Giant Victoria Water-lilies and flower at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

8 Reasons You’ll Love Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

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Established in 1978 with 33 acres and a shoe-string budget, Don Goodman and his daughter Alexis Caffrey have grown Kanapaha Botanical Gardens into one of Florida’s largest botanical gardens. The gardens divides its now 64 acres into 24 major collections. Pronounced Ka-nap-ah-ha, the gardens are named after the nearby 250-acre Lake Kanapaha.

I used to often visit Kanapaha when I was a student at UF. It was nostalgic heading back to this garden paradise. There’s so many things to love, but these are my top 8.

Dragon statue at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville, Florida

#8 Accessible To All

The gardens are split into two main areas, with the Summer House (entrance and gift shop) in the center. Both sections are accessible via paved pathways.

The Water Gardens, or West Gardens, consists of a half-mile of paved trails. The trails wind around a small lake and waterway, with a few small waterfalls.

The East Gardens consist of a longer 1-mile circular trail, which takes visitors past grouped sections of local and exotic plants.

path through lush tropical garden at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

#7 All The Pretty Gazebos

The best, and worst, thing about Florida is the sun. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens have done a wonderful job integrating picture-perfect gazebos into their landscapes. These are great for a quick escape on a hot day, or a lovely accent piece in a photo.  

There are also plenty of benches for those who want to sit and enjoy the gardens. 

Bulb garden at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
White gazebo at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

#6 Largest Herb Garden In The Southeast

Here in the East Gardens is the “largest herb garden in the Southeast.” The smell of Thyme, Peppermint and Basil fills the air. 

Depending on which way you walk the circuit, just after the herb gardens is the Ginger Garden. Keep a look out for the brilliant reds of the Pine Cone Ginger. 

Herb garden at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville, Florida
Pine Cone Ginger plant at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville Florida

#5 Bring Your Own Picnic

As the gardens only sell a few drinks and snacks, they allow guests to bring their own picnics. I really wish more places would do this.

Kanapaha has a formal picnic area just north of the Summer House. They also allow guests to bring their own blankets and set up on one of the many lawns throughout the gardens.  

lush green lawn at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
lush green lawn at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

#4 Great For Practicing Photography

In general, botanical gardens are great for practicing photography. The various depths of the plants, their vibrant colors, plus they make nice still subjects. 

There’s also several statues around the gardens which make captivating images. 

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens says they get the most color between June and September. We were there at the end of September, and though we missed the majority of flowering plants, there was still plenty of lovely color. 

purple Persian shield plant at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
Buddha statue in bamboo garden at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

#3 Large Variety Of Native And Exotic Plants

From the desert Rock Garden, to the tropical Palm Hammock, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens showcases an amazing variety of plant life. 

Some of my favorites include the banana trees along the pond area, and the large Thai Elephant Ears in the East Gardens.

banana trees along water at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Gainesville, Florida
Elephant ear plant at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
Elephant ear plant at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida

#2 Sounds Of The Bamboo Forest

By far, one of the best areas at Kanapaha is the large bamboo garden. Actually, it’s the largest public bamboo garden in Florida. The path winds through several varieties of this foreign beauty.

As there was a lovey breeze going through the gardens on our visit, we sat and listened to the music of the bamboo for a while. There’s no better way to relax.

red bridge leading into the bamboo gardens at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Gainesville, Florida
Bamboo gardens at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Gainesville, Florida

#1 Victoria Water-lilies

The number one thing you will love about Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, is their giant Victoria Water-lilies. In the warmer months, they fill the waterway as far as you can see.

Growing up to 10-feet wide, these giant saucers are known for the ability to hold the weight of a small child. Though you can’t stand on them here, like you can at the Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden in Taiwan.

They are still fascinating to look at and the gardens have some good informational signage.

Giant Victoria Water-lilies at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
waterway with Victoria Water-lilies at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida
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