Escape to a leafy oasis near downtown Orlando.
No matter how busy it is, the Harry P. Leu Gardens is bound to have a space free from crowds throughout the lush 50-acre (20-hectare) place of respite. It’s packed with hundreds of plants, including sub-tropical and tropical species, roses, cacti and herbs. Set on the shores of Lake Rowena, the gardens are a haven when you need time out from touring Orlando’s busy theme parks.
The Leu House Museum is one of the most popular exhibits. Built in 1888, it was home to four successive families. Harry P. Leu and his wife Mary Jane, the last owners, donated the garden and house to the City of Orlando in 1961. Make an advance reservation for a guided tour through the house to see a recreation of turn-of-the-century décor, including Victorian and Chippendale furniture.
Take your time wandering through Mary Jane’s Rose Garden, which contains 215 varieties of roses, all suited to growing in Central Florida. The blooms are at their best during the cooler months.
Other botanic highlights include one of the largest collections of camellias in North America, which bloom November through March. You’ll also find bamboo and cycads, 50 varieties of azaleas, a ginger plant collection, ferns, herbs, a butterfly garden, orchids, a tropical steam garden and more. Walk along the miles of paved walkways under the shade of elm, oak and camphor trees draped in hanging moss. Don’t miss the floral clock, a living timepiece with a face that changes with the seasons.
The gardens are open every day except Christmas Day. There should be something blooming no matter what season you visit, and, at any time of year, it’s always a good idea to take some insect repellent. Visit on the first Monday of each month and you’ll get free daytime admission. Allow at least two hours to see the site, which is also home to a horticultural library and gift shop; however, there are no eateries.