The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are a delightful green oasis on the shores of Sarasota Bay. The 14-acre gardens were created by Marie Selby and still retain the feel of a private much-loved garden rather than a botanical showcase.
Start your visit in the theater with the short film. It tells the story of how this lovely Mediterranean style home and gardens were created by Marie Selby and her husband, William, who made his fortune in the oil industry. Although wealthy, they chose to create a simple home and informal gardens to enjoy as their winter residence.
The house is not open for tours but the property is used to house a reading room, café, gift shop and a Kids Discovery Corner. Other buildings behind the house are used to house the Museum of Botany and the Arts and are used for special events such as art exhibitions, photographic displays and garden themed activities.
Winding paths lead through the gardens, passing hidden areas, planted borders and unique features.
One of the highlights is an old ficus – commonly referred to as banyan – with spreading branches providing a shady canopy for many other plants.
Highlights at Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Bromeliads, palms and planted borders make this a restful place to walk at leisure, enjoying the fragrance of exotic blooms and flowering bushes. In spring, the huge pink tassels of the Shaving Brush Tree (Pseudobombax Ellipticum) are scattered across the grass making an unusual sight.
The Rainbow Gum Tree is another tree worth looking for as it has an extraordinary rainbow-colored trunk. Further down the gardens huge staghorn and elkhorn ferns are suspended in the old trees on sturdy chains.
The hibiscus garden has many showy blooms as this flower is a favorite with Florida gardeners. At the far end of the gardens is the Butterfly Garden, planted with flowers to provide food and leaves for butterflies to lay their eggs.
Children will enjoy watching the koi in the tranquil fish pond which is fed by two waterfalls, There is also a special Children’s Rainforest Garden with plenty for youngsters to explore and enjoy.
Orchids and Epiphytes at Marie Selby Gardens
This beautiful urban garden is a delight to stroll around, but it is also the home to over 6,000 orchids and epiphytes.
Not surprisingly, this huge collection of epiphytes is now the largest scientific collection in the USA. Carefully tended in a shady tropical conservatory, the specimen plants are surrounded by waterfalls dripping down mossy rocks. There are all types of orchids, bromeliads, amaryllis and anthuriums so there are always some showy blooms to admire whatever time of year you visit.
The gardens also have an interesting bonsai collection and a display of airplants dangling from the branches of a live oak.
Selby Botanical Gardens borders the lapping waters of Sarasota Bay and the pavilion with its stained glass panels is a popular location for weddings. You can enjoy the same view that the Selbys must have enjoyed almost 90 years ago, watching sailboats in the broad bay. A pleasant boardwalk follows the edge of the gardens around to a strip of sandy beach decorated with driftwood and seashells before returning to the house.
Before you leave enjoy a snack or lunch at Selby House Café and then be sure to stop by the Garden Shop. You’ll find a nice selection of gorgeous orchids and other tropical plants, gardening books, home accessories, children’s games, books and puzzles. Garden admission is not required to shop the vast array of botanically-themed merchandise in the gift shop.