Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Updated: Jul 19
A Living Museum
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is more than a botanical garden. It is a Living Museum featuring more than 20,000 living plants. Selby Gardens is the only botanical garden that focuses on research and conservation of epiphytes, which are commonly known as air plants. These plants obtain nutrients and moisture from the air. Epiphytes grow on the surface of another plant but are not parasites. In the tropics, epiphytes include ferns, bromeliads, orchids, and Spanish moss. You will see many beautiful examples of a variety of epiphytes throughout the gardens.
“The Conservatory is a large greenhouse brimming from floor to ceiling with tropical plants and unique and colorful orchids and bromeliads. There is also a cacao tree and in season bright yellow and orange colored football shaped pods hang from the branches.”
The lush, impeccably designed gardens are nestled on 15 acres on Sarasota Bay in downtown Sarasota. Not only will you be dazzled by the vast array of tropical plants and native Floridian flora, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the lovely views of downtown Sarasota and Sarasota Bay filled with moored sailboats rocking in the gentle breeze. Admission is good for the entire day with in and out privileges so you can visit in the morning to see the beautiful gardens in the morning light, leave for lunch, and return in the late afternoon for another stroll through the gardens lit by the waning sunshine. Since my husband and I are Members of the Garden, admission is free so we visit the gardens on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to do is to visit the gardens in the morning after enjoying a latte at one of the cool coffee dens in downtown Sarasota and leisurely stroll through the gardens to check out what is currently in bloom. Selby House Café, located onsite in the Selby’s home, offers casual dining and drinks including coffee and tea. You can grab a coffee or juice and pick out a bench strategically placed to maximize the scenery. My favorite place to take a break and sit on a bench in the shade is by the Wedding Pavilion which affords a tranquil panorama of the bay. Since I love bay views, my second favorite place to relax on a bench is on the Mangrove Walkway.
There is so much to see and admire in this botanical gardens. Even though the gardens are petite, there is an abundance of nooks, hidden spots, vistas, and major displays waiting for you to explore. I love the whole garden but I have highlighted a few of my favorite sights. If you are visiting the gardens for the first time, I would allow a minimum of 2 hours to fully explore the whole estate. Be sure to bring your camera because you will want to capture some of the magnificent sights during your visit.
The Conservatory (Map: #3)
The Conservatory is a large greenhouse brimming from floor to ceiling with tropical plants and unique and colorful orchids and bromeliads. There is also a cacao tree and in season bright yellow and orange colored football shaped pods hang from the branches. There is a glass enclosed display case under the boughs of the cacao tree showcasing an open cacao pod so you can see the seeds. Chocolate is derived from these seeds/cocoa beans. Every autumn, October through the end of November, Selby Gardens host their annual themed Orchid Show in The Conservatory, which is decorated with a world class display of stunningly amazing orchids. I highly recommend a visit to the gardens to see this show.
Epiphyte Garden and Koi Pond (Map: #7)
The tall oaks provide a strong support for a wide variety of epiphytes. It’s a kaleidoscope of colors and textures. The pond with the cascading waterfall, bright orange koi, and the mermaid statue is one of my favorite spots of the garden. There is a gong to send your wishes and prays to the heavens and you are welcome to chime it. I particularly like visiting the gardens in the later afternoon, about an hour before closing, so that I will have the pond to myself. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet with the soft rushing of the waterfall.
Ann Goldstein: Children’s Rainforest Garden (Map: 10)
This is the spot specially designed for kids. There are lots of fun adventures for children and the young at heart.
Mangrove Walkway (Map: #17)
For people new to Florida this is an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with mangroves. The walkway allows you to get up close to these ubiquitous trees of South Florida and examine the stem and root systems of the red, black, and white mangroves which are the 3 species native to South Florida. Part of the mangrove walkway extends out over Sarasota Bay showcasing beautiful views of downtown Sarasota and the bay.
Tidal Lagoon (Map: #21)
The Tidal Lagoon is another of my favorite spots. It’s a hidden spot that makes you feel secluded on your own little pond. I often find a Great Blue Heron wading along the shore of the lagoon and depending on the time of day, you can capture some breathtaking reflections on the water.
Butterfly Garden (Map: 27)
The butterfly garden is located in front of Payne Mansion. You will mostly likely see Zebra Butterfly, Gulf Fritillary, the bright yellow Cloudless Sulphur, Monarch, and Swallowtails flitting around the bold and vivid blooms. The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the first floor is open for touring and usually houses the current exhibition.
Selby Gardens offer a wide variety of special events, shows, exhibitions, and classes. I love the Annual Orchid Show and the Lights in Bloom, which is the annual holiday festival where the gardens are decorated with over a million lights. I enjoy sitting on the lawn listening to local bands play during the Summer Concerts series and I have taken a floral arranging class offered in their Classes & Learning Experiences program. I look forward to taking more classes in the future.
Other notes of importance:
Photography, painting, and sketching are encouraged.
Tripods are permitted on the grounds but not in The Conservatory.
Baby strollers are permitted.
Service animals are welcome but pets are not permitted.
Insect repellent, hats, and sunscreen are suggested.
Food and drinks
Restrooms (3 locations)
Free parking (accessible from Palm Ave and Orange Ave)
Bicycle racks near Welcome Center
Complimentary wheelchairs are available in the Welcome Center (first come, first serve basis)
Free wi-fi in spots
Member Guests: $10
Youth 4-17: $15
Children 3 and under: Free
Can purchase tickets online
Hours: Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00pm (closed Christmas Day)
Location: 900 S. Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34236