Located in central Orlando, Leu Gardens offers visitors a chance to spend an unforgettable afternoon immersed in the beauty of nature. Guests can stroll through 50 acres of botanical gardens containing 12,000 plants. At the heart of the attraction lies the Leu House Museum, a turn of the century heritage home that once belonged to the Leu family. The Leu House Museum and the gardens within which it is situated were donated to the city by Harry P. Leu and his wife Mary Jane in 1961.
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While the Leu House Museum is named after its most recent occupants, it previously belonged to four separate families. The property was first used to grow cotton, sugar cane, and corn under the Mizelle family, who settled on the land in 1858. After the untimely death of David W. Mizelle, who perished while serving as Sheriff of Orange County, the home was occupied by Duncan Pell and Helen Gardner. Pell moved to Florida to start a citrus business and marry Gardner, who was a silent movie star, writer, and director. Notably, she was the first woman to own her own production company. Shortly after, the Alabama-based Woodwards converted the home into their summer retreat, naming it LaBelle, a name it shared with the family’s ironworks business. It wasn’t until 1936 that Harry P. Leu and his wife Mary Jane moved in. Having a passion for travel and botany, they collected seeds from all around the world, which they cultivated into the now famous gardens.
Leu Gardens offers a variety of tours, educational programs, and events catered to everyone, from a casual visitor to a horticulture enthusiast. Those visiting the facility for the first time can enjoy docent-guided tours of both the gardens and the museum. There are also group self-guided and group guided tours available. The museum tailors its tours to children from pre-K all the way to 12th grade and also offers special programming for Scouts. The museum hosts monthly society meetings for many local groups, such as the Central Florida Orchid Society, Orlando Area Historical Rose Society, and the Ikebana International Chapter 132. The extensive array of classes and workshops on offer allows visitors and locals to explore everything, from honey tasting to breeding tropical orchids, and landscaping using perennial plants.
The Leu Museum’s permanent collection of artwork includes works by M. B. Foster, Frank Farmer, Chrissie Mervine, and several others. The eight oil on canvas works by M. B. Foster showcase his life’s work as a naturalist and world-class horticulturalist. His work sheds light on his life-long passion for plant life, which led him to discover several species of plants. Among these is the now famous Aechmea orlandiana, which was named after the city of Orlando. There are also several sculptural pieces peppered throughout the gardens, which imbue them with the whimsical character for which they are known.
The gardens contain many different species of plants, flowers, and trees. Among these, visitors can find everything from vines to tropical philodendrons. The museum has conveniently placed QR codes at each exhibit, allowing visitors to obtain additional information about each plant through their smart devices.
There are 29 different sections included in the garden. The gardens give visitors insight into the variety present in even the most commonplace of plant species. For instance, their banana plant collection has variants that have unique flavors, such as vanilla ice cream and peanut butter.
The bromeliads depicted in M. B. Foster’s paintings at the museum can also be viewed live in their gardens. Their brilliantly colored flat leaves and flowers can be seen throughout the entirety of the gardens as they grow both from the ground and from the trees.
The unique ecosystem of the gardens consists of many creatures that share the space with the human visitors. The gardens’ shrubs trees, annuals, and perennials form a perfect home for several species of butterflies. These winged wonders in turn attract hummingbirds and night-flying moths.
Though not as flashy as some of the more photogenic species of plants, the garden’s collection of bamboo allows visitors to get an inside look at some of its rarely seen variants. Similarly, the cycad collection showcases 50 variants of a plant that once shared the landscape with dinosaurs.
There is no shortage of picturesque corners at Leu Gardens. As homage to the gardens’ previous owner, there is a display containing a citrus grove with over fifty trees.
1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando, FL 32803, website, Phone: 407-246-2620