15 June 2018

Countless Tropical Locales

Never let it be said that Walt Disney World doesn’t know and appreciate its place in the history of attraction entertainment. Roadside attractions and tourist destinations are as much a part of the history of vacationing as national parks and natural wonders, and Disney understands that the interest in all of these various locales led to the public interest in places like Disneyland. One such location, Sunken Gardens, resides just up the road from Walt Disney World and it has even given a place of note on the underside of one of the ceiling beams in Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

Sunken Gardens is a natural wonderland in the heart of St. Petersburg and it was established 115 years ago by George Turner Sr. The four acre site originally contained a lake that was 10 feet below sea level. In 1903 he drained the lake and started planting tropical plants in the rich soil, hence the sunken part of the name. The garden was originally supposed to be his private garden, filled with citrus plants, papayas, vining plants, tropical flowers, and a host of other trees and plants, but he saw the potential. By 1920 Turner had begun selling fruit, plants, and some vegetables from the garden and charging patrons a nickel to tour the gardens. It wasn’t until 1935 that he fenced in the garden to keep out freeloading garden admirers.

The botanical gardens became a must visit spot for tourists and locals, even going so far as to be regularly ranked on the top 10 tourist destinations in Florida throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. After his passing, Sunken Gardens were taken on by Turner’s two sons, Ralph and George Jr. Eventually they would sell the attraction to the city of St. Petersburg in 1999.

The city has maintained the property and helped in flourish over the past two decades. Listed as a botanical garden, with a nominal entrance fee, Sunken Gardens features more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, many of which were planted by Turner himself and are over 100 years old! Waterfalls, demonstration gardens, and gardens dedicated bougainvillea, butterflies, and cactus all populate the 4 acre paradise. There is even a flamboyance of Chilean Flamingoes that call Sunken Gardens home.

Long before Walt Disney World was even a glimmer in Walt’s eye, St. Petersburg’s Sunken Garden was already marveling tourists and locals alike. In fact, Florida is filled with attractions that call attention to the natural world. Some have seen better days, some have shuttered their doors, while still others continue to thrive in the tropical location. Disney has a place within that history and is happy to give it a nod amongst all the hundreds of artifacts that line the walls, shelves, and rafters of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

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