Most people visit Orlando for the theme parks and shopping. I pop down from time to time to see the gardens! The Harry P. Leu Gardens are probably the best known in the area, although in my opinion they are neither the largest nor the best. However, they do have a lovely selection of show gardens for wandering around, and their Rose Garden centerpiece is truly lovely and is the largest formal rose garden in the state of Florida.
Spread over 50 acres the gardens were the lifetime’s work of Harry and Mary Jane Leu. Their historic home, now open for tours, is in the center of the gardens and is beautifully furnished as it would have been around the turn of the century. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Leu’s ran a successful industrial supplies business which allowed them to indulge in their passions for travel and plant collecting. They brought back many exotic species to create this beautiful garden showpiece. A wander around the gardens along winding pathways reveals many tropical and temperate plants. Orlando is still in the frost zone of Florida, so there are not too many tender tropical species, but there are plenty of unusual ones to admire and possibly purchase later from the shop.
From October to March the 2,000 species of camellias are a big draw with their full flower heads in shades of pink and white. In early spring, Leu Gardens are at their very best and most colorful with azaleas, spring blooms and flowering bulbs. Summer brings out a riot of color with summer bedding plants and annuals. The roses are in full bloom and fragrance and the heat makes visitors head for the shade of the established elms, camphor trees and live oaks, draped with yards of trailing Spanish moss.
The gardens are fully high-tech and those with a smartphone or QR reader can read the squiggly code boxes on signs for additional information about the plants. It is very handy when taking photographs to be able to identify them too!
Close to the entrance and shop is the courtyard gazebo and Idea Garden, a few small plots planted up to demonstrate how even a small courtyard garden can still be creative and interesting. It is great for inspiration if you have a small area you want to replant. Follow the Tropical Stream Garden, which lines the small waterway with exotic flowering gingers and the world’s largest banana plant collection, to reach the Wycliff Overlook on the edge of Lake Rowena. It is a beautiful spot and is deservedly popular for weddings and special events.
Wander through the Butterfly Garden and see butterflies as bright as the blooms on which they seek nectar. See what’s growing in the Vegetable Garden and the Herb Garden and walk past the Leu House Museum and the Color Garden which is always good for a photo opportunity. At the far end of the garden are groups of plant species such as camellias, cycads, bamboo and palms. Finish your stroll of the gardens at the Floral Clock which probably tells you it’s time for refreshments!
If you enjoy exploring Orlando, you may be interested in browsing my book Day Trips Around Orlando available in all formats.