by clicking the link HERE!
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