Established in 1937 as a memorial to world-renowned horticulturalist Theodore L. Mead, Winter Garden’s original showcase of camellias was reclaimed in the late 1950s.
Community volunteers enhanced the aging and largely forgotten camellia gardens with nature trails, boardwalks, and formal plantings.
Today, this public garden is a city park for Winter Park, a prime host for community events shaded by its well-knit canopy of live oaks in the uplands.
The 50s-style outdoor amphitheater remains a favorite for weddings, with concerts now held on the new modern Grove Stage, natural wetlands a backdrop.
Volunteers are still the core of keeping the gardens and trails in good shape, with a recent rebuild of half of the Lake Lillian boardwalk a delight to discover.
The Orlando Urban Trail bike path slips in through one back gate, and residents can also walk in through another.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Winter Park
Length: 1 mile loop
Trailhead: 28.58435, -81.35786
Address: 1300 S Denning Dr, Winter Park
Restroom: Adjoining the main parking area
Land manager: City of Winter Park
Open 8 AM until dusk. Leashed pets permitted except in picnic areas and restrooms. Clean up after your pet.
Free guided birding and botanical walks are sometimes led by volunteers. To see the long-established camellias bloom, visit late January-early February.
The park hosts many weekend special events and weddings so check ahead before you visit or you may find it very busy.
From Interstate 4 in Orlando, take the Princeton Street exit east towards the Orlando Science Center. Turn left on N Orange Avenue and follow it past Florida Hospital for 1.6 miles, crossing US 17/92 in Winter Park. Turn right onto S Denning Drive. Continue 0.4 mile; the park gate will be on the left.
Start your walk at the Mead Garden amphitheater, following a path along the edge of it downhill into the shade of the oaks.
Aim for the large trailhead kiosk. Adjoined by a Little Free Library, it calls your attention to the Grover Trail, the nature trail established in 1956.
Walk out into the sunshine along the edge of a forested swamp, under a mulberry tree and past a series of showy gardens in the shade of the oaks.
The Grove Stage comes into view, perched along the wetlands. Head for the now-obvious boardwalk entrance.
The newest iteration of the Lake Lillian Boardwalk curves and zigzags above the marsh cradled by a sinkhole, quickly putting the Grove Stage at your back.
Virginia willow, red maple, and loblolly bay rise from a carpet of aquatic plants below, primarily lizard’s-tail (saururus cernuus)
Over two decades ago, when Sandra was leading hikes here, this boardwalk was much more extensive.
At two different curves, you see rotting remnants of the original posts and decking. The current boardwalk has been rebuilt at least twice since the old one was abandoned.
The Lake Lillian boardwalk empties out onto a natural-surface path 0.2 mile from the parking area. Veer left at this junction.
Turn left to join a footpath paralleling Howell Creek downstream. This waterway forms the eastern boundary of Mead Botanical Garden.
It riffles over roots and through cypress knees, and splashes its way around curves where large and mostly older residences rise well above its floodplain.
Cross two different bridges over the outflow of the Lake Lillian marsh in this deeply shaded corridor along Howell Creek.
The second, sturdier one is just after a fence where the old boardwalk joined this trail. Beyond it, the trail curves past a side trail leading towards a retention area.
Atop a small bluff, it reaches the back gate at Pennsylvania Avenue at 0.3 mile. Retrace your steps back across the two bridges, with better views of Howell Creek in this direction.
Go straight past the trail junction to the boardwalk. Edged by cypress knees, the footpath continues to offer glimpses of the creek.
Passing behind the outdoor amphitheater and Azalea Lodge, the trail provides access to both as well as to a small sitting area along the creek at 0.6 mile.
Beyond the 1956 Grover Trail monument, a bridge with interpretive signs recounting the history of Winter Park spans the outflow of Alice’s Pond.
Sitting below Azalea Lodge, the pond is a prime spot for birders and the most likely place in the gardens to find an alligator sunning.
The gravel pathway turns away from the pond into a shaded corridor not far from it, emerging at a stand of blue flag iris adjoining a bridge.
The bridge crosses the inflow of Howell Creek into the pond. On the other side is another little sitting nook for birding beneath the cypresses.
You can follow the edge of Alice’s Pond here to loop back to the parking area for a 0.8 mile walk, but we continued to follow Howell Creek upstream.
Flowing through cypress knees, the creek basin provides enough shade and forage to attract many songbirds to its edges.
Reach a junction with the incoming Orlando Urban Trail bike path at 0.7 mile. Turn right and follow the paved path briefly.
The bike path can be used to reach the original gardens in the northwest corner, but an event setup was underway so we shortened the potential 1.3 mile perimeter loop.
Take the first bark chip path that heads into the grassy area beneath the live oaks. This is where most of the special events go on.
Keep right at each trail junction, passing a shed and pumphouse before meeting cross trails coming in from the other side of the loop.
Follow the upper trail above the pond straight ahead in the direction of Azalea Lodge to complete a 1 mile loop back at the Grover Trail kiosk.
See our photos of Mead Botanical Garden
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
A series of lakes connected by charming canals offers a unique paddling experience near the heart of historic Winter Park.
Fifty acres of formal gardens hug Lake Rowena in this historic display of botanical diversity in Orlando.
At one of Orlando’s oldest parks, the lush ravine protected by Dickson Azalea Park provides a scenic walk along Fern Creek any time of year.