Naples Botanical Garden is open and ready to captivate visitors of all ages, especially children. Though the garden at the south end of Bayshore Drive in East Naples is far from finished, it is destined to become a center for science, culture, commerce and, above all, fun. So says Brian Holley, the garden's executive director. He is this week’s guest on Comcast’s "One on One with Jeff Lytle,’’ which includes spectacular video highlights of the new venue. Video and transcript highlights of that and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone. The 30-minute program will be shown in its entirety Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009, at noon on Comcast CN 14. Lytle is editorial page/Perspective section editor of the Daily News.
Lytle: How’s it going out there?
Holley: Great! We’re having a ball. A lot of smiling faces, Jeff. And I walk out in the gardens every day, and walking through and seeing families together; and children playing in the Children’s Garden.
And even people just walking out to the birding tower and coming back and feeling great, enjoying themselves and enjoying our gardens.
Lytle: The difference in the elevation is amazing. It’s only a few steps up but you can see almost forever.
Holley: We have a ramp up so it’s wheelchair accessible so you can get out there. It’s one of the features that I don’t think people expect when they come to the garden. I think they’re thinking about more traditional gardens, not walking out through a pathway and getting out to look at wood storks, egrets and herons, and such.
Lytle: We should point out for our viewers who are not familiar with the area, you are in East Naples, at the end of Bayshore Drive.
To get there you take U.S. 41 out to the courthouse area, look for Bayshore Drive, and head south.
Holley: If you’re coming from Old Naples, turn right on Bayshore; if you’re coming up from the south turn left and head down Bayshore, about a mile and half down there.
Lytle: On 170 acres. You have three of your ultimate five separate gardens completed. It’s absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to get back. It’s the kind of thing that people are going to want to visit over and over again, and as they go back, I think it’s going to look different every time they go.
Holley: Definitely. There’s seasonality here. People think well Florida is always the same. But it’s not at all, as you know living here.
We’re basically a desert during the wintertime and a rainforest during the summertime, and there’s things that flower once a year, just like the lilacs up North flower in May; down here the tabs flower in February and March. We have trees that flower in October/November. So we really have a strong seasonality of flowering here.
So no question, it changes very dramatically from week to week and month to month.
Lytle: A big accent on children.
Holley: A huge accent on kids. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with a gentleman, a landscape architect, by the name of Herb Shaw on a children’s garden when I was working in Cleveland. And I saw the relationship that children and their parents develop with this garden when I was in Cleveland.
So one of the most important things, I felt in developing the master plan was to create that kind of environment here in Naples.
So we worked with Herb again. He works out of Fort Collins, Colorado, and he’s become the premier children’s garden designer really in the world. He’s the leading one certainly in the country, and in that little niche of landscape architecture is really a worldwide authority.
Lytle: The accent in your garden is on children, is on fun, is on accessibility. It’s hands on rather than stay away, please come up and touch this. But at the same time you’re doing some serious botany and there are some really serious plants out there.
Holley: Absolutely. And the idea was to go and develop and garden where we have great collections, but instead of being organized by — well, the roses are here, the tabs a here, the palms are here, and these little collections, was to integrate them into good gardens.
So one of the other emphasis we have is great design, bringing together some of the best designers we could find anywhere.
Admission is $9.95 adults, per day; kids 4 to 14, $4.95; children younger that that are free.
Buy an annual pass for a family for $75, and $50 for individuals.
Lytle: Any other prices?
Holley: Those are primary ones. Obviously there are philanthropic ones as well that go up a lot higher than $75. But we think, especially with the Children’s Garden, folks with young children, they want to come back on a regular basis, and a lot of them do end up buying family memberships.
Interestingly, we’ve seen memberships grow by almost double, and certainly by about 65 percent over the last month or so. We now have over 3,000 families that are members of the garden. So we were about 1,800 four or five months ago.
It’s tremendous to see the number of people of becoming members.
Lytle: So the family memberships mean that when grandma and grandpa buy their membership, they get to bring the grandkids along for free, but their kids — their adults kids have to pay.
Holley: Yes, the family membership is for two adults and four children.
Lytle: Let’s talk about the bigger money, the ultimate project, as I understand it, is to raise $50 million to complete the project. So far you’ve raised more than $30 million.
Holley: $33 million at this point.
Lytle: Whenever you raise the rest of the money, then you can complete the project.
Holley: We have enough funds coming down the pipeline with the money we’ve had so far to build the additional gardens next year. The two theme gardens are the Florida Garden and the Asian Garden.
Lytle: They start next year?
Holley: Yes, actually they’ll hopefully be complete by this time.
Holley: And then we’re building a big water garden as well, so those three features, as it looks right now, will be coming on line this time next year.
And then we’ll have the buildings to build. So we have temporary facilities now. We’ll see how as the economy goes along how we can do with fundraising and things; but hopefully, somewhere in the next few years we’ll be able to get the buildings built, like the auditorium, center hall, wonderful restaurant, really nice retail and just great facilities that will be gold certified, which is the other piece of the puzzle, which makes the building a sustainable project as well.
Lytle: The buildings you already have on your campus, what you have now, are already impressive.
Holley: Thank you.
Lytle: And that includes a science lab for Florida Gulf Coast University, and you also have an educational center — that would be my term — for people to come for lectures and things.
Holley: The building we created in collaboration with FGCU is the Harvey Kapnick Education and Research Center.
Lytle: That’s after the co-founder.
Holley: Exactly, Harvey Kapnick. So it’s built with a small auditorium, some classrooms, research labs and offices. So we use that for education.
But we also have our existing building, and in there we have Windstar Room and also a lecture room.
We’re in pretty good shape for creating a venue for symposiums, conferences, all kinds of other sort of special events as well.
Lytle: Some of the other special events you’re going to have there, and this is just scratching the surface, are weddings. You’re going to have concerts. You’re going to have private parties — you take it from there.
It just boggles the mind to think of the opportunities.
Holley: It’s tremendous, and it’s really important to us because we’re private, non-for-profit. We have no other income except for what we can raise from philanthropy and what we can earn from retail, facility rentals and memberships and things like that.
So it’s important for us to capitalize on being a great venue for things like weddings or corporate retreats, or graduation parties or whatever people might want to celebrate.
We’ve already had people ask to get married in the Brazilian Garden and that’s going through. We’ve got a very large corporate event coming through in April for 500-and-some-odd people.
It’s wonderful to be able to do that. It generates income for the garden, but also I think introduces a lot more people to who we are and where we are.
Lytle: It’s really amazing, the more you hear about the activities and the features of the garden, and then you go online to your Web site and you see there’s much, much more.
Holley: If you type in www.naplesgarden.org that will take you right to it.