Experience Leu Gardens in Florida

When you think of going to Orlando in Florida for a holiday, you will probably think of all the well known venues that are there to visit. For instance Disney World and Universal Studios will probably be high on your list of places to go.

Don’t restrict yourself to the obvious locations to visit. Make sure you also visit some of the lesser known ones, such as Leu Gardens for example.

Your first reaction will probably be, “What are the Leu Gardens? I’ve never even heard of them.” This is common – not many people outside Orlando in Florida know what these gardens are, and they may not even be remotely familiar to them.

In actual fact Leu Gardens is a wonderful place to see because it is just about as far away as you could get from the traditional theme parks that are dotted all over Orlando. There are 50 acres to explore once you get here, so the best bet is to pack up a picnic, get yourself some supplies for the day and prepare to enjoy as much of the gardens as you possibly can.

We have a man called Harry Leu to thank for the gardens that now bear his name. He was an amateur botanist and he had a passion for camellias among other things. You can see plenty of evidence of this throughout the gardens, since there are thousands of them in situ all over the place.

Mr Leu and his wife originally bought the land on which the gardens stand back in the ’30s. They also bought a house here and you can see it when you visit the gardens. Their love of plants extended to bringing lots of different ones back from all corners of the world. These included the famous camellias.

Eventually they decided to give the house and the grounds over to Orlando itself. They would no doubt be proud of how the gardens have been continued on and kept in pristine condition ever since.

One of the most delightful areas of the gardens is the Butterfly Garden. As the name would suggest this is the best opportunity you have to see plenty of butterflies enjoying the surroundings that have been put together especially for them. The good news is that this particular area has been put together to ensure you can see butterflies no matter what time of the year you happen to visit Orlando. This is just one of the delights you will see when visiting the Leu Gardens during your time in Orlando.

Butterfly Nursery, Orlando FL

How Our Fascination with Butterflies Started

Chuck and I have been married for 34 years and spend a lot of our time walking in the great parks and nature areas here in Central Florida. Our lives changed when I saw a butterfly laid an egg on a plant. I decided to bring the egg home and try to nurture it to adulthood by setting up a Butterfly Nursery inside the house. I have introduced Gulf Fritillary and Viceroy Butterflies into our yard where there weren’t any before. I have been doing this for two years, now. The nature trail where we found the butterfly egg that started it all, we call it Butterfly Lane.

The Nursery

My butterfly nursery has three “rooms”: the kindergarten, where I keep butterfly eggs and the very, very small, newly hatched caterpillars, the second area, the playground, is where I keep the larger ‘pillars until they become chrysalises, and the last area, the morphing station, is where I keep all the chrysalises until they hatch.

The Kindergarten

I keep the eggs I find in small plastic container. When I find an egg to bring home, I get either the whole sucker shoot that the egg is on or a cutting with at least six other leaves on it. The suckers will stay fresher longer and often will root. The cuttings stay fresher than just one leaf, and the cuttings will sometimes root, also. I keep the water for the plants fresh and I use small, tall bottles to minimize the area where the little ‘pillars might fall into the water. The best containers are the water tubes that florists use to keep single flowers fresh because the cap on the tube fits closely around the stem. The only problem with the tubes is that they work well for the cuttings but the sucker plants are usually too big for them. I don’t put the little ones in with the bigger caterpillars because the big ones will eat across a leaf and a piece of the leaf might fall to the bottom of the container. If a little one fell, I might not rescue it in time. I have even had larger caterpillars chew through the leaf they’re on and fall, thump, to the bottom of the container. So, after my little ‘pillars have molted several times, then I move them over to the area where I keep the big boys. Eggs and ‘pillars are your starting point. We have harvested Gulf Fritillary and Viceroy Eggs and caterpillars from our walks on the nature trail. My success rate for Gulf Fritillaries this season is almost 100%. The success rate in the wild is only about 40%. We release adult butterflies back where we initially harvested the eggs and into our yard. I found a place where I can get FREE Monarch and Viceroy Eggs. I plan to buy Zebra Longwing eggs next season. The host plant for both the Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Butterflies is the passion vine. The Gulf Fritillaries like the vine to be in the sun, but the Zebras prefer the vine growing in the shade. We already have the passion vine established in our yard; we just need to plant some cuttings in a shady area. There is place where you can get free butterfly eggs at a butterfly farm near Gainesville. (GO GATORS!)

The Playground

The playground area consists of two plastic containers, a smaller one inside a larger one. The smaller container is where I keep the caterpillars, their food and the jungle gym. The top picture is the jungle gym before I removed all the seed pods and trimmed up the branches. The lower picture is of the inner container with leaves to eat and the jungle gym to climb on. One ‘pillar decided to “chrysalize” on the container rather than on the branches provided. The sucker plants or cuttings are in tall jars or bottles with small mouths to minimize the risk of drowning. I change the water every day or so and I change the plants when they start to wilt or when the ‘pillars munch them down to skeletons. The smaller container is lined with paper towels to make cleanup easier. I clean out the frass (caterpillar poop) every other day and make sure the leaves touch the jungle gym, where the ‘pillars can climb and make their chrysalises. The larger container acts as a barrier of sorts to keep the ‘pillars confined. Occasionally, a caterpillar will try to escape or make its chrysalis on the container itself, rather than on the branch provided. My nursery is not enclosed so we can watch all the miraculous changes the eggs and caterpillars go through to become butterflies. Below are a couple of ‘pillar that went off the reservation: One made its chrysalis on the edge of a piece of paper taped to end of the book case and the other, on the wall behind the desk. As I wrote this, two large Viceroy caterpillars were in a face off that lasted 15 minutes. Neither one would give up its position on the willow leaf they were on. Later, they decided to make their chrysalises on separate stems. When the leaves get dry, I can actually hear the caterpillars chewing!

Top Tips For Landscape Installation in Orlando

A perk of living in Orlando is the ability to grow fantastic, lush, tropical-looking plants and flowers year-round. For a fun and functional landscape installation in Orlando, follow these top ten tips.

1) Get help: Do it yourself projects can be fun or disastrous. While installing a landscape seems like it might be fun and easy, it is even more fun to have a team of landscape installation professionals do it for you, so you can enjoy your garden.

2) Research your plant selections: (Or make sure that your landscape installation contractor does research) For the most beautiful, year-round landscape in Orlando, you will want to select a variety of plants that bloom throughout the year. Additionally, not everything that grows in Orlando is evergreen, so you will want to choose some plants that are evergreen for foundation plantings.

3) Secure proper landscape installation permits: This is another area where are qualified landscape installation professional in Orlando can help. Planting a few flowers does not require a permit. Digging a well and installing a complete irrigation system does require permits.

4) Think about watering: Central Florida is rainy in the summer and dry in the winter-usually. However, Florida has been experiencing a drought over the last few years. In order to maintain a beautiful yard in Florida, you will need to water it. If you do not have an irrigation system, and you are planning a major landscape renovation, you will need to think about installing one. It is better to do this before you plant everything! If you do not wish to install an irrigation system, select plants that, once established, need little water.

5) Prepare a Landscape Design: Plan before you plant is a good mantra for landscape installation. You do not need to be a landscape architect to design a pretty foundation planting and flower beds. There are many internet resources, books and magazines available to help you. Planning ahead will help you control your spending at the nursery, and be realistic about the number of plants you need. (You will often need more plants than you thought!)

6) Plant for the Future: With its warm temperatures and rainy summers, Orlando is a great place for plants to grow-fast. When you install your landscape, be certain to give your plants room to grow. It might look like you have a lot of bare space for the first month or so, but sooner than you would expect, your landscape will be lush and beautiful.

7) Safety first: Whether you are installing a commercial or residential landscape in Florida, consider safety a number one priority. A certified landscape contractor should know the ins and outs of safety codes. Additionally, if you are installing your landscape yourself, you can read about types of paving to use or not use, and types of plants that are better than others. For example, if you have children, you will want to avoid planting oleander. While oleander is a beautiful flowering shrub, it is better for large-scale installations at places like airports or shopping malls. It is highly poisonous, and you would not want to risk your child deciding to eat it! (Children eat everything!) Doing a little bit of research before your landscape installation in Orlando will go a long way toward helping you create a beautiful, functional and fun landscape.