Garden Inspiration from St. Augustine

How are gardens in St. Augustine different from any others in Northern Florida? Well, to begin with, they're tropical. Not tropical in the strictest sense, but its coastal location keeps winters gentle enough to grow tropical plants that would perish just inland. History has also been kind to St. Augustine, with influences reaching back to the Spanish occupied 1500's, resulting in a smorgasbord of inspiration for a gardener like myself!

My wife and I embarked on a very short journey to nearby St. Augustine, where we made camp at a decadent bed and breakfast and explored the eclectic and ancient city by foot and by bike. While it was officially an anniversary trip, I'm always on the lookout for great ideas and inspiration, of which St. Augustine has plenty. Pencils and notebooks in hand, we sketched the sights and lost ourselves in a maze of lushly planted gardens and brick roads. It was just the vacation we needed.

A green anole on variegated shell ginger.

Passiflora 'Incense'

These ti plants perfectly complement the paint on this wall.

Mediterranean styled stucco houses sat a mere foot away from wooden British Colonial ones, and gardens sprouted anywhere they could grab a foothold. A row of Cuban buttercups rose out of nothing more than a crack between bricks and a wall, and the bright yellow flowers nodded across the street to window boxes and hanging baskets. Ferns coated the tops of walls and roofs and bougainvillea vines grappled with passionflower vines on palm trees and telephone poles. Nature made a garden anywhere man might have missed, and the look is one of timelessness and antiquity.

Though messy looking, his front yard vegetable garden is kept neat with its coquina walls.

A work in progress for a living history museum, this raised bed garden keeps things more formal.

Where enough space exists for a real garden, homeowners have made the most of their prime real estate. Some have constructed fountains, walls and grottoes out of the coquina limestone, while others have replaced the aptly named St. Augustinegrass lawns with collard greens and squashes.

Red Passionflower climbing a residence's wall.

Creeping fig wrapped around many of the walls, occasionally growing to maturity and growing real figs.

An entire garden fits in a little nook against the cathedral.

A potted Cuban buttercup against the stark white walls of a Greek Orthodox church.

My favorite gardens were the ones that took up the least room, filling the space between the streets and the property's walls. Often these spots have been elevated and held in by another wall against the curb, and sometimes the arrangements have even more levels, providing a world of interest within as little as a foot of depth. House numbers family names are emblazoned on weathered looking plaques, adding to the air of permanence.

Our bed and breakfast, the Bayfront Marin.

The view from our B and B facing the bay. The restaurant across the street lets you feed the fish while you eat!

Our beach cruiser rentals, courtesy of The Bayfront Marin.

Our bed and breakfast (The Bayfront Marin) did have a carpet of grass but the several arching palms and hammock made it seem more like a playground than a run of the mill lawn. We enjoyed sangria and lemonade in the courtyard and nibbled on appetizers and cookies from our swinging bench. The very same bougainvillea that rambled alongside the porch found its way into the dining room and our bedroom as bright purple bracts in folded towels and stems tucked into bud vases. Their garden was beautiful as well as functional. I might also add that everything else about the B and B, from the price to the service, was top notch. One of our favorite amenities was the use of beach cruiser bicycles, which we rode all over the downtown area.

Tillandsias for sale! I bought six.

Bunch grapes in Florida?

Colocasia in an old fountain.

The main tourist attraction was St. George Street, but apart from a few boutiques, a shell shop and a store where we purchased some passionfruit wine, the street was hot, tacky and filled with a mix of screaming kids and lounging homeless men. The city has acknowledged a homeless 'problem,' but for the most part, the vagrants were benign and the ones I briefly talked to were pleasantly surprised that I actually acknowledged them. Many of the shops on St. George Street were nothing more than chains, and the souvenir shops were filled with branded 'Life is Good' merchandise, Crocs and other things that could be bought back home.

The nearby neighborhood of Lincolnville was far more interesting than the faux museums and made up St. George Street because the Victorian houses were real and the live oaks provided welcome shade. This neighborhood was created by freed slaves, named after President Lincoln and eventually became a hotbed for the civil rights movement.They even have a nice civil rights museum in the works, if all goes to plan.

Aviles Street. You can practically hear the Frenchmen and harmonicas.

One of our favorite areas was Aviles Street, and the buildings' weathered facades had a more authentic feel than the glossy Disney-fied shops of St. George Street. Window boxes, container plantings and hanging baskets brought me back to my childhood days in Germany, and a few museums hid beautiful gardens behind their stuccoed walls.

A collage of sketchbook entries from our visit!

The best way to describe the gardens of St. Augustine is 'eclectic,' and everybody's vision of St. Augustine is different. Some homeowners and shopkeepers stay true to the British, Spanish and American colonial influences, while others re-imagine their gardens and homes as if they were designed by Jimmy Buffet. The most thrilling part of St. Augustine for me is its variety; having the opportunity to see several architectural styles and hundreds of different plants in a single neighborhood block. It's a wallop of inspiration for the gardener and artist in a rut.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. I'm headed to St. Augustine Memorial Day weekend -- thanks for the "what to look for," Steve. I'll definitely have camera in tow, but sketchbook? Not so much!

  2. What an interesting place. I'm glad you both enjoyed your break and sounds just what you needed.

    1. Thanks! I don't think we've ever been more relaxed.

  3. What a lovely visit. Just love that intense blue passionflower.

    1. It smells AMAZING! I've had it in my garden for a few years and would grow it for the smell alone.

  4. You certainly have an artist's eye in your photos as well as sketches. St. Augustine is one of my favorite places in Florida. Beautiful victorian homes and small but bursting at the seams gardens are easily accessible on foot. What a great treat to have bikes at your disposal. I agree about St. George St. Too bad so many places have become commercialized and bland.

    1. Thanks NanaK! A lot of my favorite places in Florida seem to be going this route. Even Winter Park has a stretch of monotonous stores!

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  5. I love St. Augustine and your post made it feel like I was actually walking through its streets. Thanks for the trip!!! Great sketches!!!

    1. Thanks! If you ever decide to visit, the Christmas light display is award winning!

  6. You got some wonderful pics. St. Augustine is one of my favorite cities to visit. Enjoy your stay!

    1. Thanks, Susan! We had a blast and can't wait to visit again, at the same bed and breakfast. Having a great 'base camp' makes a huge difference!

  7. What great pictures! I love St. Augustine! Living in Orlando, it's one of the locations that I love to daytrip to often. Last time that we went, we also did some local geocaching. It was great because it brought me to a few more places in St. Augustine that I had never visited before.


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