This new public garden in Punta Gorda was a surprise. I expected a small-town, small-scale garden — something modest, pretty but ordinary.
But Peace River Botanical Gardens wowed me, both with what I experienced on my visit and what is planned for the future.
The gardens opened in 2017 on 11 acres of gorgeous waterfront on the south side of the wide Peace River east of Punta Gorda.
From the start, it had a unique vision – to showcase the natural beauty of the property along with gardens of botanicals, all complementing the spectacular sculptures displayed throughout. Its full name is Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens.
The garden is still being developed. Over the next decade, it will grow to fill 30 acres with features such as a café, an amphitheater and a museum.
Peace River Gardens exhibits a wide variety of Florida flora: bougainvillea and hibiscus in all shades of vivid color, many kinds of bromeliads, palms of all types, and more. Everything is well labeled.
The gardens are lovely now but will get better over the years as the plants and trees become larger.
Considerable investment also went into helping visitors experience the site’s natural splendor. A long boardwalk leads through the mangroves to an area that will be the site of a future museum. Another boardwalk ends with a sweeping view of the Peace River.
A beautiful wooden bridge arches over a waterway and will lead to trails in a forest with stately live oaks. (Currently, it’s a bridge to nowhere because that area is still being developed.)
What makes Peace River Botanical Gardens special, though, are the sculptures carefully placed around the grounds, positioned in spectacular eye-catching settings.
There are hyper-realistic statues, including one of a woman “floating” on an inner tube in a pool. There’s a dramatic kinetic sculpture that gently moves in the breeze, reflecting the surroundings in its mirror-like finish. There’s a huge metal sculpture set in the mangroves looking like the remains of a giant ancient ship.
The sculptures, monumental and often whimsical, are easy to appreciate. You do not need an art degree to enjoy them.
The visitor parks and starts on the south side of Riverside Drive and follows a trail past plantings and smaller sculptures. The trail crosses that road and leads to the most impressive area, where there is a large building surrounded by pools of water, plantings and sculptures.
Beyond that, close to the river, you can follow a boardwalk through the mangroves and you’ll cross a bridge that ends with a locked gate and a view of a lavish home.
The founding of Peace River Botanical Gardens
The waterfront estate adjacent to the gardens is the home of the founders, Roger and Linda Tetrault. Peace River Gardens was their dream and the home will eventually be a museum that is part of the gardens.
Tetrault, who lived to see the garden open after a dozen years of planning, died in January 2020. A U. S. Naval Academy graduate, his distinguished career in business included being a senior executive with defense contractor General Dynamics and CEO and Chairman of the Board of McDermott International, one of the world’s largest offshore oil exploration and construction companies.
The Tetraults funded the creation of the garden through their family foundation and selected and donated many of the sculptures. A separate entity, Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens Inc., operates the gardens and will undertake fundraising to support and expand it.
Tips for visiting Peace River Botanical Gardens
- A few experiences not to overlook: There’s a butterfly garden in a building on the parking-lot side of the property. Also: the pond on the north side of the road is full of beautiful koi fish. You can buy food for them in the gift shop, but we also found holding your hand out AS IF to feed them accomplishes the same thing – they gather and swim to the top so you can see them better.
- Previous visitors rave about the free docent tours. Call ahead to find out about availability. The tours are limited to nine people and masks are required.
- There are restrooms in the gift shop in the large building on the north side of the property. (There’s a portapotty in the parking lot.)
- Seeing the gardens involves a good amount of walking and there is not extensive shade for the summer months. If you’re coming on a sunny day, bring a hat. In summer, you also can rent umbrellas as sun protection.
- Make a day of it: A great place to have lunch or dinner is just minutes away at an authentic seafood shack that specializes in fresh fish and especially crabs. Peace River Seafood
Peace River Botanical Gardens
5800 Riverside Drive, Punta Gorda
Admission: Ages 5 and under free; students (6-17): $9; adults: $18; seniors (65+): $15. Note: Pick up a copy of the Punta Gorda area tourist map and there is currently a coupon good for $1 off per adult admission.
Things to do near Peace River Botanical Gardens
- Kayaking: Explore Gasparilla Sound
- Kayaking: Paddling Shell Creek
- Kayaking: Visit Mound Key Archealogical State Park
- Kayaking: Calusa Blueway kayak trail
- Old Florida: Peace River Seafood
- Old Florida: Boca Grande is a great day trip
- Camping: Camp Venice
- Camping and hiking: Oscar Scherer State Park
- Biking: Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park
- Beaches, camping and cabins: Cayo Costa State Park
- Beaches: Exploring nearby state parks on barrier islands
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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.