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Sanibel Moorings blooms into botanical garden

By Staff | Jun 10, 2010

The Sanibel Moorings is now designated a botanical garden due to its extensive collection of tropical plants and access to the public. Tours are available every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Anita Marshall, the gardening director for the Sanibel Moorings, gives the weekly tours.

Tucked along East Gulf Drive on Sanibel is an ever-growing treasure of color and flora. A botanical garden, filling nearly seven acres at the Sanibel Moorings Resort, boasts hundreds of non-invasive exotic, tropical and native plants.

But what makes this mecca of vibrant poinciana trees, jasmine, fragrant plumeria and seemingly infinite amount of butterfly-attracting plants even more notable is that its open to the public for viewing. The Sanibel Moorings became a designated a botanical garden by the American Public Gardens Association in January. This is the island’s first botanical garden.

’Though the about 40-year-old resort had the right stuff to become a botanical garden awhile back, chief gardener for the resort, Anita Marshall said things just needed to be fine-tuned in order to go public _ enough parking, benches, other amenities. And opening up the resort’s lush grounds to tours. Since January Sanibel Moorings offers self-guided tours with a easy-to-read map and personally guided tours by Marshall on Wednesdays mornings at 9 a.m. for $5. Anyone wishing to take either the self-guided or personal tour needs to stop by the resort’s office first.

Since Sanibel Moorings has been designated a botanical garden, interest in attending the tours is growing.

“So many people didn’t know Sanibel Moorings was even here — let alone had these gardens,” said Sanibel Moorings General Manager, Laura Monsrud. “It’s been fun to share the secret.”

During the tour which winds down paths to the sea, swimming pools and canal side of the property, guests can check out a vibrant-hued butterfly garden, hummingbird garden and moon garden.

Each garden is filled with native plants and exotic and tropical flowers, trees and foliage. To walk from the non-descript street onto the grounds of the Sanibel Moorings is like stepping off into a modern-day version of the Garden of Eden. For instance, the moon garden — located near a pool – is filled with the sweet, heady scents of plumeria, jasmine and bee’s pollen.

The resort has filled its grounds with all kinds of plants from around the globe during its nearly 40 years of existence. Five different gardeners have worked at the resort — each planting unique flowers and trees from exotic locales such as Thailand and South America. And each gardener also added his or her own unique theme. Marshall, the present gardener is focused on creating a native habitat. She gets her cues from Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation talks and workshops as well as ideas from the “Ding” Wildlife Refuge.

And a glance at the monarch butterflies and Eastern Black Swallowtails flitting about the native wildlflowers and Firebush in the butterfly garden shows Marshall means business. “It’s a living breathing habitat,” she said.

“We been to lots of resorts but there’s not any place with plants like this,” said Beth Rolfes, a visitor. The Cinncinati, Ohio native and her husband Mark love the varieties of plants to be seen at Sanibel Moorings.

For this couple, the botanical garden is also helpful because of its number of honey bees buzzing about. The pair are beekeepers and enjoy learning about what flowers attract the insects.

Teaching is paramount to Marshall who devotes her time to planning and nurturing the botanical garden. “People up north love tropical plants,” she said. “It’s delightful when people show that enthusiasm.”

Marshall delights in answering tour guests’ questions about the gardens and plant life in general. “They’ll see every type of plant that will work in their gardens,” she said.

Aside from the plants, nesting boxes for screech owls fill corners of the garden. Right now there is a pair in one of the boxes. Boxes are placed for other cavity needing birds as well. Wildlife are part of the garden scene. During the cooler months, visitors can watch hummingbirds whiz about nectar rich flowers. At the moment a family of box turtles is calling the garden home. Each week, Marshall lists garden happenings such as the box turtle family sightings on the resort’s bulletin board.

And Marshall herself is just as colorful a character as the botanical garden she cares for at Sanibel Moorings. The one-time MRI technician retired and pursued her love of gardening — a love she gleaned from her mother. Her eyes blossom with delight when she’s asked about one of the many plants in the garden.

In one instance the word agave was mentioned and in mere seconds, Marshall darted off to show off the resort’s new agave plant “Audrette.” “Audrette,” a type of century plant, sits where her predecessor, “Audrey,” once bloomed. “Audrey” reached the ripe old age of 50 and was a towering figure in the beach side spot where her little namesake is now planted. Audrey produced a 24-foot tall 200-pound bloom and then, like all century plants, died.

To Marshall all of the plants are sort of like her children. She knows each of their quirks and needs. She rattles off their names like a mom… silver buttonwood, Royal Poinciana, Sea Lavender, Golden Creeper and Canna Lilies. Marshall sees her role at Sanibel Moorings as a calling more than a job.

“My mother inspired me,” she said. “Now I want to inspire everyone.”

And she is not alone in her quest to create a world-class botanical garden. Hy Lans, a volunteer spends much time with the hibiscus collection —

he has entered some of the showy blossoms in an upcoming hibiscus show, and he’s sure at least one of them will win a prize.

Lans, a Sanibel resident, said the botanical garden is an important landmark.“I think it’s a unique experience, especially for people on Sanibel who like native gardening,” he said.

But if folks gets nothing more from the botanical garden than a big smile, then Marshall is happy.

“A garden should bring a sense of peace,” she said.