With new director in place, Florida Botanical Gardens hopes to rise to 'the next level'

Florida Botanical Gardens gets a director and sponsors a big tour.
Published April 26 2017
Updated April 26 2017

LARGO — The Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation has hired its first-ever executive director, Vernon Bryant, a former horticulture manager for Pinellas County Parks who was part of the team that helped create the Botanical Gardens almost 20 years ago.

Foundation board president Terry Berube said Bryant, who holds a bachelor's degree in botany from Eastern Illinois University and a master's in horticulture from Iowa State, can "take the Botanical Gardens to the next level.''

Before joining the foundation, a public-private partnership with Pinellas County, Bryant served as the director of the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA of the Suncoast.

"Vernon has a tremendous background," Berube said. "We wouldn't have opened up this job to just anybody."

While foot traffic at the Botanical Gardens continues to grow, especially during the busier winter months, the foundation always wants to find ways to bring in new members, she said.

"Maybe we will offer more educational programs, plant workshops and different things,'' she said. "Vernon is able to help with all this. He knows the gardens. He has a great connection with the community.''

When Bryant thinks back on his past work with Pinellas County Parks, he siad the development of the Botanical Gardens was a main highlight. "And in the last few years, with the successful development of the Holiday Lights in the Garden, we are at a place where we can look bigger, beyond simply maintaining what is here.''

The foundation made a profit of $170,000 on the holiday event last year.

In his first few weeks on the new job, Bryant has been renewing old friendships while laying the groundwork for future projects. He also has been preparing for the foundation's second annual "Beyond the Garden Gates: A Tour of Private and Public Gardens,'' designed for those interested in sneaking a peek at different gardens in the area.

After picking up a wristband ($15 for members; $20 for non-members) and a map at the administration building, 12520 Ulmerton Road, participants will be invited to take a guided tour inside the Botanical Gardens. After that, they can head out to six home gardens around the county — from a native plant garden at a waterfront residence in St. Petersburg, to a "secret'' Spanish-style garden in Clearwater, to a Belleair Beach garden made up of a variety of palms, bougainvillea, and unique potted containers and garden ornaments.

"The featured gardens are from our network here at the Botanical Gardens. We have connections with folks from garden clubs and societies along with our volunteers,'' he said. "I plan on being here first and then visiting people at the different sites. It is a chance for people to walk with folks who are intimate with gardens and even think and talk about what they want to plant in the future.''

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.