Education, relaxation and stimulation: add Selby Gardens to your SRQ bucket list

Sara Mineo/Catalyst

The conservatory is a large greenhouse which features exotic and tropical plants such as pitcher plants, orchids and other bromeliads.

Delicate orchids, towering bamboo, sinuous banyan trees, a serene koi pond and more than 20,000 other classified plants make the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens one of the best places in Sarasota to visit before graduating.

Selby Gardens was established almost 40 years ago and spans more than 12 acres of land. More than 180,000 visitors a year come in order to experience the gardens and become more educated on its vast amount of species.

The gardens are organized and separated by the type of display, such as the Hibiscus Garden, the Sho Fu Bonsai Exhibit, the Fragrance Garden, which features plants used to make perfumes and flavors, and the Wildflower Garden. The Conservatory is the first exhibit one enters before continuing on to the rest of the gardens. It is a copious greenhouse full of unusual plants and flora from rainforest habitats. Many different species of orchids and bromeliads (Selby’s specialty plants) are featured in the lush exhibit, which is jam-packed with plants, creating a delicately composed rainforest all on its own. Hydnophytum moseleyanum, a warty, twisted “ant plant” with no common name, is one of the most abnormal-looking plants in the Conservatory. It, along with other species of its kind, hangs from large baskets and resembles upside-down root systems of small trees.

Selby’s rich foliage attracts animals such as ducks, egrets, crabs, woodpeckers and seabirds. The koi pond features many colorful koi in a serene pond with a peaceful waterfall flowing into it. Also included in the Gardens is the Mangrove Baywalk, which reveals a great view of Sarasota Bay and the wildlife that accompanies it. Next to the Baywalk is a small gazebo where many weddings and events take place.

First-year Skyler Sebok, who received a “Gardens Friend” membership to Selby for his birthday, visits the gardens frequently. “The membership is worth the money, because not only do I get in free, I can also bring a guest with me for free.” he said.

The “Gardens Friend” membership, a $60 value and the least expensive membership one can acquire, allows one to enter the gardens for free for a year and grants free admission for one guest per visit. Other benefits include access to special events for a discounted price, a 10 percent discount in the gift shop and free access to more than 200 other gardens around the country.

“Selby Gardens is a great place to spend a day at to get your mind off of school,” Sebok said. “It’s very peaceful and relaxing and there is so much to see and do.”

The Garden Shop, which is set up like an indoor plant market, gives visitors a chance to buy gardening supplies and their favorite plants and flowers from the gardens such as orchids and bonsai trees for reasonable prices. Another separate section of the shop contains gifts ranging from fine jewelry inspired by some of the plants to children’s toys and games.

The Selby House Café and the Carriage House both provide a wide variety of refreshments for guests. The café offers food, coffee, tea, wine, desserts and other beverages. Seating at the café looks out over the Banyan Grove and is a relaxing place to sit and rest before continuing on to the rest of the gardens. The Carriage House is a small tea shop that offers free tea samples every day and offers almost 30 different kinds of loose leaf tea, along with tea brewing accessories, for purchase.

Tickets cost $17 dollars a person but give complete access to all of the gardens and the conservatory from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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