Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo Explorer >

What remains of Suncoast Botanical Garden Where: southeast corner of Walsingham Park, 12615 102nd Ave. N. • Hours: dawn to dusk

Pretty spot in Walsingham Park hints of botanical past

My kids happened upon long-forgotten treasure recently when they rode their bikes into the woods of Walsingham Park. • "We found a secret spot today,'' my daughter reported at dinner.

As soon as we found the time, the Castillo siblings escorted me to the small lake in the southeast corner of the park, off 102nd Avenue. We sat on a big rock, gazing at the crystal clear water. A park employee stopped to say hello.

"Did you know you're in the old Botanical Garden?'' he asked. "You're right in the middle of where it used to be, and that rock you're sitting on is really a leftover ornament.''

In the last few weeks, I've studied up on my kids' secret find.

Walsingham Park, which opened in 1995, indeed is the site of the old Suncoast Botanical Garden. It is remembered by many as the precursor to the modern-day Florida Botanical Gardens, which are with the Pinellas County Extension at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

"I have a memory of going through there right after graduating from University of Florida in the '70s," said Andy Wilson, head of the horticulture staff at the county extension. "I remember being impressed with their eucalyptus tree.''

Under the direction of Mildred Palmer, who owned a rare-tree nursery in St. Petersburg, 300 horticulturists started Suncoast Botanical Garden in February 1962. For more than 25 years, the organization leased 60 acres of burned-over land from Pinellas County for $1 a year.

Palmer's labor of love grew to include towering eucalyptus trees, rare wildflowers, a black tupelo tree, jasmines, and rare citrus trees and holly bushes. The plants and trees were kept moist by a water system that drew from the garden's two man-made lakes. One of the lakes was named in honor of the garden founder: Lake Mildred.

Hoping to get an expert to identify possible remnants of the garden, I asked Wilson to hike with me through the old site.

We began our mission at Lake Mildred. Within moments, the past sprung up to greet us.

Wilson quickly spotted an assortment of non-native trees and plants. There was a giant bird of paradise, more than 30 years old, a towering false monkey puzzle tree and two tabebuia trees.

"These trees are not native to the area and therefore were most likely planted at the time of the gardens,'' said Wilson.

Toward 125th Street, we came across different clusters of plants.

In one spot, 11 azalea bushes thrived. In another, there was an assortment of hollies, including east palatka and yaupon holly.

It was likely the plants, evenly spaced apart, were part of the formal plantings of the former garden, Wilson explained.

We also happened upon a collection of Southern magnolia trees, reaching 40 feet tall, and an assortment of bromeliads, ginger plants and philodendrons, most likely originally seeded by Mildred Palmer, who died in 2000, and her team.

We also walked by several young elephant foot plants, natives that have returned to the area. Wilson reflected on how natives return to an area after places created by man close.

"From walking through this area, one positive is that after man's intervention, if left alone, a place like this can and will survive,'' he said.

After the hike, I called Judy Yates, the former director of the Pinellas County Extension and Florida Botanical Gardens. Yates, 61, now divides her time between Dade City and Indian Rocks Beach. She was a friend of Palmer's.

"To me, Suncoast Botanical Garden was eclectic. It is considered the impetus of the Florida Botanical Gardens,'' she said. "And what was most amazing was Mildred. It was all volunteer, and she was always able to get what needed to be done, done."

I wondered out loud how in the world my kids knew they were in such an interesting place.

"It was the spirit of Mildred,'' Yates said with a chuckle. "She had something to do with it. She's still over there pruning.''

News researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report.


Enter on 102nd for now

Walsingham Park's second entrance,

on old Walsingham Road, is closed while Pinellas County workers move water mains and install sewer lines and

stormwater drains.

Share your memories

Readers, do you have memories of the old Suncoast Botanical Garden and the work of Mildred Palmer? For a future story, please send your recollection to Reader Memories, c/o Piper Castillo, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756 or e-mail Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163.

Gardens today

Don't forget the contemporary Pinellas County Florida Botanical Gardens, open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

Pretty spot in Walsingham Park hints of botanical past 06/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Hillsborough Democrats call Confederate monument vote a continuation of white supremacy


    TAMPA — Two days after Hillsborough County commissioners decided not to touch a Confederate monument in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough County Democrats have decided to weigh in.

    On Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democrats decried a vote by the county commission not to remove the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa.
  2. For starters: Ramus to DL, Peterson back, no further moves


    We were expecting a flurry of roster moves this afternoon and we got one. OF Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.

    Colby Ramus is on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to June 19 with left hip tendinitis.
  3. Editorial: Failure to invest in transit means fewer HART routes


    It was simple economics that forced HART, Hillsborough County's mass transit agency, to cut its bus routes. The agency will focus its resources on the more crowded urban core, limiting service in the suburbs in an effort to get more bang for the buck. These are the hard choices communities must make when they refuse to …

    Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is cutting bus routes from 41 to 34. Those in more rural areas will find it harder to catch a bus.
  4. Editorial: Senate bill sacrifices health care for tax cuts


    No wonder Senate Republicans drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean. This remains a massive tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, the middle class and the elderly, and it would cost …

    No wonder Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, above, drafted their health care legislation in secret. Beneath the surface, it looks no better than the House version that even President Donald Trump has called mean.
  5. UberEATS expands to more cities within Tampa Bay


    TAMPA — UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. Starting today, users in Gibsonton, Odessa, New Port Richey, Riverview and Tarpon Springs can have food dropped off at their location.

    UberEATS is expanding its service area in Tampa Bay. [Courtesy of UberEATS]