When you are ready for a change from the beach and towns along the Panhandle’s Highway 30A, head for Eden Gardens State Park.
Just 20 minutes inland, you’ll find a restful manicured green respite from the sun-blasted white sand dunes and emerald waters.
Eden Gardens State Park preserves a stately 1897 white mansion with columns and a big wrap-around porch.
The home wasn’t open the day we visited, and we didn’t care, really. It was enough that the mansion looks beautiful surrounded by magnificent trees and grassy expanses with fountains and sculptures. The grounds spread over 163 acres on the waterfront overlooking Tucker Bayou at the eastern corner of Choctawhatchee Bay.
The gardens are not formal plantings of flowers, but instead offer a bounty of flowering camellias and azaleas and specimen trees.
We’ll return some day to tour the house, which has an interesting story, but I think the park grounds are worth a stroll on their own.
The mansion at Eden Gardens State Park
You can tour the house with a group hourly 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Monday. (The house is closed to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as certain holidays.) Tours last approximately 30 to 45 minutes and a small fee is charged for the tour.
The house has an impressive collection of antiques, including some from the 1790s. Heiress Lois Maxon, who had worked as a reporter for the New York World-Telegram, bought the house for $12,500 in 1963. It had been vacant for 10 years and she spent $1 million renovating it. Then she donated it to the state park system in 1968.
Before Maxon bought it, the home was occupied by its original family, the Wesleys, who settled here at a community called Point Washington, home to sawmills and docks to ship lumber on the bay. The Wesleys lived here from 1897 to 1953.
The grounds of Eden Gardens State Park
We found the gardens to be lovely in November, but peak bloom for the azaleas and camellias is January to March. You’ll find some blooms from October through May and we were thrilled to see a few beautiful camellias blooming on our November visit. There are 100 varieties of camellias here and both native and non-native azaleas.
The gardens also include a heritage rose garden and a reflection pond with water lilies and koi fish.
As you stroll the beautiful grounds, you’ll think it is just the place to have a wedding. Lots of people have had that realization and there is a magnificent 600 year old live oak that is named the Wedding Tree because so many people have said their vows here.
Pick up a brochure for the Living Shoreline Trail from the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance for information identifying interesting tree specimens including another romantic one, the kissing trees, which are two trees entwined, a hickory and a slash pine, proving opposites attract. (You can see the trail info here.)
There is about a mile of walking trails in the park.
The grounds extend down to the beautiful waterfront where there is a canoe launch. (You can drive to the boat ramp at the end of County Highway 395 at Point Washington Landing to launch from your car.)
It takes about 45 minutes to walk the garden portion of the park at a leisurely pace. For the $4 per car admission, it’s well worth a visit.
Annual event: The Camellia Festival is held every February. The 2022 date is Feb 12, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to seeing the flowers, the park’s friends group provides educational displays and presentations. Friends of Eden Gardens State Park
Eden Gardens State Park
181 Eden Gardens Road
Santa Rosa Beach FL 32459
Find more beauty spots in our guide to 19 Florida botanical gardens.
Florida Rambler has these additional related stories about the Panhandle
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.