From its humble beginnings to today

Established as the only epiphyte botanical gardens in the world

Holiday Lights at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Holiday Lights - This cavern of lights at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens lit up the grounds along the bamboo trail in December, one of the special events last year.

We love our art in Sarasota. There are many venues to see traveling displays of art from all over the world. One great place would be the Ringling Museum and the legacy of art John and Mable left for us to view for many years. So you may think that it would be a great location for a Rainforest Masks of Costa Rica exhibit, but it is included in an exhibit at another historic landmark in Sarasota, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

Selby Gardens celebrates art with its horticultural displays. It is much more, concentrating its mission to continue as a living museum, center for education, research and conservation. And it is just south of downtown on Sarasota Bay.

At times throughout the year there are special events such as the Holiday Lights in December pictured here. The rainforest masks exhibit continues to January 28 when they begin setting up the next exhibit, Warhol, Flowers in the Factory. The exhibit will display some of Andy Warhol’s 10,000 images of flowers in his pop culture artistry. The exhibit begins February 11 and runs through June 30. There are special performances each month during that period to highlight Warhol’s artwork. The Sarasota Opera on February 21, Perlman Music Program on March 14, the Sarasota Ballet on April 11 and the Florida Studio Theatre on May 16. To help celebrate the three-week Sarasota Music Festival, the Sarasota Orchestra will perform a concert on June 13.

It is a wonderful location for a wedding, where you can have it all in one place. Start in the Schimmel Wedding Lawn and Pavilion, then have your guests relax on the bay lawn with cocktails and hors’ d'oeuvres. Complete the day at Michael’s on the Bay at Selby Gardens, a masterpiece of culinary delight in a wonderful facility. The sunset views will treat your guests to a spectacular display of oranges melting with the blue sky and water.

History of Selby Gardens - The premier of botany in Sarasota

The Selby family of Marie and William were outdoorsmen and travelers, originally from Marietta, Ohio where they were married in 1908. Her father invented parts for oil drilling and William was a partner with his father in the very profitable Selby Oil and Gas Company. Selby Oil merged in 1946 with the Texas Company to form Texaco.

The couple moved to Sarasota in the 1920s and built a home on seven acres of land. Despite their wealth, they had a modest home among the laurel and banyan trees. Their integration with Sarasota society was hindered by their devotion to the plant life that surrounded them.

Orchids at Selby Garden
Orchids are used for education, research and art, a predominant epiphytic plant at Selby Gardens.

As one story is told, Marie did not favor the urban growth of the area, particularly that in construction by John Ringling and Owen Burns. While construction of the first Ringling Bridge was taking place the couple shielded the bridge from view with a wall of local foliage. Their passions had become gardening, cattle ranching and boating. Before William died in 1956 he established the William and Marie Selby Foundation to support local education, health and the arts. It established programs for children, libraries, health services and the elderly. When she died in 1971 at the age of 86 the botanical grounds were bequeathed to the community.

The Gardens - Continuing the foundation for today and the future

The board of directors chose to specialize in epiphytic plants to distinguish the gardens from any other botanical gardens in the nation. Today it is distinguished as the only epiphyte gardens in the world. Orchids are epiphytic plants, which take their nourishment from the air and rain. Snails, algae and molluscs are marine epiphytes. The gardens were doubled in size with the purchase of land where the Payne Mansion rested and opened to the public in 1975. Today a Strategic plan for 2021 will bolster its prominence in the world to drive attendance and continue the legacy of the Selbys.

Many of the education programs are directed toward children. The Little Sprouts Club is a monthly gathering of preschoolers and their families in the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden to explore the plants in this habitat. Schools can arrange for their classrooms to visit Selby Gardens with either self-guided or fully guided tours of the grounds. New this past summer, Camp Lookout taught children ages 6 to 11 about the world of plants around them in morning sessions, while Camp Look!Art! explored the world of art in afternoon sessions. These sessions quickly sold out.

There are classes in health, photography, horticulture and art. The Academy of Botanical Art at Selby Gardens is a partnership with Olivia Marie Braida-Chiusano, founder of the Academy of Botanical Art. Ten Steps, written by Olivia Marie, serves as the foundation instructional book for the course. It is a self-paced course where the student can advance to the level of their artistic goals.

Morgan's moth at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Wonders from the botany world! - This encased Morgan's Sphinx Moth from Africa is similar to the moth that Charles Darwin theorized had a proboscis, when unfurled, was long enough to reach the nectar at the end of the orchid spur he was researching in Madascar.

There are many opportunities to get involved to help more than 130,000 visitors who attend Selby Gardens each year, open every day except Christmas. Volunteers serve as guides for the seven greenhouses and five other buildings on the 15 acres of land. Volunteers also assist in the many lectures by experts in the field of botany. The next lecture is January 26, Creative Learning from Nature with Dr. Kanchi N. Gandhi. He is the Senior Nomenclatural Registrar at the Harvard University Herbaria to discuss how scientists learn from nature. He will also speak on ancient philosophies of plants such as Lotus plants and some of the problems in botanical naming conventions. For more information on Selby Gardens visit their website at

You may not have a shot at the Payne Mansion, but there are many more opportunities to purchase a good home in Sarasota. I listed a completely renovated residence last week in the Longboat Beach House community at 4311 Gulf of Mexico Dr, #601. Nestled in a corner spot, this beautiful two-bedroom residence is offered turnkey furnished and ready for you to move right into. Please contact me at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing or if you have a property to sell or buy.

Address List Price Media Slideshow
4311 Gulf of Mexico Dr, #601 $695,000   Photo Slideshow

* Special Thanks. Photos courtesy of Selby Gardens volunteer, Kathrin Harris.


Call us at (941) 387-1840 for an exclusive showing