Pan’s Garden in Palm Beach is something of an insider destination. I discovered it after window shopping on iconic Worth Avenue. On the way to my car, I stumbled across this pocket of greenery just a block north of downtown.
Covering a mere half-acre of land – less than half a football field – this carefully curated gem is filled with Florida’s native plants. In fact, this Palm Beach island garden is the state’s only all-native botanical garden. If you are unfamiliar with native plants, you’ll quickly see that compared to non-native or exotic plants – think bougainvillea, hibiscus and ixora – they are much less showy.
Those gloriously flowering imports have been brought in over the years from Asia, South America, Africa and the Caribbean by plant lovers, collectors, landscapers and explorers not to mention smugglers.
Once here, many of these exotics became invasive, crowding out and replacing native species that had evolved over eons.
During their evolution, the natives developed mechanisms that let them thrive in our sunny, salty and windy climate. And an interdependence grew between the native plants and native wildlife. So today, you can’t have one without the other.
As you see the monarch butterflies fluttering in the garden, think about how these beauties cannot reproduce unless there are milkweed leaves available to hold butterfly eggs that grow into caterpillars that eat the leaves before continuing to metamorphose into a butterfly.
Nature on display in Palm Beach island garden
One of the main reasons to come to this garden is to enjoy and learn more about native plants and the birds, bees, insects and butterflies they sustain and attract.
Signage throughout the garden can help you identify what species of plants you are seeing.
As you begin to wander, you’ll quickly discover the manmade pond that is the focus of a wetland habitat. The soil removed during the creation of this pond was used to make a slightly elevated area for upland plants.
Along the sunny southern border of the garden is an open and airy walkway that you enter between a pair of handsome Simpson stoppers. The path is lined with beautiful but lesser-known native wildflowers such as Havana skullcap and beach Jacquemontia.
And before you leave, don’t miss seeing the massive live oak that, at the inception of the garden, was trucked from Central Florida to be planted on the manmade rise of the upland area. Just in time for the garden’s 25th Anniversary in 2019, it was designated an Historic and Specimen Tree by the Town of Palm Beach.
Man’s contributions to Palm Beach island garden
Besides nature’s handiwork, this garden displays man’s artwork.
A diminutive statue of Pan of Rohallion that was created in 1890 by Frederick MacMonnies beckons at the entryway. The mythical half boy, half goat is the ancient god of shepherds who protects and guards the flocks.
The original statue of was commissioned in 1887 by Edward Dean Adams to grace his New Jersey estate named Rohallion after a place in Scotland. It measured seven feet tall. The Pan you see here is one of a dozen smaller versions cast around the same time.
The west border of the garden is a fountain that features a colorful wall crafted from tiles imported from Portugal and bought from Mizner Industries.
The estate was designed by Abram Garfield, son of president James A. Garfield who was assassinated in 1881. The wall was donated to the garden in 1999 when the estate was subdivided.
How the Palm Beach island garden got its start
Under the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, part of the garden’s mission was to be a botanical garden of native plants. But over the years, nonnatives crept into the mix.
With the appointment of Susan Lerner as Director of Horticultural in the summer of 2018, the garden has been returned to its native roots.
Lunch time at garden on Palm Beach island
If your day includes a number of Palm Beach activities, I suggest you take your lunch break at Pan’s Garden. Plan ahead and bring a picnic or stop in West Palm Beach for takeout before coming to the barrier island.
But to be more spur-of-the-moment, order online or by phone from a nearby takeout spot and pick up your meal.
The following options are within walking distance:
The Sandwich Shop (part of Buccan restaurant). You can learn more and order online at the restaurant website
Pastry Heaven is known for its, yes, sushi. Yelp information
If you eat here, carefully and completely clean up after yourselves so you don’t leave trash to spoil the natural surroundings or attract wildlife. And feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited. Trash receptacles are next to the restroom and water cooler.
If you go to Pan’s Garden
Address: 386 Hibiscus Ave., Palm Beach
Open: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; closed during maintenance and private events.
Parking: On street there is some free parking and some pay spots. There’s also a paid parking lot across the street. More info: Call 832-0731 ext. 113 or visit the garden website
More to do on Palm Beach island
Pan’s is a small garden and although some people stay for hours, others are through more quickly. But don’t worry, there are a large variety of other things to fill your day in Palm Beach. Some of these are listed here in rough order of their distance (closest to farthest) from Pan’s Garden:
- Stroll nearby Worth Avenue for a high-end shopping experience or just a little window shopping. And don’t miss the living wall of plants toward its eastern end.
- Only a 5-minute walk from Pan’s Garden, there is the Earl E.T. Smith Preservation Park , another newly renovated pocket garden. It too is under the care of Susan Lerner and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.
- Visit The Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden and Four Arts Botanical Gardens on the campus of The Society of the Four Arts.
- Bike along the water past the backyards of mansions on the Lake Trail. (This is one of Florida Rambler’s favorites. In the article, you’ll see where you can rent bikes.)
- Tour Whitehall, Henry Flagler’s Gilded Estate completed in 1902.
- Here are 10 ways to enjoy Palm Beach island history, beauty & recreation from Florida Rambler.
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Deborah Hartz-Seeley is a Master Gardener whose yard is certified as Florida Friendly. With a master’s degree in agricultural journalism, she’s written for the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald, The Coastal Star, Cook’s Magazine, Florida Food & Farm and Florida Design. If she’s not out back growing things, you’ll find her wandering a garden path or exploring nature on foot, on a bike or in a kayak.