The University of North Florida Botanical Garden recently received five gold-level Florida Yards and Neighborhoods business certifications from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. These accomplishments were accomplished – despite understaffing – with the help of garden volunteers, including Duval’s Master Gardeners and Tree Keepers.

To receive this distinction, a garden must exhibit and follow nine principles of Florida-friendly landscaping using low-maintenance, low-impact, and environmentally responsible practices. The gold award signifies the highest possible excellence implementation of landscaping standards. These designations illustrate UNF’s ongoing commitment to designing, planting and maintaining landscapes that preserve water quality, wildlife habitats and sustainable initiatives.

Recognized gardens include Healing, Bamboo, Bioswale, Climate Change and Peace Plaza. A specific point of pride for the Botanical Garden is its sustainable practices that serve as a learning experience about Florida’s native and friendly plants. The various exhibits provide soothing experiences supported by the art program, amid eye-catching sculptures accenting each space.

The mission of the UNF Botanical Garden is to promote environmental conservation, sustainability, biodiversity, and the management of healthy ecosystems for education, research, and community outreach through garden exhibits natural and unique living things. The University Grounds Department and volunteers have worked to create and maintain a wide variety of garden styles, as well as plant collections.

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Volunteers helped Rhonda Gracie, horticulturist and the field crew to maintain and expand the gardens. They get together early to begin participating in weeding, watering, installing new plants, and many other activities. After a few hours of work, the volunteers have lunch in the gardens. Their goal is to have fun while learning lots of new things while contributing to a beautiful public university garden. Additionally, Duval County Master Gardeners and Tree Caretakers can earn CEU credits when they volunteer.

There are 16 primary gardens covering a total of 100 acres.

The Immersion Healing Garden features a rose bed and bee field, while the Florida Native Gardens feature wildflowers, a beach dune and a coastal hammock. There are also four developing gardens which include cycads, palm trees, a food forest and a children’s area.

The university will host a grand official opening in the fall with its 16 main gardens (two of which contain several smaller gardens). The presentation of all these elements will take place during this event. Signs and maps will be available at that time.

For now, the main campus circle is full of easy walking paths and seating areas in the beautiful gardens, so visitors can park anywhere and explore.


The UNF Botanical Garden is free and open daily from dawn to dusk. A parking fee is required Monday to Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours take place on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. in front of the library.

If you would like to volunteer, take a tour, or learn more, contact Rhonda Gracie at [email protected] or (904) 620-1375 or email Joyce Buscaglia, Volunteer Coordinator, at [email protected] .

Diana Openbrier, Volunteer, UNF Botanical Gardens

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.