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I’m a big fan of gardens. I love flowers and other plants, I love bugs and spiders, and I love all the other critters that like to scurry around the wildlife in a garden, so gardens are kind of my happy place.

I was lucky enough to live fairly close to the lovely (and free!) Mead Botanical Gardens in Orlando, but there were so many other gardens in Florida that I wanted to spend time in.

Though I had heard about many of these top-notch gardens throughout the state, I couldn’t justify throwing chunks of my teaching salary at the high admission fees of some of the highly-recommended gardens. So when I heard about the membership perks of the American Horticultural Society (AHS), it was a no-brainer: the membership card would provide me with free or reduced admission to hundreds of North American gardens for the cost of $25/year.

Given that the gardens I intended to visit in Coral Gables later in the year were $25, the card would pay for itself after one visit. I was excited to look up all the AHS gardens in the country and to map out the ones in Florida. After receiving the membership card in the mail, my first stop was Selby Gardens in Sarasota, which I had wanted to visit since I first moved to that area in 2014 (but again, I couldn’t justify the $25 expense when there were so many other free nature opportunities nearby).

When I got to the ticket desk, it was easy enough to show them my card. Some of the AHS garden–Selby being one of them–have a 90-mile exclusion on the card, which means that if I had still lived within 90 miles of Selby Gardens, my pass would not be valid. The address on my card indicated otherwise, though, so I was welcomed into the gardens, with a stop first in the film room to watch a video with some information about the gardens.

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Upon walking out of the main building and into the grounds, I was surprised by the size. My grandparents had visited previously and told me that it was big, but I still wasn’t prepared for how much there was to see!

The grounds felt like a collection of several different gardens, but the underlying theme in each area was epiphytes. In fact, I later learned that Selby Gardens are the only botanical gardens in the world that are devoted to epiphytes.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned what epiphytes were, so for anyone else who isn’t a plant expert, epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants in a non-parasitic way. Orchids, bromeliads, and air plants are some examples of the epiphytes that I enjoy seeing all over Florida.

On this particular day, there was a musical event taking place. I walked past a stage where a little band was setting up and made my way into the banyan grove.

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Though it did seem like it was a busy day, the garden grounds were big enough that it never felt too crowded. It wasn’t a quiet nature place like some of my favorite parks in the area, but I loved that there were so many families and groups of friends that were there having a great time. It makes me so happy to see so many other people enjoying nature!

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The path led me through a few garden areas and wound its way around to mangroves on the Sarasota Bay.

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Though it was a warm October day, the breeze coming from the bay made it much more bearable.

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Despite having brought all my camera gear with me, I ended up leaving it in my backpack and opted to just take a few pictures on my phone. I figured that since this was my first visit and it was close enough to home that I could go back again, I’d just take this time to walk around and soak in all of the wonderful plant life.

The bromeliad garden was beautiful.

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One of the plants I encountered in the Hardwood Hammock made me laugh because of the name. I shared this photo on social media with the caption: “If you could choose a scientific name to describe yourself, what would it be? I found mine!”

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I also liked some of the non-plant details in the gardens, like these statues.

And of course, there were sooooo many orchids in the Tropical Conservatory. I’m really wishing I’d taken out my camera to get some “real” shots, but even in these phone pictures, you can tell how pretty they were!

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I didn’t have another chance to go back to Selby Gardens before I moved away from Florida, but you can bet they’ll be near the top of my itinerary next time I’m in the Sarasota area. It was a great way to dip my toes into the gardens of the American Horticultural Society, and it was just the first AHS garden that I would spend time in!

If you’re a garden lover, I encourage you to see what AHS gardens are near you (or near your next vacation destination!) and to consider getting a membership card. If you live in Florida, I can tell you there are enough gardens with high admission prices that make the membership card well worth the price!

Love, Elizabeth

What’s the nicest garden you’ve ever been to? Although I loved Selby Gardens, the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen was my grandmother’s sprawling multi-level garden that wound its way up their 3-story house that was built on a hill.