Flamingo Gardens Offers a Slower, Sweeter Time
Just south and west of Fort Lauderdale on Flamingo Road in Davie Flamingo Gardens waits to welcome you. It is 60+ acres preserved out of over 2000 acres of former citrus and fruit groves owned by Floyd and Jane Wray.
There is definitely an Old Florida feel to this laid back attraction, especially in the Wray's weekend house that has been brought back to the way it looked all those years ago.
What had been Flamingo Groves that began back in 1927 is now Flamingo Gardens and contains a large botanical garden with over 3000 species in a 15 acre setting of wandering paths. There are many Champion Trees, ones that are designated as the largest of their species in the state. Along with the plants ranging from ancient cyclads that dinosaurs might have munched to a towering live oaks crusted with resurrection ferns and bromeliads, Flamingo Gardens is home to a wildlife sanctuary for injured birds and animals that cannot be released back into the wild. In the sanctuary there is a large flock of flamingos, alligators, otters, bobcats, hawks, peacocks and even three Florida panthers, two males and a female.
Each of the animal and bird types have their own habitat tailored to their needs. There is even a black bear, Josh, who is quite large but often snoozing.
One of my favorite parts is the aviary for injured birds. It is 25,000 square feet comprised of diverse constructed habitats for wading birds. Go through a double set of doors and you are walking inside the cage with the birds that fly from one wetland setting or pond to another or nest in the native trees. There are a list of dos and don’ts posted outside. One particularly good piece of advice is, “Don’t look up with your mouth open.” This is great opportunity to photograph storks, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, egrets, ibis, herons, ducks, cormorants and more. Over 45 species are represented and up to 250 birds present at any given time.
As you approach the aviary there are cages with owls, hawks, falcons and vultures. There is a wildlife encounter show three times a day when a naturalist brings out a variety of birds and reptiles for an up-close view.
Peacocks wander the grounds as do a variety of other birds. A friendly young woman is set up inside a giant orange to make fruit smoothies and sell ice cream. A snack bar offers sandwiches, hot dogs, chili and soft drinks. It’s right by the flamingo area and you can take a break, have a snack and watch the brightly colored birds have their lunch.
There are no roller coasters here. No rides at all except for an open sided tram that takes visitors on a leisurely drive around the other 46 acres of the park. The driver points out remnants of the old groves and talks about the hundreds of types of plants alongside the narrow roadway. There are bananas, mangoes, tamarind, coffee, bamboo, tall trees from around the world and of course citrus. At one time the Wrays received foreign plants and seeds from the government for test plantings and many of those are still growing strong.
The Wrays lived in Hollywood but they built a weekend house on the grounds. Visitors were welcomed to the gardens almost from the beginning and by the ‘60s there were daily shows and exhibit areas for the birds and animals. In 1969 Mrs. Wray created the Floyd L Wray Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit entity honoring her late husband that still oversees operations. The house was redone in 1991, taking it back to a period representation of its early life. It gives visitors a look at what life was like in South Florida 80 years ago, not far from the Everglades.
It’s easy to spend half a day or even more wandering and looking at the animals and plants. It is a low key experience for sure compared to the dazzling attractions aimed at folks today. But one can imagine how exciting it would have been to motor out far beyond the coastal towns to tour these gardens and see plants from half way around the world or be delighted at getting so close to all those animals.
Flamingo Gardens is located at 3750 Flamingo Road, Davie, FL 33330 and is open seven days a week from 9:30 am to 5 pm. They host special events like parties and weddings and have food truck nights and a wide range of botanical happenings like orchid and bonsai shows. In December they decorate for the holidays and hold their annual Garden of Lights show. See their website at www.flamingogardens.org for a list of events and other information.
The slideshow above shows some of birds and animals that can be seen at Flamingo Gardens. The gardens themselves vary from month to month as different plants come into season.
© Copyright 2015: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison and Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.