In the early 1900s, no event brought more excitement to a town than the circus. Massive tents bloomed overnight on vacant lots. Trains pulling cars full of lions, tigers, performing seals, and more brought exotic animals to people who otherwise might never get to see them. That night, human performers danced on wires high over head, swung gracefully from trapezes and twirled on the backs of horses. Perhaps no circus was more famous than that of John Ringling, and the crowds pouring into the tents each night made him a very wealthy man. He and his wife Mable used some of that money to build an ornate winter home in Sarasota, Florida, known as Ca d’Zan. Here, they displayed their massive collection of art, and Mable indulged her passion for gardening. Her large rose garden still stands today, filled with beautiful selections for visitors to admire.
Built in 1913, the Mable Ringling rose garden is in the classical Italian “wagon wheel” style. Marble columns throughout the garden originally supported trellises, while small statues peeked through the flowers. In the center, several arches are joined by ornate metalwork, with benches beneath. In the surrounding beds, 1200 individual roses thrive. Mable’s original garden fell into deep neglect after her death in 1929, and restoration only began several decades ago. Horticulturalist Ron Mallory worked to bring the rose garden back to the beauty Mable Ringling had established. Today, it holds roses introduced as early as 1793, though none of Mable’s original roses survive. Visitors can enjoy the gardens as part of the Ringling Estate, which also includes an art museum, circus museum, Ca d’Zan, and acres of bayfront gardens.
While the gardens are beautiful at many times of the year, the best times to visit are about six weeks after the annual fall and spring cutbacks in October and February. Learn much more about The Ringling, including the rose garden, by visiting www.ringling.org.