The Everglades Wonder Gardens is a unique Naples attraction, newly renovated to cater for 21st century visitors yet having a history that dates back longer than most Naples’ landmarks.
Located on what is now the Old 41, the Tamiami Trail had just been completed in 1928, bringing “civilization” to Naples with the new highway from Tampa to Miami sweeping past its door.
Everglades Wonder Gardens Boasts 80 Years of History
Back when Naples was still a dust-road city with a few homes served by a garage, supermarket, pier and hotel, entrepreneurs and Bonita Springs settlers Bill and Lester Piper established the original garden in 1936. They developed it as a roadside attraction to rehabilitate injured wildlife and allow visitors to get up-close and learn about these native animals.
Its subsequent rise and fall in popularity led to it being closed for a short time in 2013. However, the future has now been secured with the restoration of what is known as “one of the last survivors of Florida’s Golden Age”.
The attraction was created by the two brothers as the Bonita Springs Reptile Gardens. By the 1950s it had been renamed the Everglades Wonder Gardens and was Florida’s premier wildlife attractions with threatened American crocodiles as one of the main exhibits. The gardens also pioneered a program of breeding endangered Florida panthers long before the terms “eco-tourism” and “environmental conservancy” had even been coined.
Present Day Features at the Everglades Wonder Gardens
With the restoration of the Everglades Wonder Gardens as a nonprofit under the new management of John Brady, the attraction continues the Piper legacy enabled by a $3.5 million loan from Bonita Springs City Council.
Thanks to the work of volunteers and fundraisers, the Everglades Wonder Gardens is celebrating almost 80 years of education and entertainment in the Naples area. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the attraction has many different aspects to enjoy.
The 3.5 acre botanical gardens are well established as an old-growth jungle of exotic flowers and vegetation from all over the world. You’ll find African mahogany trees, kapok trees, giant staghorn ferns, gorgeous Shaving Brush flowers, orchids, bromeliads, and fruit trees that all flourish in South Florida’s warm wet climate.
The Native Butterfly Garden is a relatively new exhibit with plenty of butterfly-attracting plants such as milkweed and passionflower that provide food and egg-laying sites for the brightly colored butterflies.
Gardens and Gators!
Although the gardens no longer accommodate large mammals, it is home to some amazing birds such as pink flamingoes, wood ducks, amazon parrots, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets. There’s even a showy peahen called Priscilla who loves to have her photograph taken! Most of the residents are rescues from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Tread carefully as you cross the swing bridge to see the 40 resident alligators that inhabit the lake, sharing it with turtles, fish, frogs and other native wildlife – at least until they feel hungry! Other Florida wildlife exhibits include snakes, lizards, and tortoises.
The original purpose of the Wonder Gardens is not forgotten and John Brady, a professional photographer himself, has added an art gallery showcasing stunning photographs of Florida wildlife. There is also a gift and souvenir shop providing income to support the future development of this much-loved historic attraction.