Thursday, May 2, 2013

One Man's Passion — Sunken Gardens

One of St. Petersburg, Florida's favorite landmarks started out as a private garden. In 1903, a plumber and avid gardener named George Turner, Sr. bought a property with a shallow lake. He discovered that the lake had formed over an ancient sinkhole. Turner drained the lake, which then allowed him to create winding paths and garden areas that reach as low as 15 feet below street level.

There are surprises at every turn.

And there are beautiful flowers.

By 1924, word had spread of Turner's exotic creation, and visitors could stroll through the garden for a 25¢ admission. They could enjoy the carp . . .

. . . and later, exotic animals like Chilean Flamingos and Laughing Kookaburras from Australia.

Today Sunken Gardens has an amphitheater, a small shaded stage, and lots of areas to just sit and enjoy the surroundings.

The beautiful area below has become a popular spot for weddings.

In 1999, the Turner family sold Sunken Gardens to the City of St. Petersburg, which maintains it today. Many of Mr. Turner's original plants still exist.

I thought I'd end with a photo of this bench. It's fossilized limestone that was revealed when the lake was drained. Traditionally, every new Sunken Garden employee starts his first day at this spot.


  1. Hi Mark, Now we know what to do with those sinkholes. Seriously, this garden is beautifully maintained, and full of interesting features and flowers. It reminds me that I have to start revisiting and enjoying some of the nice gardens in the Taipei area.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hi, Jim,

      Though one goes on paths that curve downward, every sense of being in a sinkhole is now completely gone. But sinkholes continue to be a problem in Florida. Recently, a sinkhole in this area swallowed a man as he slept in his bed, and he was never found. It was quite the front page news item, as you can imagine!

  2. Dear Mark - this gives a whole new vision to sinkholes - I read about the man who was swallowed up whilst in his bed sleeping. I could only imagine the nightmare scenario of falling into what must have been something similar to medieval mans image of 'hell'. I really hoped that the man died in his sleep and was unaware of what was happening to him.
    This on the other hand is a vision of 'paradise', richly coloured exotic flowers and birds under a canopy of verdant green - beautiful.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      It's so interesting that the sinkhole story made its way over to your papers, but I know that the media loves all that is lurid.

      It should be noted that Sunken Gardens was created out of what has been described as an "ancient sinkhole," which implies that the land is now stable. I heard on our National Public Radio that some sinkholes are now caves that can stretch for miles.

  3. Oh, what beauty! How in the world did he drain the lake? Not an easy feat! The photos are fantastic and show what a wonderful environment he created. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Hi, Theresa - I'm sure Mr. Turner's experience as a plumber was a big help in the draining of his lake, and I'm guessing he knew beforehand that the lake was formed from a sinkhole. He certainly had a wonderful vision.

  4. What a gorgeous place, Mark. It's magical. Definitely a place to let your mind wander.

    This man Turner must have been a visionary.

    I love the idea of not only flowers and greenery, but animals as well. Beautiful.

    Thanks for sharing, Mark.

    1. And of course there are animals like the egret that are just naturally attracted to a beautiful habitat.

  5. Hello Mark!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful garden-- it has the feeling of a very ancient place, doesn't it? Perhaps it's because it's sunken, or perhaps it's the lush tropical plants and animals...Beautiful! I love that the people who work there have the ritual of starting out at that fossilized rock-- I'll bet that moment of reflection helps them appreciate spending time in such a wonderful garden. Mr. Turner has left a spectacular gift to the community-- you're so lucky to be close enough to visit regularly!
    Warm regards,

    1. Hello, Erika,

      While the Turner family owned Sunken Gardens, it became a tourist attrection — as it still is — and I believe it might have become a primary source of income for the family. The grandsons sold it to the city in 1999, and it is one of our treasures.

      Best wishes,