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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.