On a tiny plot of land tucked off the main Fort Myersthoroughfares, ferns, orchids, roses, bromeliads, and ginger create a quiet Florida landscape.
“Welcome, welcome,” Kay Holloway, president of the Fort Myers Lee County Garden Council, greets visitors each Tuesday.
“Come on in,” she beckons from a gazebo with a water fountain, the entrance to the slight 0.2 acres filled with many native greens.
Garden clubs across the county and nine plant societies, each focusing on their specialties, maintain the gardens and the Mina Edison Botanical Library. The clubs and societies represent 1,576 members.
“Each plant society has a little section they take care of,” Holloway said.
“Mighty” Marty Ward, a member of three garden clubs, founding two of them, and Carolee Drotos, who’s helping in re-imagining the gardens in its sixth year, lead tours on a recent Tuesday.
The garden is named for Berne Davis, who is 101 and the benefactor of arts and civic causes in Lee County.
The brick walkway, with pavers recognizing garden society presidents, loved ones and public figures, follows a circular path from the gazebo, starting with a rose garden to the left, and a stand of birds of paradise to the right.
“The bird of paradise is very, very happy here,” Ward points out under the partial shade of the towering trees, a slight breeze sending cool air along the path.
Members recently pruned the hibiscus trees and replanted roses after members learned the delicate tea roses took too much care for upkeep.
“Now we have knockout roses,” Ward said. “They’re a little more like an old-fashioned rose.”
The learning aspect is part of the garden’s mission to “educate, cultivate and be of service to our members and the community,” Holloway said. Drotos and Ward said they encourage those new to Florida and those hoping to landscape their properties to stop in for advice, see which plants thrive in this climate and soil, and see how big the plants can get.
And they, too, are still learning. The club created a wetlands garden to take advantage of the storm runoff which drowned other plants. Benches line a shaded pavilion overlooking a footbridge, providing a mid-tour rest.
“It’s hard to find stuff that blooms in the shade,” Drotos said.”I’m working on that.”
Pentas, porterweed and sweet almond bushes grow toward the back of the property, and walking iris blooms in the spring.
Crepe ginger and verigated ginger fill a section of the garden, which Ward explains ants play a role by encouraging the crepe ginger to bloom.
“Most of the these insects have a purpose in nature,” she said.
The bromeliads are adjacent to the ginger along the back fence.
“It’s what I consider the pride of the garden,” Ward said, with several of the bromeliads blooming in purples, reds or whites in the dappled shade.
“They’re in their element right here,” she said..
The Bonsai club maintains a tree, which demands constant care.
“It would be a very common ficus,” Ward said. “In the tree world, it would be 10-feet tall.”
The walk can take 10 minutes or an hour, depending on your interest and your time.
“Needless to say, I love it,” Ward said. “It gives me reason to get out of bed.”
With meeting rooms and the reference library, members are planning a $120,000-$130,000 renovation beginning in late spring that will reconfigure the meeting space and allow bigger garden clubs to meet.
Mary Ann Singel and Sandra Ebersole, both of Atlanta and Fort Myers, roamed the gardens with their husbands past the marble Lorelei statue, Plant It Pink tribute to breast cancer survivors, the young cypress trees and staghorn fern hanging from a cypress.
“It’s very beautiful,” Singel said, saying she doesn’t have a green thumb.
“There’s a good variety,” added Ebersole, who both agreed was the better gardener.
Holloway asked them to sign the visitors book, tracking the number for the city, which deeded the club the property. Last year tallied 600 visitors, and the garden clubs want to encourage more people to stop by.
“To me it’s a piece of paradise in the middle of urban sprawl,” Holloway said.
If you go
*What: Tour the Berne Davis Botanical Garden, created with the work of 20 local garden clubs and nine plant societies.
*When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays.
*Where: Fort Myers-Lee County Garden Council, 2166 Virginia Ave., adjacent to the Edison Home, Fort Myers.
*Information: 332-4942. fmlcgardencouncil.com