Archive for November, 2010

The weather throughout our  trip was absolutely beautiful. Mostly in the 70’s, getting cooler in the evenings . However, this morning, as I looked out our bedroom window the waves were crashing harder and the sky was cloudy and gray. Shortly after we were on our way the rain started. This was not good as we had planned to stop at Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, a couple of hours away. We drove through light rain then at times heavier and periods of dry, with a slight hit of sun.  As we approached Sarasota the sky was looking lighter and by the time we got to the gardens the sun was out. Luck was really with us.

The Selby Botanical Gardens came to be in the 1970’s when Marie Selby died, leaving the seven-acre peninsula tract containing her home and gardens to the community of Sarasota County for use as a Botanical Garden. It was decided that the garden should specialize in epiphytic plants, that is a plant that grows on another plant without taking anything from the host plant, such as Spanish Moss.


This made it a unique garden among the more than 200 botanical gardens in the country.


 Since the garden opened it has expanded to 13 acres. It has a tropical display house, which had a lush rain forest atmosphere,


a bamboo pavilion a banyan grove,


cactus and succulent garden, mangrove walkway, butterfly garden, Koi pond and waterfall


and other outdoor gardens. The garden has a collection of more than 20,000 living plants. It is like an open air museum.

As we walked through the garden my husband said this was like walking through the garden of Eden. At times we came upon an area that opened up to reveal Sarasota Bay.


On the bay side we walked pass a row of towering bamboo which were planted by Marie.  There was a slight breeze at the time and I think it is the first time I have ever heard the sound of the bamboo in the wind. Some of the trees were creaking others sounded like a wind chime, it was very intriguing, like small notes of summer music.


There was a giant Bo tree. A sign explained how the Hindus and Buddhists believe the Buddha meditated under a Bo tree until he attained enlightenment. The interesting thing about it was that in 2001 a hurricane uprooted the tree. However, thru love and the use of technology the arborists were able to save the tree.  They did this by pruning it back and then using a crane to get it upright again and packing soil around the root system. This way they were able to save the tree.


The home was a modest summer-house for the Selby’s. Although Bill Selby was a multimillionaire they lived a quiet and unostentatious life. Today the house has been turned into a café. There was also the Christy Payne Mansion on the property that currently had an exhibit of women contemporary artists.

We have been through so many gardens and each one has it own distinct character. I never seem to tire of touring them. It is very calming and relaxing for me. I particularly enjoy walking through a garden when there aren’t any other people around to break the serenity of the garden.

There were several orchids blooming, some were very diminutive and not as showy as what we picture when we say orchid. However, they still had all the same characteristics of the larger orchids.


What always amazes me when I am in a warm tropical area is to see the plants I have as small indoor houseplants growing outdoors and many sizes larger than my plants. There was also a larger collection of bromeliads. I had one once and managed to kill it over time. Seeing them with their colorful leaves made me want to try growing one again. My husband commented that he would hate to see what our yard and house would look like if we did live in this warm climate year round.

Also on the property was a building where they had tea sampling. I don’t know how this had anything to do with the garden but I enjoyed it, especially the Goji green tea, and came away purchasing several bags of loose tea.








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On Sanibel Island the warm sun washes over you and fills you with the serenity of the islands. 


 It is a great place to spend some time and just forget all that needs to be done and sit back and relax.  Of course if your not into relaxing there is much to do.  There is golf, tennis, bike riding, walking the beach, boat riding to see the dolphins and so much more.

One thing everyone enjoys is watching the setting sun infuse the sea and sky with brilliant colors.






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Sanibel Island is know for the many shells that wash up on the beaches. As you walk the beach you just can’t help yourself from bending down to pick up just one pretty shell. Pretty soon you see another then another. They call it the Sanibel stoop. The first time we came here I remember walking on the beach where there was hardly any sand but just tons and tons of sea shells. To this day we have several boxes filled with shells in our basement.

There is a shell museum on Sanibel to help educate you about shells and mollusks, the shell-makers. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. For the kids they had sheets picturing various shells and you needed to go around and find the shells. This was good because it got you through the entire museum and also you looked harder at the names of the many shells. When you found all your shells pictured, you came back and got some little prizes. The kids had a lot of fun doing this.

There was also a pool with several different shells in it. We started asking a few questions and pretty soon learned a lot about the various shells. One of the workers would take a few shells out of the water and let the children see the little creatures that made the shell their home. I know I will certainly look at the shells differently now. I even know the names of some of them.

As I read their brochure I found out that the Museum is listed in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. So now I can check off another sight. I need to live a really long time to see all 1,000 places.

I thought the most beautiful exhibit was Sailors Valentines. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like this before. Sailors Valentines are a well-known shell art form developed in the early nineteenth century. They are glass covered shadow boxes, always octagonal in shape and contain many tiny seashells glued into geometric and floral patterns.


 Most boxes were hard wood and hinged so that pairs could be safely closed.


Contrary to the myth these boxes were not made by sailors to pass the time at sea. They were made by female residents of Barbados and other Caribbean ports for New England whalers to purchase and bring back to their loved ones.

When these islands ceased to be ports-of-call this shell art also disappeared by the the 20th century. Recently this craft has undergone a revival.


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Bok Tower Gardens is acres of ferns, palms, live oaks and pines creating many shades of green. This must be a beautiful background for the azaleas, camellias and magnolias when they are in bloom. The camellias had lots of buds on their branches but only a few flowers in bloom. The landscape was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., the son of the planner of New York’s Central Park. Although it is a lot of green plants it is by no means placed haphazardly. You can tell that it is all placed with a design in mine.

The neo-Gothic and art décor Singing Tower Carillon houses one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bronze bells. The tower is the focal point of the garden.


 Twice a day there is a 25 minute concert of the bells and we were lucky enough to catch one. There are benches scattered about so you can sit and listen. However we walked around the area enjoying different sights and looking up at the tower as we listened to the music. It is a pretty site with a Great Brass Door


and covered in pink, white and gray marble.  The Tower is situated at the highest elevation in Florida. It was designed so that the entire tower would be reflected in the lake in front ot it.


The creator of all this was Edward Bok, a Dutch immigrant born in 1863 and came to the U.S. when he was 6. His motto was that he wanted to make America more beautiful because he lived here. The gardens were established in 1929 as a gift to the American people. At the age of 26 he became editor of the Ladies Home Journal and held that position for 30 years. He also collected autographs and letters in response to his questions. He had autographs from such people as Helen Keller, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Mark Twain. Many of these are in the Library of Congress.

Pinewood Estates is also on the property.


 Unfortunately it was closed when we were there but we were able to walk around the garden surrounding the house and peek into the windows. The home is a Mediterranean style, 20 room mansion. It was originally the winter home of C. Austin Buck, vice president of Bethlehem Steel.

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A trip to Orlando to visit any of the Disney theme parks is always a treat. This year we did Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. Touring the parks with grandchildren makes it all extra special. We stayed at the Pop Century resort where you can find a larger than life size fuss ball game, bowling pins and big wheel.


 One of the most magical sights at Disney World is when they light up Cinderella’s castle during the holidays.


 The castle looks like it is covered in ice cycles.


Also, at night, all the shops on Main Street are outlined in lights and garlands of lights and wreaths are hung above the street.


One morning, in the Contemporary Hotel, we went to a character breakfast. As the characters made their way to our table one of the grandkids got a kiss from Pluto while another danced with Donald Duck. After the many times of going through the Contemporary, on the monorail, it was a treat to be inside it and watch it go through the hotel.


After breakfast we rode the monorail to the Polynesian Village Resort


where we were greeted with Aloha and a flower leis. Then on to the Grand Floridian Resort


 to view and smell the playhouse size gingerbread house.


Dinner at Boma, Flavors of Africa at the Animal Kingdom Lodge was very good. Here was an elaborate buffet where you could sample different African foods. We found foods we didn’t know we would like. After dinner we walked out to the back of the hotel where you can try and spot the animals. We were told that after 9 you are able to use night vision glasses to see the animals that you would see during the day on the safari ride.

Another night we had dinner at an Irish restaurant in Downtown Disney. The restaurant and the whole area was absolutely packed. It is a fun restaurant with live music and Irish dancers. At one point we felt like we were back under the big oak tree on Sea Pines. The musicians were singing the unicorn song with the dancers doing the hand motions just like we have heard Greg Russell do so many times in the past.

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Leu Gardens is a 50 acre botanical garden which is on the National Register of  Historical Places. It was originally the home and garden of Harry and Mary Jane Leu. They purchased the home in 1936 and were the fourth and final owners. They completely renovated the house making it the home as we see it today.  As Mr. Leu got older and suffered from arthritis it made it increasingly difficult for him to climb the stairs. They then gave the house to the City of Orlando in 1961.

The Leu’s traveled all over the world and brought back many exotic plants and numerous varieties of camellias for their garden. Because they created such a beautiful garden they invited the public to drive through and see the camellias and azaleas when they were living there.

The garden consist of several different areas such as a rose garden, camellia garden, arid garden, etc.


  Walking through the tropical garden was like walking through the Climatron in most botanical gardens, however here you were in the outdoors. It was so quiet and secluded you could imagine yourself in a tropical rain forest. The camellias were just beginning to bloom and must put on quite a show when they are in full bloom. The garden consist mostly of green plants and not a


lot of flowers when we were there.

The house, which you can tour, was decorated for the holidays.


It was a lovely house, not overly large. It was one that grew over the years with additions made to it over time. The Christmas decorations were pretty spectacular with each room decorated lavishly.


  Lots of good ideas to be had. One decorations I found particularly interesting, I guess because I had never seen anything like it before, was a large glass ornament with a scene inside. There were several of them in various sizes.


The thing I am finding really interesting is the displays of poinsettias outside. They wouldn’t last a day outside at home.

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An hour or so drive from the Golden Isles brought us to Amelia Island in Florida. Amelia Island is another one of those 1000 places to see before you die, so we had to stop by and see it. It is 13 miles of beautiful beaches and enormous sand dunes. We walked along the beach for a bit and of course Ihad to pick up a few interesting sea shells. Once you start, it seems you can’t stop. The resort part of the island reminds me of Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, mostly because of the streets lined with live oaks draped with Spanish moss.

In the Historic District we drove up and down the streets admiring the many Victorian, Queen Anne and Italianate homes.



 Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and date to the mid-19th century glory days when it was the vacation home to socialites like Goodyear, Pulitzer and Carnegie. They came from New York by steamship. Then when the railroad opened up southern Florida to tourism Amelia slipped into relative obscurity. This can be a good thing as the residents can’t afford new places so they repair the historic homes. That is why we are able to enjoy seeing them today.


We walked up and down Centre St. in Fernandina Beach, the island’s only town. In this Historic District all the buildings have been turned into specialty stores where you could spend hours browsing. These historic structures were built before 1927. The Palace Saloon has hand painted murals on the wall and a 40 foot, hand carved, bar said to come from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.


  The post office is a 1912 smaller replica of the Medici palace in Florence.


 I enjoyed the many fountains we came across, some in lovely courtyards.


The states oldest surviving tourist hotel, the Florida House Inn-1857, was down one of the side streets.  It  is currently undergoing restoration and wasn’t open.

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