There is a little known exotic place in the heart of Old Town Bonita Springs, FL called Everglades Wonder Gardens. Here you can get lost in Florida’s tropical foliage and natural habitat.
The 3.5 acres that makeup the Wonder Gardens is one of SW Florida’s original attractions. As the area started to gain popularity, nature was forced to squeeze its unspoiled boundaries closer together.
Just off Old 41 in Bonita Springs and nestled within the trees an animated alligator with his beady eyes peers over an orange and white “Entrance” sign. Our adventure started here in the main structure, which we were told was the original property owner’s personal home. The main building has a few rooms displaying artifacts and iconic discoveries found on the property throughout its existence.
The attraction is staffed mostly with volunteers. A couple paid employees run the gift shop and sell tickets. A director watches over the volunteers and caretakers. Admission is very affordable, starting with adults at $12, seniors $10 and kids 3 to 12 are $7.
We ventured out the backdoor and on to the patio where we faced lush foliage that is in abundance everywhere. Straight in front were three cages with exotic birds screeching for attention. They were as attentive to us as we were to them.
A beautiful pond filled with colorful Koi was next to the bird cages. To the left, a concrete and stone designed planter box contained a mix of flowers and tropical plants. The straightaway path leading deeper into the gardens has multiple directions leading to other exhibits.
After taking in the beautiful floral and aviary area, we had three paths in front of us. We chose the one that was to the right of the Koi pond, that led to the alligator exhibit. We approached the wooden observation deck with curiosity and crossed the swing bridge that securely floated us over the ponds that were filled with American alligators or more commonly known simply as ‘gators’. It sounds a lot scarier than it really is, as long as you don’t look down. All kidding aside, it was a really an intriguing experience to study these territorial and feared creatures up close. They seem so timid from afar. Do you think the “Please be safe” sign is trying to be funny or a serious warning? I didn’t want to find out.
We followed the trail on to the reptile exhibit with its lizard and turtle cages. The well maintained cages house various species, including the “Green Iguana”, a.k.a. the common iguana. The American iguana, found in very limited areas of the United States, showed us its coolest greeting nod. Directly across from the lizard exhibit were the turtle pens, where we observed many types of these four legged, hard shell, cumbersome crawling creatures.
The larger terrestrial species of the turtle (shown left) actually clips along at a pretty good pace. In a separate pen, the horn back shaped tortoises (shown below) weren’t quite as active as their counter part. There were also lots of miniature aquatic turtles swimming around in their own pond. This part of the tour was a favorite for the children.
We then ventured down a floral lined path that opened up into a sunlit garden.The Wonder Garden’s landscape gave us a peaceful and subtle feeling as we walked through nature’s Zen like temple. The open-air garden led us through the flowering trees, willowing foliage and tropical plants that thrive in South West Florida’s sub-tropic climate. This was a wonderful break from the blood rushing, ground-crawling skeletal animals. Everyone in our party immediately adapted to the lower key climatic surroundings.
Just around the corner appeared one of the many ponds found on the property. But at this particular water shed we found some very special birds. Florida provides a natural habitat for the easily recognized Pink Flamingo. These magnificent birds are very sparse in sightings. But here at the Everglades Wonder Gardens, visitors have the opportunity to stand within feet of these gorgeous creatures. The Flamingos seemed to be right at home, but liked to keep a distance between themselves and visitors.
The serene gardens owe their peacefulness to many factors, including the botanical foliage and wildlife. As we walked along the multiple pathways, every corner revealed a theme that inspired us to dream wondrous thoughts. We occasionally stopped to listen for whistling birds and the subtle sounds of water features. This gave us the opportunity to fully experience the unusual plants, trees, flowering foliage and Florida’s spectacular wildlife.
We finished our self guided tour and left the exhibit feeling relaxed and with a deep respect for nature. We were now ready to move forward with the rest of our day.
Photographer: Anthony & Maureen Scopel
Author: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Support: Matt Kemper
A special thanks to our helpful guide and his alligator “Bubbles”!