Sunken Gardens: A Botanical Paradise

Published on 10/07/22: If you have any plant lovers in your life, do the right thing and bring them to Sunken Gardens! I’m always taken back that 50,000 plants (over 500 species) have been preserved in an area so close to downtown St Pete. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy the flock of Chilean flamingos, exotic birds, and feeding the fish around the gardens. Props to those who continue to nurture and support George Turner’s creation since 1911! Let’s keep it this way. 🌱

Hours:
Mon thru Sat: 10am-4:30pm
Sunday: 12pm-4:30pm
Last admission sold at 4pm daily

Cost:
Adults: $15
Seniors (62+): $12
Children (2-17): $6

Or become an annual member for unlimited visits and other discounts!

Individual Membership: $50
Family Membership: $100

ADA Info: “Most of our historic paths are ADA accessible and span three-fourths of a mile. Wheelchairs/walkers are allowed, but not provided. Some paths have a steep incline, but there are alternate ways to access all areas. Limited seating is located throughout the gardens. […] Only ADA service trained dogs are permitted inside Sunken Gardens. During the visit, service animals must be harnessed or leashed, must be under the guest’s complete control and care (including clean-up). Pets and emotional support animals (ESAs) are not allowed at this time.”

Appreciating Nature at Sunken Gardens

Growing up on an avocado farm certainly made me appreciate nature, recognizing the effort required to maintain a healthy trees and plants. I can only imagine the hours spent every week to keep Sunken Gardens looking as incredible as it does! I read where it’s a combination of efforts between volunteers, city staff, full-time foreman and assistants.

These days, this botanical paradise is frequently used for weddings (250+ some years), field trips, and of course still frequented by locals and visitors. An article on Patch.com says Sunken Gardens “is now one of Florida’s few remaining kitschy roadside attractions along with The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, the Mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs, Gatorland in Kissimmee and Monkey Jungle in Miami.”

History of Sunken Gardens

As to the origins of Sunken Gardens, this goes back to George Turner buying a 5-acre lot on 4th Street in 1911. He built a home on the land to raise 4 children with his wife, Eula. Behind the home was a very old sinkhole with small lake on it. George figured out how to drain the water, leaving a sunken area 15 feet deep. He started by simply planting banana and papaya trees.

Only costs a nickel, in the 1930’s

As time passed, George quickly realized how much would grow in the fertile soil and tropical warmth. He planted species from all over Florida…and from around the world. He then added tile pathways and water features. I read that people first began strolling the gardens in the 1930’s. George charged a nickel for a tour. Soon after he was able to up the price to .15, which afforded him the chance to quit his plumbing job. He named it “Turner’s Sunken Gardens”.

For 30+ years, Sunken Gardens was one of the top 10 highest grossing attractions in the state. When George passed in 1961, his two sons (George Jr and Ralph) took over. They invested $175K in the Mediterranean style building next to the property, which at the time as a Coca-Cola bottling plant. This became the “World’s Largest Gift Shop” and office space.

Sunken Gardens is not a nudist resort

When traffic to the gardens eased in the 1980’s, the property was put up for sale. Not much changed over the next 10 years, until a company in the 1990’s attempted to purchase and turn it into a nudist resort. At that point the St Pete community and Sunken Garden employees rallied the city to purchase the property. In 1999, the city purchased Sunken Gardens from grandsons of George Turner.

Flamingos, Exotic Birds and Fish

Since that time, Sunken Gardens has continued to thrive. The Chilean flamingos were actually added fairly recently, 2017. I read there’s a a full-time animal specialist who cares for them and the exotic birds throughout the gardens. With great additions, and much effort, the grounds continue to look incredible! “With the original vision in mind, the City works to preserve this historic botanical garden and use it to provide cultural and educational opportunities to the community.”

Credit to Bill DeYoung’s article in the St Pete Catalyst, plus the Sunken Gardens website for helping me better understand the history of Sunken Gardens.

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Address: 1825 4th St N, St. Pete

Phone: 727-551-3102

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