Facebook Page

Orlando's Leu Gardens and the Driving Trip to Fort Pierce, Florida 1/18/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the Holiday Inn and after our Internet duties, checked out and went to Cracker Barrel before driving north to Orlando and the first station of the day.


Atlantic Coast Line Orlando station in 1920 which currently serves Amtrak's Silver Meteor and Silver Star.

Orlando Station historical sign. From here we drove to Leu Gardens and parked in the southwest lot as the main parking lot was full this morning.

Orlando Leu Gardens

The Harry P. Leu Gardens are semi-tropical and tropical gardens in Orlando. The gardens contain nearly 50 acres of landscaped grounds and lakes, with trails shaded by 200-year-old oaks and forests of camellias. They are open to the public. The address is 1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando. A 15-acre section of the park, known as the Mizell-Leu House Historic District, was designated a historic district on December 29, 1994. According to the National Register of Historic Places, it contains three historic buildings.

The Leu Gardens were started by Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Leu, who in 1936 purchased Leu House and 40 acre of land. The Leus traveled all over the world and brought back many exotic plants and many varieties (240) of camellias for their gardens. In 1961, the Leus deeded the house and the gardens to the city of Orlando.

Leu House Museum>

At the heart of the gardens is Harry and Mary Jane Leu's home, known as the Leu House Museum, which has been meticulously restored and is on the National Historical Register. Guided tours of the Leu House, illustrating turn-of-the century Florida living, are available on the hour and the half-hour.


Leu Gardens is located in USDA climate zone 9b. The mild subtropical climate allows for an interesting mix of temperate and tropical plants to be grown. The gardens are known for their extensive collections of aroids, azaleas, bamboo, bananas, bromeliads, camellias, citrus, conifers, crepe myrtles, cycads, ferns, flowering shrubs, flowering trees, gingers, heliconias, hibiscus and mallows, magnolias, ornamental grasses, palms, perennials, roses, trees and vines.

Areas of the gardens

Annual Garden: This area displays more than 7,000 annuals, perennials and shrubs suited to the Central Florida growing season. Plants in this area are often changed every four months.

Archive Building: Built in 2000, this building holds archive storage for the Leu House Museum, has a bride's room, a groom's room, public restrooms and storage closets.

Arid Garden: This area displays a wide variety of plants that are drought tolerant. Many come from desert regions or areas that are seasonally dry. Some types of plants found here include acacias, agaves, aloes, bromeliads, cacti, flowering trees, palms, succulents and yuccas.

Aroid Collection: Aroids are a large group of plants that belong to the Araceae Family. This diverse family shares a similar distinctive inflorescence (flowering structure), a spadix surrounded by a spathe. A vast majority of aroids are tropical or subtropical, but a few are from temperate regions. Most aroids at Leu Gardens can be found in the Tropical Stream Garden. Some of the plants include Aglaonema, Amorphophallus, Anthurium, Alocasia, Caladium, Colocasia, Dieffenbachia, Monstera, Philodendron, Spathiphyllum, Syngonium and Xanthosoma.

Azalea Collection: Approximately 50 different cultivars and species of azaleas are found mainly in the North and South Woods. These are evergreen shrubs that belong to the genus Rhododendron. Azaleas begin flowering in late winter (January/Februrary) and are at their peak usually towards the end of February into early March.

Bamboo Collection: Nearly 50 different species and varieties of this woody-stemmed grass are displayed. The plants range in species that grow only a few inches tall to giant timber bamboos that reach over 70 feet tall and have canes over 5 inches in diameter.

Banana Collection: Bananas belong to the Musaceae Family. There are many cultivars and varieties that bear the familiar edible fruit, but there are other species that are grown for the colorful flowers or striking foliage.

Bromeliad Collection: Bromeliads are a large diverse group of plants that belong to the Bromeliaceae Family. Many have brilliant colored inflorescences while others have strikingly colored foliage. Some bromeliads are terrestrial (grow in the ground) while many others are epiphytic (grow on trees). Bromeliads can be found throughout the Garden.

Butterfly Garden: This garden contains a wide variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees that are attractive to butterflies and moths. Some of the plants are nectar plants; others are larval plants that larvae feed on. In addition, some of these plants also attract hummingbirds.

Camellia Collection: This is the most important collection of plants at Leu Gardens. The foundation of this collection are the cultivars of Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua originally planted by Mr. Leu and his workers. Today, over 2,000 plants and 230+ cultivars are displayed throughout the gardens, including displays of Camellia sinensis, which is the Tea Camellia, and other Camellia species. This collection ranks among the largest in the United States and is one of the largest documented collections in the southeast.

Cemetery: The Mizell Cemetery contains 36 marked and unmarked graves of family members including David and Angeline Mizell, the original owners of the land that is now Harry P. Leu Gardens. There are tombstones that are dated to the 1860s.

Citrus Grove: Citrus is an important part of the history of Central Florida and to the former residents who lived on the property now occupied by Leu Gardens. The Grove contains over 50 different species, cultivars and hybrids of citrus trees.

Citrus Statue: This statue is an honorarium to all citrus workers, a dying breed of laborer in this area. It was approved for purchase by the Public Art Advisory Board in June 1990, and Mr. William Ludwig of Albany, Louisiana was commissioned to cast the figures of silicon bronze, a medium which lends itself to great detail. The statue was originally installed and dedicated in 1992, and can be found in the center of the Garden among the citrus trees in that area.

Conifer Collection: Conifers are a group of shrubs or trees that are gymnosperms that bear cones, although there are a few conifers that bear a fleshy, fruit-like structure. Conifers can be found throughout the Gardens and include the dawn redwood and many different kinds of pine, cypress, junipers, podocarpus, araucarias and yew.

Cottage: This building was originally a three-car garage built by Mr. Woodward and is currently used for meetings and classes.

Crepe Myrtle Collection: Crepe myrtles are among the most commonly seen flowering shrubs and trees in Central Florida and belong to the genus Lagerstroemia. Crepe Myrtles can be found throughout the Garden and include several dozen cultivars, hybrids and species.

Curator's Office: This building was originally the home of one of the resident servants and is now the office of the Leu House Curator.

Cycad Collection: The Cycad collection displays over 50 species for Central Florida. Cycads are primitive plants that have existed for nearly 200 million years. They were the dominant plant life in the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. They are palm-like in appearance, but have no relation to palms. They are instead cone-bearing gymnosperms that are most closely related to ferns, conifers and ginkgo.

Daylily Collection: Over 200 different cultivars of Hemerocallis can be found in the daylily collection. The daylilies bloom from late spring into mid-summer with a wide variety of colors and forms.

"Doves of Peace" Statue: This garden art statue by Bob Winship is located near the entrance to the White Garden.

Fern Collection: Ferns are ancient plants that reproduce by spores. Most are low-growing, although some are tree-like and can grow over 10 feet tall. Most ferns prefer a shaded location. Ferns can be found throughout the Gardens.

Floral Clock: Donated by the Kiwanis Club of Orlando, this 50-foot clock, located at the far west side of the Gardens, was imported from Scotland in 1966.

Flowering Tree Collection: Many different flowering trees can be found throughout Leu Gardens with specimens in bloom every month of the year. With our Central Florida climate, both temperate and tropical species grow here.

Garden House: This 22,000-square-foot building, which opened in 1995, is the entrance to the Gardens. It contains classrooms, event and exhibition spaces, a botanical library, and the Garden Gift Shop. It is home to the Garden House Gallery where permanent art collections are on display including the eight paintings by Mulford B. Foster.

Ginger and Heliconia Collections: These two collections are found mainly in the Tropical Stream Garden. The Ginger Collection contains plants in the Zingiberaceae Family. It is a diverse group with plants having colorful flowers or foliage. Heliconias are members of the Heliconiaceae Family. They have banana-like foliage and bear spectacular inflorescences that are brilliantly colored and tropical.

Herb Garden: Displays of culinary, medicinal, ornamental, educational, historic and aromatic herbs, some of which are also butterfly attractants, make up this garden. Reminiscent of kitchen gardens from the turn of the century, herbs appropriate for the Central Florida landscape are demonstrated near the Cottage. It, along with the Vegetable Garden, makes up the Kitchen Garden and may change with the seasons.

Hibiscus and Mallow Collection: This is a collection of a wide variety of commercial, edible and ornamental members of the Malvaceae Family. This large and important family includes the tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, rose-of sharon, abutilon, mallow, okra, cotton, cocoa tree, floss silk tree, baobab tree, kapok tree, pink ball tree, shaving brush tree and other showy plants. These are found throughout the Garden.

Home Demonstration Garden: Since its opening in 2003 this three acre space has been devoted to educational displays including noteworthy plants and architectural techniques and materials suitable for Central Florida gardeners. It is divided into ten residentially scaled "idea gardens" showcasing different plant groups that include the following gardens: Bird, Bog, Enabling, Evening, Fragrance, Ornamental Grass, Shade, Subtropical Fruit, Urban Patio and Wildflower. The Bird Garden displays plants that attract and sustain birds in Central Florida. Some of the plants produce fruit and berries for birds to eat while other plants have dense growth habits that allow birds cover or nesting sites. There are also flowering plants that hummingbirds feed from and find attractive. The Bog Garden demonstrates plants that can tolerate growing in a wet location in the landscape. This is an area in which water can stand for several hours to a couple of days at a time following a heavy rainfall but is not permanent. The soil is very heavy and poorly drained. A "dry" streambed runs through the center of the Bog Garden but does not have a permanent flow of water. The Enabling Garden was specifically designed to support Leu Garden's extensive horticultural therapy program. The beds are raised for gardening for several purposes; to provide accessibility for someone in a wheelchair, for someone who needs to remain seated most of the time or for people with visual impairments, because the plants are in closer range than on the ground. The plantings in these beds may change throughout the year.

In addition there is a small Texture Garden that contains plants with unusual textures to the touch or brightly colored foliage and flowers and a small Scented Garden with plants that have fragrant flowers or leaves or flowers. The Evening Garden displays a wide variety of plants that have foliage or flowers that are easily seen in the evening or bear flowers that are fragrant at night. Many of these plants have white flowers or variegated foliage. The Fragrance Garden contains plants that bear fragrant flowers or have leaves or even fruit that is fragrant. The Ornamental Grass Garden contains grasses or grass-like plants in a variety of heights short and tall. Most are grown for the ornamental foliage while others bear striking inflorescences. The Shade Garden demonstrates different plant specimens that can grow in shady and low light locations of a landscape. The Subtropical Fruit Garden contains different subtropical and tropical fruit trees and plants that can be grown in Central Florida. The Urban Patio Garden is ideally suited to smaller urban spaces. It can help gardeners learn how to bring shape, form and color to a small area. The Wildflower Garden demonstrates wildflower specimens that are excellent choices for the low maintenance home landscape. Many are drought tolerant and pest resistant. They offer color almost year-round and are good for attracting butterflies, beneficial insects like bees, and sometimes hummingbirds. Most of the wildflowers displayed here are native to Central Florida, with some being annuals and some perennials. There are also native grasses, shrubs, and trees planted in this area.

Kitchen Garden: The Kitchen Garden can be found beside and around the Cottage and Curator's Office and includes both the Herb Garden and Vegetable Garden.

Magnolia Collection: The Magnolia collection contains members of the Magnoliaceae Family. These include many cultivars of the Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, Liriodendron and other temperate and tropical species of Magnolia. Many of these formerly belonged to such genera as Manglietia, Michelia, Parakmeria, and Talauma. Many of the trees in this collection bear very fragrant flowers.

Native Wetland Garden: This garden was created to invite wading birds and other wildlife into the area. The plants here are almost all entirely native. They help filter pollutants from the water and protect the shoreline from erosion. They also provide food, habitat and shelter for birds, fish and other wildlife.

Ornamental Grass Collection: Grasses are one of the largest families of monocots. Many types make handsome ornamentals for the landscape. Ornamental grasses can be found throughout the Garden.

Overstory Canopy: This canopy of mature trees is one of the most important aspects of Leu Gardens. Without the shade from these trees, the camellias, azaleas and other shade-loving plants would not be able to survive.

Palm Garden: This garden displays nearly 400 species of cold hardy and semi-tender palms suited for the central Florida climate. This collection ranks among the most extensive collections in the United States. Besides the palms, this garden contains the cycad collection, bamboo collection and pandan collection. Planted amongst the cycads are other prehistoric plants such as conifers, ferns, horsetails and tree ferns.

Perennial Garden: Many temperate and tropical perennials are grown and evaluated. Many bear show flowers, others have attractive foliage.

Rose Garden: Mary Jane's Rose Garden is named after Mrs. Leu, whose favorite flower was the rose. She planted her first roses by the lake, and in 1944 a small rose garden was developed on the site where the current garden is located. Over 215 varieties and 650 roses are displayed in this garden. All are suited for Central Florida growing conditions.

Subtropical and Tropical Fruit Collection: Different subtropical and tropical fruit trees are found within this collection, including such specimens as acerola, avocado, guava, jaboticaba, jackfruit, loquat, lychee, macadamia mango, pineapple and starfruit.

Tropical Stream Garden: This garden creates the atmosphere of a tropical rainforest with a gurgling stream that winds its way through the plantings and into Lake Rowena. Many tropical and subtropical plants suitable for Central Florida are displayed here including aroids, bananas, bird-of-paradise, traveler's tree, bromeliads, calatheas, tropical conifers, crotons, gingers, heliconias, palms, ti plants, ferns, tree ferns, flowering trees, banyan tree, vines and others.

Vegetable Garden: This is a new area of the Garden which will contain both vegetables that were grown in the 1800s and varieties suitable for today's gardener.

Vine Displays: Nearly every plant family has members with a vining or climbing habit. There are vining herbs, orchids, aroids and even vining palms. A majority of the vines grown throughout the world are found in tropical or subtropical climates. The vine displays are grown on the chain link fence that borders the overflow parking lot, and can also be found along the fences in the Home Demonstration Garden and along the Tropical Stream Garden. The total display contains over 150 different vines, many with showy flowers, suitable for Central Florida.

Wyckoff Overlook: The boardwalk and gazebo on Lake Rowena are named for John Wyckoff, one of the Garden's original board members. The lakeshore area now contains an aquatic wetland garden, with the plants being almost entirely native. Watch for birds and wildlife-but do not feed the alligators!!

The main part of Leu Gardens.

The butterfly gardens.

More of the Leu Gardens.

The bamboo, the largest bamboo that I have ever seen.

My last picture was the flags on display.

The drive to Fort Pierce

I drove us to the Winter Haven station.

Seaboard Air Line Winter Haven station built in 1925. Next I drove us to Lake Wales.

Seaboard Air Line Lake Wales station built in 1916 and home to the Lake Wales Model Railroad Club.

Atlantic Coast Line Lake Wales station built in 1928, home of the Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center. We were surprised by what else was on display here.

Seaboard Air Line caboose 5341 built by American Car and Foundry in 1926.

United States Army 65 ton switcher 8416 built by Whitcomb in 1944. After World War II, it became Virginia-Carolina Chemical 23 and later Mobil 222.

United States Army switcher builder's plate.

Savannah and Atlanta business car 19, nee Southern 19 built by Pullman in 1916.

The train display in Lake Wales.

History of Lake Wales display board. Next I drove us to Frostproof.

Atlantic Coast Line Frostproof station built in 1912. From here we made our way to Avon Park.

Western Pacific 16-section sleeper 871 "Silver Palm" built by Budd in 1948 for the California Zephyr. It was re-configured in 1964 to a 48-seat chair car then sold to the Auto Train Corporation in 1971, re-configured to a 52-seat buffet lounge and numbered 580.

Atlantic Coast Line Avon Park station built in 1925 and home to the Avon Park Historical Society Depot Museum.

Avon Park station timetable board. From here I drove us to Wauchula.

Atlantic Coast Line Wauchula station built in 1914.

Wauchula station station sign. We continued on our way south to Zolfo Springs.

Brooks Scanlon 2-6-2 7 built by Baldwin in 1914 as Carpenter-O'Brian Company 3 at Eastport, Florida and in 1917, became Brooks-Scanlon Corporation 3. Through a 1934 corporate sale, it became Brooks-Scanlon Incorporated 3, later sold to Revell Crate Company and in 1967 donated to Peace River Valley Historical Society.

Information plate on the engine. Next I drove us to Sebring.


Seaboard Air Line Sebring station built in 1924.

CSX 3046 East came through unexpectedly. The next stop was Lake Placid.

Atlantic Coast Line Lake Placid station built in 1926 which houses the Lake Placid Historical Society.

Seboard Coast Line caboose 0932, which later became Seaboard System 20932, built by the railroad in-, numbered 8982.

Station and caboose. Next I drove us to Okeechobee.

Amtrak Okeechobee passenger shelter built in 2011. Elizabeth drove us to Arby's before taking us to Fort Pierce and our overnight stay at Days Inn.