Monday, March 10, 2014

My Florida Trip, Conclusion: Harry P. Leu Gardens

So after our day at Universal Studios (the surprisingly impressive horticulture of which I described two posts ago), we drove to the east coast of Florida and spent time at the beach and at the Kennedy Space Center, neither of which had much in the way of gardens. Upon our return to Orlando, however, I made my family stop for a couple of hours at the Harry P. Leu Gardens in downtown Orlando, and I was happy that I did.

The Mizzell-Leu House, built in the 1880s as a farm house,
now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Harry P. Leu Gardens are nearly 50 acres of semi-tropical and tropical gardens, landscaped grounds and lakes, and meandering trails shaded by 200 year-old oaks. The gardens have extensive collections of azaleas, bromeliads, citrus, crepe myrtles, cycads, gingers, heliconias, magnolias, palms, a large rose garden and 240 types of camellias. They were started by Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Leu (Mr. Leu was a Florida businessman who owned a successful industrial supply company), who in 1936 purchased what was then called the Mizzell House and traveled all over the world, bringing back many exotic plants and varieties of camellias. In 1961, they deeded the house and gardens to the city of Orlando.

I was there on a damp, overcast day in late February, but the visit was still enjoyable and there were a number of plants flowering, including many camellias, roses, perennials, bulbs and flowering trees. Here are a few photos I took:

A massive live oak covered with hanging moss. Very southern-looking.

The Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow tree (Brunfelsia pauciflora), a closeup of which I included in my last post. Here is the whole multicolored effect. It is a tropical tomato relative that has dark purple, pansy-like flowers that fade to lavender-purple on the second day and to white on the third, so that it looks like it has multicolored blooms.

The garden had several magnificent Golden Trumpet Trees, (Handroanthus chrysotrichus - Bignoniaceae, Syn. Tabebuia chrysotricha), which were radiantly in bloom. The bright golden, trumpet-shaped flowers were falling to the ground in a circle of gold and the effect was magical.

The fascinating Popcorn Cassia
(Senna didymobotrya) in the Leu's Cottage
Garden. The leaves apparently smell like popcorn
when rubbed. Closeup next. 

I had to show a closeup of the flower and giant black seeds again,
simply because it is so interesting.

The Leu Gardens have a Cottage Garden, which is undoubtedly
a tropical version inspired by the English and North American cottage
gardens we have up here. It contains many traditional cottage plants --
many of which are favorites of mine. But this is something we don't
ever see here in Iowa: some sort of warm-weather-tolerant narcissus,
together with nasturtiums. These just don't ever bloom at the same time
here in Iowa, and seemed very strange to me. What a different way
to garden.

Another narcissus, together with that cottage garden stalwart, delphinium.
I can only imagine that they must grow these as winter annuals in Florida,
as delphiniums can scarcely stand the summer heat here, let alone there.

The cottage garden's herb garden, in which  parsley grows alongside
agave. Another Florida way of planting. Very interesting.

Lemon trees in full fruit. Cool.

Soft Necklace Pod (Sophora tomentosa spp. occidentalis)

What an incredibly textural plant. It looks like a bunch of razor blades that might cut you terribly.

I don't even know what this fascinating curlicue plant is
-- the label I took a photo of is not the correct label.

Lovely azaleas on the way back to the visitor center. 

A very nice garden to visit; seeing so many beautifully growing plants made a nice contrast with the man-made environments of the Kennedy Space Center and Disneyworld. If you ever find yourself in the central Florida area, I highly recommend a visit to the Harry P. Leu Gardens. Thanks for reading!


  1. This was so interesting to read as we get so used to the way the weather is here and how it influences how we garden that it is nice to see another persons take on things. I had some major adaptions to make when we moved here! It's funny how you pointed out the delphiniums growing in February because I am just about to sow some seeds here to over winter and hopefully flower as annuals in early spring. I just love my English flowers so much that I am determined to grow some even as winter/early spring flowers, so we shall just see how that experiment goes. I'm also going to try some sweet peas too this winter. Its fun to learn though - not everything works out but when it does it's very gratifying!


    1. Thanks so much for reading, Kate -- I'm sure an outsider's observations must be interesting. I greatly enjoyed the winter warmth of Florida, with the wonderful plants and gardens I saw there. Best Regards, -Beth