New Entrance Sets the Stage for Eden State Gardens

May 23, 2010 by Joyce Owen

As a frequent visitor to Eden Gardens State Park, I admit driving down the pot-holed old road to the park could be a trying experience. But I miss the grand entrance that allowed me to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful first glimpse of the white columned Wesley House with its wraparound porch dotted with rocking chairs.

The house exuded such grace and charm, I always felt like I’ve arrived at a great Southern plantation and that a housekeeper was waiting to swing open the front door and welcome me inside.Visitors to Eden Gardens will welcome the additional parking a new entrance from State Highway 395 provides. However in creating 30 much-needed parking spaces the old entrance through magnificent wrought iron gates was eliminated and replaced with a drive that brings guests to the backside of the house.

The new road winds through the woods and it is obvious that great care was taken not only to create a path that preserved as much of the vegetation as possible, but also provided a route that gives visitors the chance to slow down and prepare for the wonder that Eden presents – a part of old Florida that is becoming a rarity.

Eden’s appeal has not been diminished with the new entrance. Possibly it’s preferable to allow visitors the opportunity to explore Eden in a new way and there is so much to discover. While you can’t see the house upon arrival, walkways guide visitors to points of interest such as the rose garden, the reflecting pool and the nature trail. There is also much to find off the paths including the children’s garden, the waterfront bandstand, boat launches and picnic areas.

Throughout the year, there is almost always a burst of color from one or more garden areas to delight photographers and enthrall gardeners. The wedding tree and lush grounds filled with azaleas, gardenias, camellias, hydrangeas, and of course, all the other stately old oak trees draped with moss, combine to provide a setting that encourages visitors to seek out all the secrets the park holds.

Eden is lovingly cared for by the dedicated volunteer organization, Friends of Eden Gardens State Park and the Florida State Park Service. The two organizations worked together to create the new entrance, but that is only a part of the role they play at Eden. The park service staff provides tours of the home and upkeep of the grounds, while the volunteers tend the gardens and even provide a nursery where visitors can purchase plants that were nurtured from seedlings or grafts from old stock grown at Eden.

The volunteers helped raise money and sought in-kind donations for the construction of the pavilion, painting and renovations of the Wesley House, the new entrance and other upgrades to the park. The volunteers also run The Fig Leaf Gift Shop, a tiny shop just off the back of the house, that is the perfect spot to purchase a T-shirt, tote bag or photo that will be a reminder of the day’s visit and will help sustain the work required to maintain the house and grounds.

The old gates are now at the opposite end of the park from the new entrance.

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