Leu Gardens cover

Audubon Park is home to many hidden gems, including a 50-acre botanical garden and sustainable dining options that have come to be known as the hub for Orlando's "good food movement." 

By Sarah Sekula

When visiting Orlando, the charming district known as Audubon Park is a must-see. Home to an organic community garden and urban farmlettes, Audubon Park features a vast array of artisanal vendors - from bakers and pasta makers to coffee roasters. 

Visitors to the area can enjoy the community market held each Monday, multiple specialty shops with unique gift items and the area's trendy local food hub, East  End Market. But one of the district's most beautiful attractions is the  Harry P. Leu Gardens.  

  


Orlando's Botanical Paradise

Leu  Gardens is a 50-acre botanical garden bursting with color and unusual greenery.  You can easily spend hours in the garden enjoying its many offerings. Visitors can take a guided tour of the southern-styled grounds or just run through the giant bamboo stalks, hyper-manicured lawns and camellias, which bloom from October through March (they have the world's largest collection). 

This impeccable garden has been going strong ever since 1936 when Mr. and Mrs.  Harry P. Leu purchased the property. Together they traveled all over the globe to bring back exotic specimens and nearly 750 varieties of camellias. 

If you're on a self-guided tour, you'll find QR Codes listed on each sign pretty handy. Just scan the code with your smartphone to find interesting facts about the gardens' collection of plants. You can also add an extra element of fun for kids with a geocache - an outdoor, treasure hunt activity.

With a diverse collection of more than 6,000 plants, there is plenty to see: A beautiful hibiscus collection, vegetable and butterfly gardens,  vine and banana collections, a citrus grove and a rose garden, which happens to be Florida's largest. You can even see what's currently in bloom before your trip to the gardens on their website

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Learn While Having Fun

Definitely plan on spending at least two hours to give yourself time to see the entire place. You can also extend your day trip by attending a class. Leu Gardens offers unique workshops for horticulture, landscaping, fine arts and even summer camps for kids. Also, be sure to stop by the Idea Garden for a huge dose of inspiration. On display are mini landscapes and raised table gardens that will have you itching to start some new projects of your own when you go back home.

While wandering around, you'll be in good company. In fact, every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Palm Room, you can chat with a master gardener (free of charge) who can help you with turf problems or identify a plant. Better yet, Leu Gardens' location on the shores of Lake Rowena among the towering live oaks draped in Spanish moss is the perfect spot to pull up a rocking chair and enjoy the afternoon.
 

Leu Gardens east end 


If walking around the gardens increases your appetite, don't worry. East  End Market is less than a mile away. The market features some of Orlando's top food entrepreneurs, tradespeople, artists and chefs. Visitors will take pleasure in discovering treasures from among the dozen or so merchants, all presented in a  food hall atmosphere.

Once there, you'll find delectable bites like sushi, artisan cheeses, gourmet pastries and açaí bowls. There is even craft beer, not to mention, local produce and handmade goods and gifts for the home. And if you're looking for some entertainment, pull up a chair in the courtyard for live music on Saturday afternoons or plan ahead to attend a gardening or cooking class.

If You Go

Before you plan your trip, make sure to check the Leu Garden website for class times and movie nights throughout the year. 

  • Website:  http://www.leugardens.org/
  • Address:  1920 N. Forest Ave., Orlando, Florida 32803
  • Hours:  Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day (closed on Dec. 25). Last admission is at 4:30 p.m.

  • A note for geocaching  enthusiasts:  If you're planning on going on a geocaching adventure while in Orlando, visit the Geocaching website to download the geocache called "Wheriwantago Seeking  Nahn-Sea's Heart," or go to Wherigo.com and download the cartridge  called "Princess Nahn-Sea's Heart." Believe it or not, there are actually more than 1,500 geocaching sites in the Orlando area. 

     

    Sarah Sekula 100x100.jpg

    Sarah Sekula is a national travel correspondent who enjoys telling others about Orlando's hidden gems. She works as a travel writer, social-media influencer and video host, and her assignments for USA Today, CNN.com, espnW.com, NBC.com, GoEscape, and islands.com have taken her to all seven continents. Follow her adventures @wordzilla (Twitter) and @sarahsomewhere (Instagram). 

     

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