The pristine biodiversity of the University of North Florida’s (UNF) outer natural areas, together with the positive development of the more designed inner campus gardens, benefit all: students, faculty, staff, and the general public. Because of UNF, the environment is also benefiting through the conservation of natural systems and by the educational aspect of the inner campus built gardens. Both benefits promote nature and humans through their interaction. The UNF Botanical Garden plays off of various college studies, creating a subliminal, full immersion, learning environment. For example, the biology building is surrounded by Florida native plantings and features a full scale beach dune display, pollinator wildflower garden, and courtyard garden. Together, they showcase many south Florida species including gumbo-limbo, mahogany, and silver buttonwood. The healing garden, located at Brooks College of Health, was also recently completed. The dedication for this garden will be held on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 at 9am. While the healing garden was not included on the tour, it provides another example of the very timely “physical and emotional wellness” connection with the academics and health care providers. At this location, we also stopped for a healthy tea (Lemon Grass Tea and Mixed Mint Tea recipes; Raspberry Hibiscus Sweet Tea and Lemon Grass Tea recipes) and jelly flight tasting made up mostly from native edibles (Elderberry jelly, Beautyberry jams, and Acca sellowiana flowers that taste like pineapple). The serene bamboo garden features 26 non-invasive pachymorph bamboo for the following three genus: Bambusa, Dendrocalamus, and Drepanostachyum. During the tour we were able to observe the Drepanostachyum khasianum while still in gregarious bloom, a phenomenon when all species bloom around the world at the same time. This garden, with only a little over a half acre in size, was designed with sustainability in mind. The irrigation system only runs during periods of exceptional drought. Most of the hardscape is made of permeable concrete, and the fallen leaves remain in place as a mulch substitute.
UNF’s peace garden is just over an acre in size with predominate Mediterranean drought tolerant plantings. The garden is anchored by a bronze sculpture of Gandhi on the north end and Martin Luther King Jr. on the south end. The garden's name was inspired by both of their beliefs and teachings. In the middle of the garden sits a solid, granite picnic table with a quote from George Theroux. In addition to these symbols of peace, the garden boasts a large olive tree and Nelson ‘Mandela’s Gold’ bird of paradise. Other plants include aloes, agaves, bromeliads, euphorbias, cycads, cactus, succulents, and a couple of noteworthy trees such as the Acacia stenophylla and Havardia pallens.
by Rhonda Gracie
Rhonda Gracie has been the Horticulturist for the Landscaping and Grounds Department for the University of North Florida since 2013. Her department responsbilities cover 1,300 acres of campus. Since her arrival to UNF, she and her team have been focusing their effort transforming approximately 100-cares of the central core into a botanical garden and conservation of the campus's natural resources. Prior to working for UNF, she was the Landscape Coordinator for the City of Miami Beach's Parks and Recreation Department.