Visiting Leu Gardens in Orlando

by Editor
Leu Gardens

The 50-acre Leu Gardens in Orlando sits on the edge of Lake Rowena, just minutes from downtown. Leu Gardens is a tranquil retreat and the perfect antidote to the high energy theme parks. The jungle-like feel of the lush foliage, year-round colorful blooms, and occasional alligator sightings along the lake give visitors an immersive Florida nature experience.

History of Leu Gardens

The plot of land holding the garden was originally purchased by Harry P. Leu and his wife Mary Jane in 1936. As avid travelers, the Leu’s collected plants from all over the world to plant in their garden, creating the foundation for this tropical oasis. Mr. Leu had a particular affinity for camellias, which explains the garden’s extensive collection. In 1961, the couple deeded their property to the City of Orlando who opened Leu Gardens to visitors.

Exploring the Leu Gardens

You can grab a map when you purchase your ticket, or just explore by following the pathways. Each garden collection is marked, and prominent plants have helpful labels. Follow the path with Lake Rowena on your right and you’ll come to the Tropical Stream Garden, one of my favorite areas. The walkways are lined with dots of color from hot pink ‘Maria’ Ti plants (Cordyline fruticosa), red bromeliads, and lush green palm trees.

Leu Gardens

Abundant Lush Foliage / Kirsten Harrington

On my early January visit, the purple-flowered Hong Kong orchid tree was in bloom, adding an intoxicating fragrance to the air. The path winds past banana trees, ferns, and other tropical foliage. Follow the walkway across several small bridges as you admire all the colors. There are benches throughout if you wish to rest or simply soak in the beauty.

If you’ve never heard bamboo rustle in the wind, don’t miss the Bamboo Garden. On a blustery day, I stopped to listen to the knocking sound of the bamboo as the canes swayed back and forth, tapping out a drum-like rhythm. There are several varieties here, some reaching heights of 100 feet. Slender lady palms are tucked into the groves, with their bamboo-like stalks blending right in.

Leu Gardens

Camellias in Bloom in Leu Gardens / Kirsten Harrington

The Camellia Garden has more than 2,000 plants and over 250 varieties, making this collection one of the largest in the United States. By early January pink, red, and white flowers are already on display with many more buds ready to open. Late February or early March is the peak season. Stately oak trees mingle with the camellias, Spanish moss hanging from their branches like leftover Christmas tinsel. Purple beautyberry shrubs add color to the landscape. It’s hard to believe it’s winter when you’re surrounded by blooms of all colors.

The Butterfly Garden sits near a trellis archway, giving it an English garden feel. I paused to watch several Monarchs flit about and collect nectar for their migratory journey. They darted in and out of the nearby Herb Garden, with its good-smelling rosemary, sage, chives, and basil. There’s a vegetable garden, too, and Central Florida’s mild climate means broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, kale, and tomatoes were all thriving in the raised beds.

Leu Gardens

Bench and roses in Leu Gardens / Kirsten Harrington

Roses peak in spring in Leu Gardens, but no one told that to the pink and white shrub roses that bloom in winter surrounding the benches and fountain in the Rose Garden. I sat for a moment on a white metal bench, enjoying the solitude. Visiting on a weekday meant that I had the whole garden mostly to myself.

Events at Leu Gardens

Make sure to check the website before your visit to Leu Gardens to see the full lineup of special events. You’ll find everything from yoga and edible landscaping classes to floral jewelry making and photography. Bring a picnic and someone special for Movie Nights for an outdoor date in the gardens. Most events are separately ticketed with an extra fee.

Leu Gardens is such an Orlando treasure. With over 400 species of palm trees, tropical plants, and an occasional alligator resting at the lakeshore, it’s a slice of old-world Florida. This urban oasis is a great place to bring the kids, a picnic, or just your thoughts. The temperate climate means there’s always a rainbow of colors to see.

WHEN YOU GO:

Palmer’s Garden & Goods is less than a mile away, and garden buffs will want to stop here to browse the plants and home décor. I’ve been known to sip a mimosa from the onsite bar while I shop. They also have live entertainment and wine and cheese pairings.

The nearby Mills 50 neighborhood is the heart of Orlando’s Asian restaurant scene. I love to relax with a Black Sesame Latte at the swanky Haan Korean coffee shop or have lunch at Chuan Lu Garden, my favorite Orlando Chinese restaurant.

Just a few miles away you’ll find the town of Winter Park, with charming shops and restaurants. The Alfond Inn makes a perfect home base for a few days of exploring. You’ll find boutique shops and restaurants along Park Avenue, with Central Park in the middle. A few notable restaurants are Prato, where you can enjoy Italian cuisine on the patio, and Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine, with exotic interior and authentic food.

One of my favorite Florida museums, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, is within walking distance from the Alfond Inn and houses the world’s largest collection of art by Louis Comfort Tiffany. If you’re a fan of stained glass, make sure to stop here.

Featured image: Tropical Stream Garden / Kirsten Harrington

Kirsten Harrington is an Orlando-based food and travel writer who loves to spend time in nature. You can find her tending to her orchids, or out walking on the trail in her neighborhood. You can read her travel stories on her website www.kirstenharrigton.com.

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