On my way to the airport last week, I found a little surprise here - the Florida Botanical Gardens at Largo, near Clearwater. To be honest, I had to take a small diversion to get there, but it was well worth it when I found this little backwater and spent a peaceful hour strolling round the gardens before re-engaging with the hustle and bustle of life!
Yet these gardens aren't mentioned anywhere ... not in the guidebooks, or the garden guides that I have been so busy searching during my stay here in the Sunshine State! They are a lovely leafy interlude at the heart of one of the busiest beach areas in Florida, yet there is not even a single sign pointing them out - and if I hadn't had a GPS system, I'd never have found them.
I wrote earlier this year about climate change and the effect that prolonged spells of cold weather this winter have had on plants and trees throughout the state, but here at Largo there are signs everywhere like the one above; there were gardeners at work wherever I looked and sure signs of recovery throughout the 30-acre cultivated gardens. The wetland areas remain in tact, and it is here that you will see birds and alligators in a natural habitat.
Extending to nearly 90 acres in total with the wetland areas (which are a bird and wildlife haven), you are as likely to see alligators here as humans! There are demonstration gardens here which include herbs, tropical fruit, native plants, succulents, butterflies, bromeliads and palms. So do take the time to step off the Gulf Beaches and stop here - it's a charming garden with huge potential, and amazingly ... it's FREE! You could easily combine this with a visit to the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg if you wanted to make a day out.