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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Botanical Beauty

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

~Wednesday, February 22, 2023~

Day 984

Botanical Garden Day. Whenever we find an opportunity to see a good one, we don’t miss it. And the Naples Botanical Garden is one not to be missed. With most of this week’s weather forecasted to be exceptionally hot, today would fit into that category. We were banking to have at least 50% shade which was the case. From the moment you walk into their peaceful, inviting entrance, you know you’ve come to a special place. Before the 170-acres was purchased and developed in 2000, it was an overgrown disaster. Much of the wetlands had become invaded by non-native plant species that actually affected the flow of water, causing toxic bloom, and thus affected many of the other plants and animals who live there. Thankfully, it took many philanthropists to see things through, but had it not been for Scott and Kathleen Kapnick and the Kapnick Foundation’s $10 million dollar donation and belief in the property, who knows ecologically, where things would be today. It was amazing to see the transformation in the before and after photos. So many healthy flows of water have been reestablished as well as the vegetation that is supposed to live here.

The 90-acre preserve features several habitats, including coastal scrub, marshes, pine flatwoods and 3 species of mangroves. The conservation efforts and the flora

and fauna that is throughout the property, also protect the inland areas during hurricanes. For example, when Hurricane Ian produced a heavy storm surge, the mangroves and other native plants acted as a big buffer, dissipating the wind and spreading out the water, even absorbing some of it.

We decided to take a guided tour of the gardens set for 2:00 and we’re so glad we did. A whisper was completely audible thanks to our very own headsets that our tour guide Lily handed out at the beginning of the tour.

The last thing you want in a calm, peaceful garden is a loud guide. Technology can be a wonderful thing. Lily was an excellent tour guide full of botanical/ecological information. Even though we’d eventually tour around on our own, Lily guided us through the gardens that reflect the plants and cultures of Florida, Brazil, Asia and the Caribbean, all countries who share the same longitudinal spacing from the equator, allowing them a similar climate. The water features inside each country displayed were simply stunning. What is it about moving water that is so soothing?

There were several highlights but one of the most fascinating was about a delicious spice……vanilla. Not just any ordinary orchid, this vine plant loves climbing up host trees, preferring hot, humid climates such as Florida. Apparently, when it decides to bloom, the flower only lasts for 24 hours, waiting for a certain bee or hummingbird to pollinate it. If it doesn’t get pollinated, the flower wilts and dies. But if it does get pollinated, it can take up to a year to produce what looks like a green bean pod

that will eventually be the vanilla bean pod. At this botanical park as well as countries like Madagascar, they are hand pollinated…..a very tedious process. So no wonder our pure vanilla extract from regions that don’t naturally grow it is so darn expensive. It falls next in line to Saffron in price. And did you know that the seeds inside the pod are the smallest seeds in the world. And who doesn’t love vanilla bean ice cream. I never knew that those tiny black specks I’ve spotted before in my frozen treat were actually vanilla bean seeds. I guess that means I ate the tiniest seeds on earth! Pretty cool!

But there's art in the garden too. This unusual work of art known as STICKWORK is made of pussy willow saplings from Quebec, Canada combined with Florida’s own native willow and was created by sculptor Patrick Dougherty. This particular "stickwork is called “Sea Change” and is 16-feet high by 70-feet long and 16-feet wide.

It’s described as having four individual but interconnected circles and is a hoot to walk through. Amazing that the native willow is actually sculpted while being planted in the ground. You can check out the time-lapse video of its construction here.....

Next came a visit to the most hazardous tree we’d ever seen. It’s called the Silky Floss Tree

which isn’t even silky at all. Its outer bark has what looks like thorns when in fact they’re prickles. Roses and blackberries fall into this same category. And all this time we’ve associated them with having “thorns”. In fact, there are 3 types of protection for plants…..prickles, thorns and spines. Thorns are modified branches like in the case of Gooseberries, bougainvillea and pyracantha. And cacti have spines which are basically modified leaves. In all cases, it’s all about the plant's way of protecting itself from being eaten. But back to the Silky Floss Tree. How did it get its name? It takes its name from the flossy fibrous cotton that is inside the green pods that it produces. Once Lily showed us the inside of one, we could see how it would be useful for fill in life-jackets and upholstery.

Our final stop of the day at the gardens was a special exhibit celebrating the life of Frida Kahlo, a prolific artist known for

her colorful self-portraits and paintings. Her inspiration came from the natural world and her home country of Mexico. The centerpiece of the exhibit, a recreated version of her “Blue House” called La Casa/Azul, was a lovely example of what was her refuge and inspiration over the course of her life. Touring this special place today, only inspires us more for what we hope our next garden will look like. Can’t wait to get my hands back in the dirt! I think Jeff also got some ideas for a future pergola as well. 😉

Since we were already in Naples, we stopped at a Wal-Mart for RV toilet paper and a few groceries. Well, I found the toilet paper, but no groceries. I forgot that not all Wal-Marts have a “market”. Thankfully, there was a Publix just around the corner from our campground to round out what was left on the list.

What a day for crazy weather. We had been watching the satellite images like a hawk even during our tour today, as Hannah was on a tornado watch in Illinois. I guess the severe weather passed right by them. Happy to hear everyone is safe. Then after talking to my sister in Lake Oswego, OR, they’re experiencing snow and freezing temperatures, 50 degrees less than where WE are. In fact, we learned that Portland just experienced its SECOND snowiest day on record…..10.8”. Wow!! Would love a teleporter right now to get a little relief from this heat.

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