Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden Concept Plan: Setting a New Standard


For decades, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has given Jacksonville and Northeast Florida residents a place to love animals. Now our mission is to offer our community a public place to love plants, while setting a new standard for zoos in the process. We are in the process of building a first-of-its-kind botanical garden inside our Zoo that, unlike other zoos, is integrated among the animal exhibits. Unlike most other growing and culturally-rich cities, Jacksonville cannot list a botanical garden as one of its cultural treasures.

Beyond filling an educational need, botanical gardens benefit their communities in many ways. They become tourist attractions, benefit the green industry, serve as an employer and pump millions of construction dollars into the regional economy. Over the past 400 years, botanical gardens evolved from a menagerie of medicinal plants to entering the 21st century with a strong focus on the concept of environmental sustainability. While some zoos have enhanced the natural habitat of their animal collection, none to our knowledge have committed to the idea of combining a zoo and botanical garden. This combination will only serve to strengthen each institution’s ability to foster a clear vision of sustainable conservation of our natural resources. With the help of a nationally-renowned botanical garden design firm, the Zoo developed three major garden zones in its Botanical Garden Concept Plan:

The Main Path, known as the River of Color: Visitors will begin their garden journey in the Main Camp Garden greeted with a celebratory display of striking foliage and flowering plants. They will be drawn toward the River of Color by drifts of colorful bloom swirling through ribbons of contrasting foliage and textures in the distance. Throughout the Zoo, the River of Color will be a linear garden that links garden destinations and animal exhibits.

Themed Pocket Gardens: Distinct and unique garden jewels of horticultural display that immerse the visitor in through plant themed forecourts to the animal exhibits that follow. Each garden is about 2 acres in size. Currently our Pocket Gardens include the African-Savanna Blooms Garden, South American-Range of the Jaguar Garden, the native gardens of Wild Florida and Play Park, the formal Gardens of Trout River, and the Asian Garden.

The Primary Gardens: In Jacksonville, visitors to the Zoo have recognized the unique relationship the Zoo shares with the Trout River. The beautiful native water-edge plants and spectacular panoramic views over the River set this area aside as something quite special. Recognizing this potential, we selected this area as the home for the Primary

Gardens which will cover approximately twelve acres and include Collection Gardens and the Conservatory.

Garden Tours

Gardener's Corner

What is a Weed?
By Harry Owens
We live in a time where every day of the year is designated to something, most of the time, multiple things. June 1st alone is National Doughnut Day, Pen Pal Day, Nail Polish Day, Heimlich Maneuver Day, Olive Day, and Go Barefoot Day. A day of this month I can really get behind as a gardener is June 13th, National Weed Your Garden Day. Weeding your garden may sound like a chore but I find it peaceful and relaxing. But before you break out the gloves, bucket, and knee pad, let’s make sure that we are not pulling plants that maybe helping your garden. A weed is defined as a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with a cultivated plant. So, a naturally occurring, full-grown sabal palm that is in your way may be considered a weed and a patch of clover that you accept as a groundcover may not.
A lot of plants that people consider weeds can be beneficial to your garden and surprisingly your health. Beggarticks (Bidens alba) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are two “weeds” that get a bad rap mostly because of their prolific seed dispersion via “hitchhiking” and wind respectively. They both can attract pollinators and are each food for different type of caterpillars and they have many medicinal properties. Beggarticks can be made into a mucus membrane tonic that acts as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and has many other benefits. Dandelions are edible and high in vitamins A, C, K and is also rich in calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese. Dandelions’ tap roots can reach nutrients deep in the soil and can replenish nitrogen to the top soil layer. Clover (Trifolium repens) is also a great nitrogen boosting groundcover that can be a great companion to your turf grass and are also pollinator attractors.
There are lots of other ways “weeds” can help your lawn and garden. Nature hates a vacuum, so weeds will fill any void in your beds, but this is a good indicator that you may need more mulch in that area. Also, those weeds’ roots aerate soil that otherwise would not have been. Luckily, most weeds grow fast and die soon, so their decaying stems and leaves can add nutrients to the top soil layer, while their rotting roots can do the same to the deeper soil layers. Decayed roots can also create subterranean channels for water, air, worms, and other beneficial microbials to easily navigate.
Most of the plants we consider weeds were perfectly acceptable in lawns until the mid-20th century when green grass and picket fences became desirable. With that came the introduction of commercial herbicides and then the stigmatization of the natural-occurring, vast-spreading, fast-growing “weeds” that were out-competing the ornamental, usually exotic, plants we were filling our yards with. Not to mention an eye sore when they pop up in the middle of our perfectly manicured acreages of turf grass. The best thing to take away from this article is that a plant is only a weed if you want it to be, and it is probably doing more good for your garden than you expect. So, on June 13th do not forget to weed your garden and on June 1st be on the lookout for barefoot pen pals with painted toe nails doing the Heimlich maneuver because one of them choked on either an olive or doughnut.

Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden