The genesis for what is now known as ‘The Private Gardens of Historic Orlando’ began around the turn of the century when friends would walk to breakfast on Sunday mornings and along the way would invite themselves to view the gardens of friends and neighbors. After a while it became obvious that there were so many beautiful gardens in the neighborhood that they must be shared with the rest of Orlando. And so was born the first tour of ‘The Private Gardens of Historic Lake Eola Heights’ in 2004.
The first year was ambitious with 15 gardens on what was planned to be an annual tour. After three years it became evident that this this pace would be difficult to sustain. So we limited the tour to 10 gardens and after the 2006 tour the event became bi-annual, occurring every other year. Flexibility has always been important. We had to skip a year after a bad freeze in 2010 and postpone the tour for that year until 2011. But that was one of our most highly attended tours!
Along the way Plein Air artists were added to capture the beauty of the gardens and add another way for our guests to have a more interactive experience. Some years we’ve include a bonus garden that doesn’t quite fit the definition of a private or hidden garden but provides something of interest for our guests. The past few tours have highlighted the Lake Eola Heights Community Garden located behind Broadway United Methodist Church. We have partnered with the FSYO in the past to bring music to the gardens and they became a beneficiary of the tour. For a few years antique cars were displayed as well.
As we distilled our core mission to the celebration of gardens in an historic setting, the activity at Garden Central grew. Now we focus on not only the gardens but their historic settings and as a result Orange Preservation Trust became the beneficiary of the tour. The City’s Historic Preservation officer has a table with information on the historic homes on the tour and garden experts such as Master Gardeners and Leu Gardens have been involved some years. Vendors at Garden Central sell plants ranging from Bromeliads and Orchids to Catci.
More recently the tour has expanded and rebranded to become ‘The Private Gardens of Historic Orlando’ and during the alternating years other historic neighborhoods, including Lawsona Fern Creek and Lake Davis have hosted the tour. So guests no longer have to wait two years for the next Tour!
Over the years this tour has strengthened the bonds of community in this neighborhood and is now doing so in others as they become more involved. And as the primary funder for OPT, it is our hope that this tour will provide a true legacy for History Preservation and gardening in Central Florida for years to come.