Flamingo Gardens

Yesterday, we revisited Flamingo Gardens where we’d been members years ago. It’s the only botanical gardens in the Fort Lauderdale area. For an $18 admission fee, you can enter the lush grounds through the gift shop. In the back is the entry through an impressive arch of holiday lights.

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Along winding paths, you can admire the tropical greenery and enormous trees like the live oaks that have grown here for 200 years. Who said south Florida didn’t have tall trees? Colorful flowers abound amid trickling waterfalls and spreading plants.

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Next comes the Aviary where birds run free, then a caged section holding owls, eagles and hawks. These birds of prey are all injured and can’t be released into the wild. So they are, in effect, rescue animals.

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We skipped the snakes behind glass cases and the guide-led wildlife encounter to head toward the historic Wray home. I love seeing how people lived in 1930’s Florida.

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After eating hot dogs at the outdoor café, we viewed the zoo area with a bobcat, turtles, alligators, a black bear, and more. We passed on the tram ride, annoyed at the extra cost and that they don’t allow visitors to stroll the expanded acreage because you have to take the ride there. That’s one reason why we dropped our membership. The place isn’t as well maintained as Fairchild in Miami or Leu Gardens in Winter Park. It’s pleasant for visitors but limited for locals due to these reasons.

See the iguana in the picture below on the right? And you do know that flamingo get their color from eating shrimp?

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I am not sure, but I think that might be a breadfruit tree above. The path ends again at the gift shop which always has an appealing array of Florida knickknacks, books, souvenirs, snazzy umbrellas and more. The gardens are certainly worthwhile for visitors who wish to experience our ecological environment. I suggest you go in the cooler months when it isn’t buggy. Yesterday was perfect, in the seventies and sunny.

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Contest Alert!

Win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free ebooks from Booklover’s Bench authors, including a copy of my cruise ship mystery Killer Knots, in our December contest: http://bookloversbench.com/contest/. Unfortunately, if you entered before, you’ll need to enter again. Rafflecopter screwed up and lost all our entries.

Now speaking of flamingos, Freddie the Flamingo is the official mascot of Florida’s MWA chapter. Come join us for SleuthFest 2015 in Deerfield Beach on Feb. 26. Guest speakers include bestselling author James Patterson and humorist Dave Barry. For more info, go to http://www.sleuthfest.com

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Desert Botanical Gardens

Setting is an integral part of any writer’s story arsenal, and sometimes you have to go to a place in person to learn more about it. Arizona was as foreign a setting to me as stepping foot on another planet. Expanses of red dirt dotted with scrub brush and cacti plus mountains stretching into the distance boggled my imagination. What were those wondrous plants called? The saguaro cactus made its remarkable presence known immediately, its tall stalks reaching toward the sky.

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But what were those beautiful green-barked trees or that intriguing purplish cacti? And why did my cousin warn me away from those lovely flowering cactus plants?

A trip to the Desert Botanical Gardens proved illuminating. Taking notes and photos as we roamed, I learned more than the names of the flora decorating the desert landscape. I learned not to rely on a mountain as a landmark. Oh, the entrance is opposite that mountain there? Well, guess what? There was more than one peak! My cousin and I got lost trying to find the exit. Yep, this intrepid author, armed with notebook and camera, couldn’t even find her way out of the park. Thirsty and tired, we finally met up with my husband in the gift shop and immediately headed to the café for cold drinks.

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How might this relate to my story? My heroine, Marla, could easily get lost on a path like this same as me. Only in her case, a killer might be on her tail.

The park lists four deserts in North America: the Mojave, the Great Basin, the Chihuahuan, and the Sonoran which is where we are located. Here are some of the plants we identified.

The dangerous plant that looks seductively appealing is the Cholla bush. Its sharp needles can blow off in a breeze and pierce your skin. Steer clear in a wind.

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I liked the purplish prickly pear cactus with its elephant ears, as they’re called. Being a Floridian, to me they looked like Mickey Mouse ears.

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My favorite trees are the green-barked Palo Verde and the shady Mesquite. No doubt Marla will stand in its shade at some time during my story, or she might trip over a creeping devil that hugs the ground like a snake. At least I’ll know what to call some of these plants now, and if I don’t have it in my notes, I can look it up in Cactus of Arizona Field Guide or the pamphlet on Arizona Trees & Wildflowers that I bought. Truly I was surprised by the abundance of greenery. The scenic beauty can grow on you.

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So where are we going next on our virtual tour? To the Grand Hotel in Jerome, an old mining town. We stayed overnight at the haunted hotel and took a ghost hunting tour.

 

HARRY P. LEU GARDENS

Harry P. Leu Gardens is one of my favorite haunts in Orlando. I modeled a location after it in my tenth Bad Hair Day mystery (yet to come), so I count a visit as part of my research.

There’s so much more to do in Greater Orlando than the theme parks. When you have a day to spare, consider spending it at Winter Park. Stroll Leu Gardens in the morning then drive over to Park Avenue and park on one of the side streets. Have lunch in one of the many cafes lining the popular thoroughfare. Shop in the boutiques. Visit a museum, or take an escorted boat ride on the lake. I like this little city so much that I centered my proposed new mystery series there.

Enjoy these photos from Leu Gardens and plan a visit next time you’re in Orlando. Founded by the Mizells in 1858, the park hosts a family cemetery among its attractions. The park covers fifty acres with over forty plant collections and is a favorite site for weddings. Besides a butterfly garden, vegetable garden, herb garden, and citrus grove, there are sections with flowering camellias, cycads, bamboo, camphor trees, and more. An indoor gift shop and catering hall are in the main building but there’s a bride’s cottage on the grounds for outdoor weddings.

Spanish Moss covered tree
Shady paths
Shady paths
Lake Rowena
Fish in Lake
Turtles by Lake
Can you spot the alligator?
Camillia Tree
Camillia
Fountain
Sundial
Floral Clock
Leu House Museum
Vegetable Garden
Family Cemetery