A Visit to Florida’s Sunken Gardens

The towering palms and sunny flower gardens make a visit to the Sunken Gardens a lovely experience.

My mom is in town visiting from snowy Ohio, so we decided to head out and explore someplace we’ve never visited here in the Tampa area: the Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. These gardens were one of Florida’s original “roadside attractions” from the days when families would load into the car and head south, stopping to see whatever caught their eye along the way. (It’s from the same era as Weeki Wachee’s mermaids and Miami’s Monkey Jungle.)

Florida Sunken Gardens

In 1903, George Turner purchased the site and drained a shallow lake to create his gardens, about 15 feet below street level. He planted palms and tropical plants, creating a lush oasis that people soon started to visit for 25 cents apiece. It was especially popular in the 50s and 60s, though it fell off a bit in later years. In 1999, the city of St. Petersburg purchased it and returned it to its former glory.

Florida Sunken Gardens

Many of the large royal palms are 100 years old or more, and the stands of bougainvillea have trunks as big around as your waist! The shady glens include tropical plants like crotons and low-growing palms, and sunnier areas have flower gardens perfect for attracting butterflies. Learn more about the plants found in the gardens here.

Florida Sunken GardensJill Staake
Jill Staake Top Row: Orchid, Pinecone Ginger; Bottom Row: Camellia, Iris

No roadside attraction in early Florida was complete without flamingos, and today’s Sunken Gardens still houses a few.

Florida Sunken GardensJill Staake
Jill Staake Chilean flamingos at the Sunken Gardens.

One charming spot in the garden is home to the “Growing Stone”. The sign next to it reads: This fossilized limestone rock was originally discovered in the center of the sinkhole lake which formed Sunken Gardens. Legend has it that “he who sits upon the ancient stone shall be granted tranquility, inner harmony, and the talent to make things grow.” Traditionally, the first day on the job for Sunken Gardens employees always includes a visit to the Growing Stone.

Florida Sunken GardensJill Staake
Jill Staake The “Growing Stone” at the Sunken Gardens

All in all, this quiet location in the middle of urban St. Petersburg is an unexpected place to stroll the paths in peace, admiring flower gardens, butterflies, towering palms, and calming foliage. If you’re interested in visiting, click here to learn more. Have you been to St. Petersburg’s Sunken Gardens? Tell us about your experiences!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.