Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens entrance
The entrance at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a relative newcomer to the public gardens scene. The Selby Gardens was founded in 1973 when Mrs. Selby left her home and surrounding gardens for the public to enjoy.

We spotted the garden’s sign while looking for antique shops. I love to visit public gardens, and I am fascinated by the stories of those who settled in the state during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Florida was raw and unpaved in those early days. Florida’s early residents were adventurers at heart.

The Selby’s Come to Florida.

Marie and William Selby were early residents of Florida who cultivated and then left the beautiful residence and gardens for the public to enjoy. Mr. Selby’s father founded the Selby Oil and Gas Company in Marrietta, Ohio. That Company became one of the country’s principal oil drilling farms, and in 1948 was merged with Texaco Oil.

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Marie Selby: a young woman’s vision.

Marie Selby visited Florida with her husband William several times after they married in 1908. Mr. Selby liked the beauty of the Sarasota area and its excellent fishing. He and Marie bought seven acres bordering the Sarasota Bay and Hudson Bayou, and in the early 1920s, built a Spanish-style, 2-story house facing the water. This is now the core of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens downtown campus.

The Selby’s lived a simple and modest life according to those who knew them. They divided their time between their Sarasota home and a cattle ranch in Montana.

William Selby died on December 4, 1956. Marie Selby continued to live a quiet life at her home in Sarasota. She was a founding member of the Founder’s Garden Circle and managed the family trust. She died on June 9, 1971.

Neighbors and friends said publicly they were surprised to discover Selby’s wealth. The Selby’s left a $19 million foundation for scholarships, education, the arts, libraries, health services, and programs in support of the aged. Mrs. Selby created a separate trust to maintain her home and gardens.

Orchids, roses, and bromeliads.

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The Spanish 2-story home of William and Marie Selby.

Mrs. Selby took a personal interest in the design and planting of the gardens. Colorful flowers and plants line the pathway from the house to the bay. The house is built among laurel and banyan trees, and hundreds of flowering orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and mosses grow in the branches. Looking up and around is important when enjoying these premises.

A beautiful rose garden remains a focal point in the landscape. A row of bamboo on the bayside of the property was planted by Mrs. Selby to block her view of the encroaching condominiums that sprung up as Sarasota developed.

The Selby Garden is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns, and other tropical plants.

Epiphytes plants grow on tree surfaces rather than in potting media. Their exposed roots gather moisture and nutrients from the air and organic surfaces around them.

Visiting the Gardens.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is open 364 days a year, closing only on Christmas Day, and more than 200,000 annually come to view the grounds. Touring the house and gardens can easily be done in a single day. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children.