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

Has Spring Really Sprung? 
By Harry Owens, Horticulture Technician II

Here in the great state of Florida we are season-less. The weather is tolerable most of the time with the exceptional extremely hot or way too cold days peppering the calendar (more hot than cold). This makes it hard to tell when the season has actually changed. When March comes around most people get busy in their yards, accepting the first warm weekend as the herald for spring. This can be a big mistake as we found out this month with the mid-March freeze we had. Fertilizing, mowing/pruning, and additional watering should be postponed till we are clear of any possible freezes. If you wait until St. Patrick’s Day you should be fine or the first official day of spring, which is on March 20.

It is better to hold off on fertilizing until late March or April to give plants time to “wake up” from their dormant state. Once they are awake, they are more receptive to the fertilizer. This applies to both types of fertilizer, organic and slow-release. If you fertilize too early, you could literally be flushing your money down the drain. If the plant is not ready to “accept” the fertilizer it washes away into storm drains which lead to waterways and can also leech into our aquifer. You want to make sure your lawn fertilizer contains little to no phosphorus (the middle number), because Florida’s soil naturally contains plenty. If extra phosphorus run-off makes it to a waterway it can cause algae blooms.

Mowing your grass and pruning trees, shrubs, and bushes should also be held off. Cutting any plant back and getting a frost can be very detrimental to the plant’s health. Before you cut your grass make sure your mower blades are sharpened. Sharp mower blades leave a clean cut rather than tearing the grass blades which can leave your lawn more susceptible to disease. It is a good idea to mow your lawn on a high setting, this encourages a strong, deep root system. Cutting back bushes and shrubs is not that big of deal but you may be cutting back a layer of insulation that could have helped protect the plant from the freeze. 

Once daylight savings time hits you can technically start an extra day of watering, but that does not mean your yard needs it. Check for signs of dehydration: curled grass blades or grass turning a gray-green color. Make sure you water deep, your lawn needs ¾” of water. You can use a rain gauge to help determine if you are irrigating enough. Time how long it takes to reach ¾” and set the time on your system accordingly, never more than an hour per zone. This also helps create a deep, healthy root system. Water infrequently, forcing your lawn to dry out in between waterings. This helps make your lawn more self-sufficient during drought and also helps cut back on grass fungi. Make sure your rain sensor is working, if you have an irrigation system you must have one, it is the law. It helps save you money and makes sure your lawn is not getting overwatered.  Also remember that water restrictions are for everyone, even if you have a private well. For more info, visit

If you feel like you have to do something in your yard in March, deal with the dead. You can rake up fallen leaves, which can be used as mulch. You can rake your lawn to remove dead thatch, allowing more sun light and air flow to emerging grass. You can pick up any deadfall around your yard or cut any dead branches out of trees. Just make sure you hold off on fertilizing, mowing, and watering until you are sure it is spring. Doing any of these too early can affect not only your lawn and wallet, but the surrounding areas as well.

Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden