In late winter, azaleas create ribbons of bright color beneath the live oak canopy across the grounds of Maclay Gardens. When Alfred B. Maclay purchased an antebellum quail-hunting lodge as a retirement home in 1923, he turned his landscape design skills to the surrounding hills. Several years after he died, his widow opened the formal gardens as a tourist attraction, turning it over to the state of Florida in 1954.
Fees: $4-6 per vehicle plus $3-6 per person garden entry fee Jan-Apr
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily, gardens 9-5 daily
Three camellias in a bowl near the door: that was what Louise Fleischman Maclay asked for whenever the manor house was open once she deeded her family’s grand plantation estate to the State of Florida . It started as Killearn Plantation and Gardens in 1923, the Maclays, Alfred and Louise, gathering camellias from around the world to add to their growing collection of gardens. Alfred was known for his love of camellias, and visitors from around the world would bring him specimens of unique varieties.
Today, the extensive gardens along Lake Hall include dozens of hidden niches and pools as well as a Noah’s Ark of Florida native species. The flow of form is subtle: As you approach the house, the grounds yield from wild woodlands to formal Italianate walled gardens, with burbling fountains and stands of cypress. Prime blooming months run from December to early summer, but the gardens are a joy to explore any time of year.
Covering more than 1,000 acres, the park also includes the Lake Overstreet Addition, a wild, wooded area with miles of hiking and biking trails in deep ravines, as well as places for equestrians to ride.