The idea of a botanical garden in Naples was conceived by a group of eight plant-oriented people in 1994. These people, led by Robert W. Read, retired botanist from the Smithsonian Institution, thought that because of our location, Naples was an ideal place for a subtropical botanical garden.
A public meeting where the idea was presented resulted in Read incorporating the botanical garden as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. A board of directors was formed for the Botanical Garden of the Greater Naples Area — quite a mouthful!
Initially, the organization had very little money, so memberships were solicited and we were fortunate that many donations were received. To interest the public we started a monthly free lecture series. The topics, always horticultural in nature, included such subjects as annuals and perennials for Florida, introduction to grafting, using fresh herbs for the holidays, and tree pruning. At the end of each lecture we held a raffle with plants donated by different members and attendees. Tickets were $1 each or six for $5. It brought in a little money and was a lot of fun.
By 1995 we were located in office space donated by Miles Scofield on Exchange Avenue and our major undertaking was a search for land — not an easy task. It took us to all the warm spots in Collier County, including a property in North Naples next to Arbor Trace. We considered the Bayshore area to be the best of all, due to its warm location and proximity to the bay.
We also hired our first employee, Pat Lampe. Happily, Lampe still works at the garden.
By 1998 land was acquired — through a very generous donation made by Toni Stabile through the Madeline C. Stabile Foundation — on Bayshore Drive opposite the entrance to Windstar. During this phase of development we hired the firm of Roberts, Wallace and Todd as garden designers.
In 1999 we held our first fundraising event, a luau and tour of volunteer extraordinaire Win Turner’s garden.
Late in 1999, it became apparent that the land we had was problematic for our purposes, and fortunately we were able to sell it easily. With the help of Ed Petras (then chairman) and Steve Duckworth (then vice chairman), the 170-acre present location was identified, much of it owned by Collier Enterprises. The funds from the sale of the original site, coupled with a $5 million gift from Harvey Kapnick, allowed us to secure the current garden property.
Part of the purchase was a strip shopping center at the corner of Thomasson Drive and Bayshore Road that was owned by Jim Lennane. It is still being used for administration offices and special events; the Garden Club of Naples also has its offices there.
Some of you may remember that the Tropical Mosaic Garden was once the parking lot of the strip center!
At this time also, we had immeasurable help from the residents at Windstar. Without their help and the generous donation from Kapnick, we would not have the garden we have today.