21 Aug 2014
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Destination Largo: Florida Botanical Gardens

A serene park speaks in rainbows of blossoms.

As I make my way from the tar-black parking lot, over the wooden footbridge and into the Florida Botanical Gardens proper, the street noise fades completely away, muted by the walls of trees and softened by the winding flower paths.

It’s quiet here, at least to the ears. The eyes, on the other hand, don’t know where to look first.

The Florida Botanical Gardens, part of Pinewood Cultural Park, comprise over 140 acres of natural and landscaped gardens. I haven’t been here since it first opened, but I’ve longed to get back and stroll through the gardens, both the neatly manicured flower beds and the wild, winding pine paths.

The problem, I quickly discover, is that I like to take pictures too much to stroll through these gardens.

Aside from offering a cornucopia of hues, from delicate fuchsia-streaked pink orchids to bold clusters of red peppers, I can’t tear my eyes away from the flowers, and every third step I stop to frame a blossom or leaf in my viewfinder.

This county-run park, free and open every day of the year, showcases different types of gardens, and had I been looking for landscaping ideas, this is where I would have come.

As it is, I just want some peace and quiet and time in nature. Nature, though, has other ideas – it is alive and humming, from the brush of water down the waterfalls to the rustle of leaves as brown anoles race over the ground.

It is a microexperiece, one where I find myself trying to force my camera to zoom in on a single plump plum beauty berry no bigger a pebble (with limited success). I wander down brick paths and pause at ponds, waterfalls, and a seemingly infinite number of flowers, bushes, and trees.

I spend 10 minutes trying to get just the right photo of crackles in tree bark, and an additional five playing a game of “don’t blink” with a locust before I realize I don’t know whether they have eyelids. I am tempted to stop for a rest in any of the shaded tall-backed chairs placed throughout the garden, but every time I start to set my things down, some other jagged edge of color wafts into my field of vision.

I emerge from the gardens sweaty but recharged, colors bouncing in my brain and images of beauty emblazoned there.

As I drive home, I see graceful daffodil-colored lilies dancing in the breeze and feel the air blow over the creek and settle on my arms.

Are the gardens relaxing? Meditative? I didn’t sit and stare at a flower for 20 minutes, and I’m not sure flitting from one bloom to the next like some oversized butterfly with a Canon around her shoulder counts as meditation, but by the end of the afternoon, I felt much better.

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