Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida

By Darcy Larum | April 30, 2017
Image by Darcy Larum
by Darcy Larum
April 30, 2017

Located in downtown Orlando, Florida, Harry P. Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical garden and historic site. Often called Leu Gardens for short, the site includes the Leu House Museum, a historic home built in the 1850s that has been restored to reflect the time periods of each of its past owners. The last family to live in the home was the Harry P. Leu family, who created the gardens from plants and seeds they brought back from their travels around the world. In 1961, Harry P. Leu donated the home and all its surrounding gardens to the city of Orlando.

Leu Gardens offers guided tours through their vast gardens, which are designed to convey their mission statement: “To provide a cultural venue that promotes the awareness and understanding of plants, the environment and the Garden’s history.” Visitors to Leu Gardens will find a gift shop, library, local art exhibits and conference rooms inside the Garden House Welcome Center. From there, guests will follow the path which leads to the Leu House Museum and the gardens. This path leads to the Lake Rowena Overlook, where visitors can view and learn about a native wetland and its plant life, birds and reptilian inhabitants.

Visitors are then guided by map or guided tour to the Idea Garden, a small area designed with samples of popular garden/landscape designs. This area is intended to inspire home gardeners with ideas they can take home to their own gardens. The path leads on to the Leu House Museum, the herb garden, a cottage garden, a vegetable garden and a butterfly garden before opening up to an elaborate formal rose garden. This rose garden is known as the Mary Jane Leu Rose Garden, because Harry P. Leu’s wife Mary Jane had a passion for roses. It is the largest formal rose garden in Florida. Some of the roses date back to the late 1800s.

Beyond Mary Jane’s Rose Garden, visitors can stroll down paths through Leu Garden’s world renowned camellia forest; a color garden; palm, cycad and bamboo displays; an arid garden; and the white garden, which along with the formal rose garden is a popular site for weddings. Visitors will also see a large floral clock donated to Leu Gardens in 1975 by the Kiwanis Club of Orlando. The clock was inspired by Edinburgh, Scotland’s famous floral clock. Throughout the gardens, visitors will see a variety of plants, including 200-year-old live oaks, garden statuary and art, fountains and other water features – even the historic Mizell Cemetery, a private cemetery where many of the past owners of the Leu House were laid to rest.

Leu Gardens is a popular site for weddings and events. They host classes and events year round on specific plants, general gardening, landscaping, arts and crafts, history, cooking and photography. Leu Gardens also offers classes and camps for children. At the time of my visit, workers and volunteers were setting up for their Dinosaur Invasion exhibit, which will be open from January 13 to April 30, 2017. This exhibit includes life-like replicas of dinosaurs tucked throughout the gardens, as well as classes and workshops about dinosaurs and fossils.

Leu Gardens is open daily from 9am- 5pm, and the Leu House Museum is open 10am-4pm. Admission is $10/adults and $3/children grades K-12.

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