Bitten & Bloodied at Sunken Gardens

By JP Chartier

I slap them hard! Once… Twice… Three times! The slapping continues until I spill blood – my blood, and their blood. I never wanted it this way, I can assure you of that. And to think this all could have been so easily avoided…

More on this later.


My day begins innocently enough – I awake early, grab a bite to eat, hop on my bike and aim it south along 4th Street. I maneuver the roadways of St. Petersburg, Florida for the next eight miles until I arrive in front of a large, old fashioned-looking sign that reads “Beautiful Sunken Gardens.” Sunken Gardens Sign If it wasn’t for this sign, I would have never known that the place was even here. It’s amazing that four-acres of lush vegetation, containing five-hundred different varieties of over fifty-thousand tropical plants, trees and shrubs can be hidden so inconspicuously on the side of a very popular roadway in the heart of a bustling city.

But it is!

“That’ll be eight dollars sir,” says the young lady behind the ticket counter to me.

“Ah, yes, g-good morning,” I stutter as I straighten my back and suck in my gut. “I’m writing an article about the f-fine establishment you have here for a b-blog that reaches an audience of… (should I do it? should I lie?) …ah (why the hell not, it’s only a little white lie anyway) …ahh, that reaches an audience of thousands and thousands of potential visitors, and I was wondering if you had a special rate for folks such as myself?”

What?!? Did I really just say “…for folks such as myself??” What does that even really mean?

Looking and feeling like a dumbass, the woman’s face says it all – it says, not only will I not succeed in obtaining a free ticket today, I won’t even be receiving a discounted ticket today thank you very much!

So needless to say, I stand there saddened and dejected, shoulders sloped, head slightly down, and I hear the words that I expected to hear cut through me like a knife!

“No sir we don’t give free or discounted tickets to bloggers, that’ll be eight dollars please.. Sir.”

<< So I ask you, my readers, what did I do wrong here? Can anyone help me out with how to go about this correctly? Have any of you ever successfully obtained a free or discounted ticket at a place you were going to write about?>> 

I begin digging sheepishly through my backpack for some cash when I notice that a fairly long line of older folks has sprung up all of a sudden behind me, and it appears that a few of these folks are a bit disgruntled.

And that’s when I overhear a loud whisper rise up from the geriatric group say something to the effect of, “You’d think he’d already have his cash out before getting in line, this is ridiculous.” And another loud whisper answers with, “He’s trying to get a free ticket and the lady said no, but he keeps trying, give it up already!”

Thankfully, before things got out of hand and I got my ass whipped by a stretchy-waist, polyester pants wearing grandma, I hear the following beautiful words from the other employee behind the counter echo out in slow motion, as if sent from the heavens above:

“Go ahead and give him the AAA discount.”

What’s that? What did I just hear? A discount? “Oh thank you Lord! Thank you so much!” I think to myself.  At least I’ve saved my ego from total annihilation on this day. So with another thank you, I accept my ten percent discount (baby-steps okay) with a victorious smile, and I stroll through to the entrance of the gardens to begin my journey. 20140508_104352 The smell of fifty-thousand plants and trees hit me like a gigantic fragrant tsunami as I enter the gardens, and I feel the tightness in my chest and shoulders disappear. A turn of the first corner and I feel as if I’ve been transported back to a time when only vegetation ruled the earth. 20140508_104327 The land that contains Sunken Gardens today, believe it or not, was originally a shallow lake that sat ten feet below sea level back in 1935. Then a plumber and avid gardener by the name George Turner Sr purchased the land containing the lake and promptly drained it. And over the next twenty years, Turner consistently planted papayas, citrus fruits, palm trees and other exotic plants to expand his beloved “Sunken Gardens.”

In 1998 Sunken Gardens was designated a local historical landmark, and the following year, the City of St. Petersburg purchased it. After years of restoration, visitors can once again enjoy the beauty that George Turner Sr started here one hundred years earlier. Today the gardens is operated mostly by volunteers.

I’m immediately greeted by the relaxing sounds of trickling water from this small, quaint waterfall. 20140508_103958 My senses feast on the botanical and biological wonderland before me! I feel as if I’m lost in Jurassic Park for a moment. 20140508_105835 The late morning light spills through the canopy above populating the path before me with freckles of sunshine.


I pass a cactus garden on the left, then up a little ways on the right, I notice the “Japanese Garden,” which looks in need of a little TLC to be honest. I have to say, the vegetation throughout the park is well cared for and nicely trimmed, however there are a few eyesores – like a partially falling down wall that looks to be rotting, a couple worn-out looking benches, and an amphitheater in dire need of a coat of paint.

Smack! Smack!

“Look mom,” says a little boy pointing at me up ahead, “that guy is all bloody.”

I look in horror at what this kid was pointing at, and that’s when I notice several disgusting ‘splats’ of blood on my legs! The mosquito’s here are ravaging me! I’m being eaten alive!

I know, I know, I should have protected myself with some sort of bug repellent before entering the gardens, I wasn’t thinking. So here’s a huge tip if you plan on visiting Sunken Gardens in the future:


20140508_110546 Besides the lush vegetation, I would have to say the “Koi Fish Pond” was probably my favorite area of the park. The picture below doesn’t begin to show you just how large these guys were, they were huge! 20140508_111203 There are a few small ‘attractions’ inside the park to check out, including: “The Growing Stone,” which is a fossilized limestone rock shaped somewhat like a bench that legend says will grant ‘he who sits upon the ancient stone tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow.’ There’s also a “Wishing Well,” a “Photo Ring,” a “Wedding Lawn” for weddings, a “Amphitheater” and a “Meditation Patio.”


20140508_111230 20140508_111403




Apart from the mosquitoes and a few minor maintenance issues, Sunken Gardens is an affordable and enjoyable place to go relax and read a book, or take a yoga class, or to just soak in all the wonderful plants and trees. So if you’re in the St. Pete area and want to forget the rush of the ‘real-world’ for an hour or two, visit the Sunken Gardens – St. Pete’s version of the Garden of Eden.

Share below any botanical gardens that you have visited during your travels.


17 thoughts on “Bitten & Bloodied at Sunken Gardens

  1. I have never gotten a discount or free admission but I have never asked either. Most festivals and scenic areas in Taiwan are free or pretty cheap so I have never considered asking!

    The place sounds like a nice escape from the city. Beautiful pictures, especially the one with the bench – it is my favorite by far. I thought your intro was going to discuss fire ants but I now know that the mosquitos are pretty cruel in Florida as well. 😉

  2. I can’t say that that visit seems worth it given the mosquito attack! If you want a freebie you need to pitch the place in advance telling them what you’ll do for them if they give you free admission. Promote them on your blog, Twitter, Pinterest, wherever you are. Please don’t lie about your audience – it’s super tempting – because they can check and when they know you’ve lied it makes them be suspicious of all travel bloggers. I hate to say it but so far I’ve found the businesses in my area of SW Florida don’t get the value of social media so they aren’t very responsive even when you jump through the right hoops. Now I need to go write some pitch letters…..

    • Thanks for the advice, I’ll try contacting them beforehand next time. You’re right, shouldn’t lie, didn’t think about the fact that it could screw up the next travel blogger – I suck!

  3. Looks beautiful brother, although I hate damn bugs!! Have to get USD to that I guess, whenever I actually move down to Florida. But I do love the relaxing feel being around such splendid natural wonders. I hope to visit there when I finally move, and get settled in the area I want to move to. Thanks for a wonderful, and funny account of your adventure at the Sunken Gardens!!

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