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Times of the Islands Magazine

Water Gardens Delight and Soothe

Water lilies float in the heart of Naples Botanical Garden. Photo courtesy of Naples Botanical Garden.

Colorful koi swim about, a frog jumps off a lily pad, and the splash of a waterfall resonates in the background. These are just a few of the elements that make a water garden a lovely sanctuary to enjoy. Fort Myers, Naples and Sarasota have notable water gardens, each offering its own unique experience.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates   

Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers offers three water gardens. One is the Lily Pond that is near the pool complex, and another is the Moonlight Garden behind Thomas Edison’s study. The third is a contemporary water garden, located in the butterfly garden next to the Edison Ford Garden Shoppe.

The Lily Pond was added in the late 1920s. The pond features some favorite plants of Thomas Edison’s wife, Mina. These include night blooming water lilies, arrowhead and Egyptian papyrus. It is likely that the pond was considered part of a larger garden space.

“Mrs. Edison had extended ornamental plantings along the bank of the Caloosahatchee and intended to have moisture-loving shrubs along the borders, as well as water lilies in the pond,” says Lisa Sbuttoni, vice president, community & visitor relations. Originally, there were a number of red, white, blue, and yellow water lilies installed in the garden. The pond attracts an occasional turtle, tadpoles, frogs and tilapia, while dragonflies and butterflies live on the edges.

The Moonlight Garden was designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman, who was named “Dean of Women Landscape Architects” in 1933 by House & Garden magazine. The garden was constructed in the late 1920s, and was one of Mina Edison’s favorite places. “The concept was to create a nighttime garden with a reflecting pool filled with water lilies that would capture the moonlight,” explain Sbuttoni.

Originally, pots filled with white and blue flowering plants were placed at each corner of the pool to reflect off the moon. “Nowadays, in the Moonlight Garden, visitors can enjoy tropical water lilies—hybrids that bloom progressively in blue, pink and purple,” says Debbie Hughes, garden manager and senior horticulturist.

The contemporary water garden features a water sculpture by D.J. Wilkins. “The garden is surrounded by pollinator plants so that butterflies flit about the garden,” Hughes adds.

Naples Botanical Garden

At Naples Botanical Garden, nearly every themed garden section has its own water garden—featuring plants representative of the theme. For example, “Kapnick Brazilian Garden’s water garden has aquatic plants from Brazil and other parts of South and Central America, including the iconic giant water platters,” notes Danny Cox, aquatic areas manager.

That garden also features a water lily collection, along with the giant papyrus, and many other dramatic tropical and subtropical aquatic species. The garden’s centerpiece, a mosaic, is an iconic art piece that was created by world-renowned Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

The Lea Asian Garden’s water garden features the sacred lotus, an Asian collection of water lilies, and other Asian tropical and subtropical aquatic species. Aquatic plants native to Florida, and Florida-themed water lily varieties can be found in the Scott Florida Garden’s water garden.

“In the heart of Naples Botanical Garden lies a water garden that is not limited to a specific theme,” Cox says. That garden features a water lily collection, Louisiana irises, and bog plants, including the carnivorous pitcher plants.

The water gardens are a sanctuary for aquatic wildlife. “We have dragonfly and damselfly nymphs; small, translucent freshwater shrimp, mosquito fish, frogs and tadpoles, turtles, water snakes and the occasional young alligator,” adds Cox.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota opened to the public in 1975, and its koi pond was part of the original design. “In 1978, John Blaser, of Blaser's Nursery, obtained the stones that make up the waterfall from a quarry south of Tampa,” explains Mischa Kirby, director of communications.

Guests can enjoy watching the brightly colored koi glide through the pond that is set under a colorful jumble of tropical plants. The plants in the koi pond area include a mix of tropical foliage that creates a lush oasis. “Notable features include the traveler's tree, the giant angiopteris fern, a number of climbing philodendrons and a mix of other foliage,” Kirby says.

In addition, there are two sculptures located in the koi pond: Sitting Buddha appears to float on the water, and the other is a mermaid overlooking the pool.

If You Go

Edison & Ford Winter Estates

2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers

Naples Botanical Garden

4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

900 South Palm Ave., Sarasota

Written by Ann Marie O’Phelan, a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor to TOTI Media.