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Sarasota steps towards the future with Selby Gardens growth plan


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One of the first places that come to mind with the word “growth” is the gardens. Flowers, trees, and grass grow everyday, for five dollars, students can visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Selby Gardens) and witness a piece of this growth.

Officially opened to the public in 1975, Selby Gardens has been essential to Sarasota for tourists and residents alike. Now, Selby Gardens itself is gearing up to undergo some serious growth, as it has been approved for an estimated $67 million growth plan that will take place over the next 10 years.

Selby Gardens CEO, Jennifer O. Rominiecki, spoke with the Catalyst to detail why the growth plan needed to be implemented and what it will do.

“There are two core reasons for this undertaking, the first is to deal with sea level rise and we have the world’s best scientifically documented collection of orchids and right now they are in decaying structures on the ground in a flood zone,” Rominiecki said. “The second one [reason] is the fact that we can no longer accommodate our growing visitor base, it is a great problem to have.”

Visitation at Selby Gardens has grown by 36 percent and membership has grown by 29 percent over the last two years. They now have more than 200,000 visitors annually and are the largest member attraction in Sarasota.

Rominiecki went on to discuss the growing pains that have come with these figures, and how it relates to a rapidly developing Sarasota,

“It is very difficult to park and orient our guests because we were never designed to be a public garden, we were really a residential property, so during peak days we had to turn away 200 cars and we would like to be able to accommodate,” Rominiecki said. “By consolidating our operations and putting the right structures in place, we will end up increasing Selby Gardens green space by 50 percent”


A model of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Master Plan.
(Photo courtesy of Mischa Kirby)


The land that makes up Marie Selby Botanical Gardens was acquired in pieces over their 40-year history, and is oriented as such that they are not going to acquire the green space by expanding their property, but by restructuring.

“Right now the public garden functions are operating out of residential structures that are decaying, so by consolidating our operations into the proper structures that we need, we end up saving space and we alleviate the footprint of our grounds and are able to create more green space,” Rominiecki said. “One of the big factors in making a 50 percent increase in green space is what we are calling our sky garden and terrace, that is a vertical living wall structure that will take care of our parking needs as well but it truly is armature for green walls and green curtains of plants.”

Rominiecki detailed the goals of these new structures are to be as environmentally friendly as possible in modern architecture by showcasing solar energy, stormwater management and green roofs.

“We are a community asset and a public garden, we have the opportunity to teach people about the importance of making these choices to better the environment,” Rominiecki said.

Selby Gardens considers NCF to be a partner in science and community betterment. Examples of past collaborations include the Hiroshima Seed Bank and their formal research partnership that allowed students to work with Selby resources.

“We would be thrilled to have New College involved along the way and to be briefed along the way, and I think whatever we are able to accomplish will greatly benefit our partnership,” Rominiecki said of New College involvement in the growth plan. “I will plug our internship program, we started it with New College over the last year and the more the merrier”

The growth plan is a three-stage process, that is in its very early goings and will be contingent upon fundraising. Rominiecki hopes that the amount of thought that went into the plan, and the benefits that Sarasota will reap from the development of Selby Gardens will be clear as the plan unfolds over time.

“Our board, our advisory committee, and constituents really thought hard about the best way to preserve Marie Selby’s legacy while also taking care of the needs that we have for a sustainable future, and I think we carefully thought this out in order to provide the needs that the institution has to operate–but at the same time we absolutely want to honor our past,” Rominiecki said.


Selby Gardens now have more than 200,000 visitors annually and are the largest member attraction in Sarasota.

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