Kanapaha Botanical Garden, Gainesville, Florida

by Mary C. Miller
(Mt. Dora, FL)

Goodman in lily pond

Goodman in lily pond

I had seen photos of giant water lily pads in a brochure for the 62 acre Kanapaha Botanical Garden many times. I was especially anxious to see them in person. On a recent stay in Gainesville, the garden was on my to-do list.

The structural beauty of the visitor's center is striking, and includes a gift shop and tons of space for meetings and other gatherings. The volunteer at the admissions desk was showing me the map with winding trails, and pointed out where each section of interest was. Then, at the same time as I asked where the lily pads were, she yelled out to an electric cart that had just zipped by. “Hey Don!”

As it turned out, Don Goodman (and his wife) were the founders of the Kanapaha garden in 1978. Already smiling, he beamed when I asked about the water lilies. They are obviously his pet project. He told me I unfortunately had arrived at the wrong time of year to see them. He promised if I came back in July, I would be pleasantly surprised. Don gave me a quick lesson in how they grow and hopped back on his cart. (I couldn't help but notice one of his arms was missing.)

As he drove off, the lady at the desk whispered “He lost his arm to an alligator!” My first thought was, perhaps this was a myth for tourists. She continued by telling me the story was all in his book – 'Summer of the Dragon.'

(The 11 foot alligator had been on the property for years and even had a name: Mojo. Don was working in the lily pond when he was attacked in 2002. Most garden employees think it was a case of mistaken identity.)

I picked up my map and headed for the cluster of small gardens, including a children's garden, butterfly, rose and bulb gardens. Small water falls, streams and bridges are scattered throughout the area.

On the opposite side of the visitor's center is an area I personally found even more interesting. A marvelous collection of mature bamboo, with several different varieties was amazing. Then came the 'Native Woodland Trail.' It's an old natural area with sink holes, huge live oak trees and native wild grapes, with vines as big around as my leg. They were entwined around the ancient oaks and other old native trees.

After walking for some time through this natural beauty, I arrived in an open area. Rows of bright white chairs were being set up for an outdoor wedding. What a fabulous location for such an event!

I then followed another path into a more wooded area and came out at the lily pond. There were some small lilies, but I'm looking forward to my summer visit when I can see the giant lily pads that first attracted me to this lovely garden.

Address: 4700 SW 58th Dr., Gainesville, FL,32608 (352) 372-4981

The word Kanapaha is taken from two Timucua Indian words "palmetto leaf" and "house." The original residents of the area were Timucua Indians. They lived in thatched houses in a small village on the shores of the 250 acre lake they called Kanapaha. The lake is adjacent to the gardens.

Although now retired, Don Goodman is still full of energy and very visible in the gardens. His daughter Alexis is the current director.

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