Visiting the Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens in Tallahassee, Florida
The "Best Garden in Florida"
The Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens not only adds great beauty to Tallahassee, Florida—which is already a scenic place—but according to a 2007 issue of Florida Monthly Magazine, it was actually ranked as the "Best Garden in Florida." With Cypress Gardens and other gardens of great beauty in the State of Florida, that is high praise indeed!
Often when my mother and I used to travel between our point of origin and final destination, we would look for things that might be of interest to us along the way. Such was the case with the Maclay Gardens.
We were returning to our homes in Houston, Texas from a visit with relatives who lived in Englewood, Florida. Visiting this Florida state park occurred because we noticed a sign along the road directing us to its nearby location.
Maclay Gardens State Park
The Maclay Gardens State Park is located only half a mile north of Interstate 10. That is the main interstate thoroughfare connecting the lower states from Florida all the way to California. Since we were traveling on that interstate highway and it was so close to the highway, it was easy for us to allow the time to visit the gardens and park. Here are a few quick facts and figures about the park:
- This is a huge 1,184-acre state park.
- Hours are from 8 a.m. to sunset.
- Gardens are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a daily basis.
- The physical address is 3540 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee, Florida.
- The phone number is (850) 487-4556.
Alfred Barmore Maclay
Born in 1871 to a family of significant wealth derived from the Knickerbocker Ice Company, which had become the country's largest ice producer by 1881, Alfred B. Maclay first immersed himself in the family business. He then proceeded to master other interests such as real estate and banking.
After touring much of the world, at around age 30 he decided to become more involved with his passions, which included horses and other animals. His personal wealth afforded him the luxury to do these things. He became very active as an exhibitor as well as an officiator at horse shows. Mr. Maclay also showed and became a judge at dog shows.
Alfred Maclay became the president of the American Horse Show Association from 1926 to 1936. He was also an ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) board member.
The farm property that Alfred B. Maclay purchased in 1912 at Millbrook, New York was named Killearn after the birthplace of his great great grandfather in Scotland.
After marriage to Louise Fleischman (from the well known Fleischman yeast company) in 1919, Alfred and Louise purchased the property in Tallahassee, Florida for their winter residence. It was also initially named Killearn.
The planting of the gardens was initiated in 1923. Since they resided there primarily in the winter months and spring they wanted their new gardens to be not only pretty but exploding with seasonal color.
28 acres of ornamental gardens were planted, and the Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens today contains one of the largest assortments of camellias and azaleas found anywhere in the South.
In addition to azaleas and camellias which bloom anywhere from January to the end of April generally peaking in mid-March, one can spot rhododendrons, wisteria, dogwoods, redbud trees, sago palms, magnolias and other plants which grace the grounds with different colors, textures, and heights.
Alfred died in 1944 and Louise continued to develop and tend her gardens opening them to the public in 1946. In 1953, 307 acres of property was donated to the Park Service in Florida. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For boaters (only non-motorized boats are allowed), canoers, kayakers and others, Lake Hall—which covers 160 acres—provides an aquatic place to refresh the spirit and get a little exercise in the Tallahassee area. Swimming is allowed.
There are picnic tables, grills and even some pavilions provided for visitors to this park near the scenic Lake Hall.
Hiking the short nature trails or biking and riding horses on the longer trails is also something which can be enjoyed.
The reflection pond on the expansive lawn facing the lake provides a great spot for weddings or other significant events. The day that my mother and I were visiting the gardens we got to see professional photographers setting up their equipment to shoot photos for the State of Florida.
After deciding to take this side journey to see this state park and gardens, one of the first things we noticed were the trees bearing their lacy curtains of Spanish moss.
For those unfamiliar with this epiphytic plant which survives in warmer and humid climates, it lives by attaching itself to host trees (for the most part) and derives its sustenance and moisture from the air.
The only way that it can adversely affect the host tree is by blocking off too much of the light to the leaves which interferes with photosynthesis or by becoming too heavy for the branches to support its weight thereby breaking a branch. Other than that, Spanish moss is ornamental and adds a distinct charm to southern gardens given the correct growing conditions.
The Alfred B. Maclay Garden State Park was filled with Spanish moss. All one had to do was gaze upwards to see the shafts of sunlight illuminating those curly and lacy draperies cascading down from the branches of the trees.
Alligators in the Park
A sign on the property posted the following: "Alligators are present in this park. They are an important part of Florida's ecology and may be found whenever there is a natural body of water. They have a natural fear of man but may lose that fear by being around people—especially if they are fed. When this happens, alligators can be dangerous. For this reason, it is against park rules to feed or molest alligators in any way."
We did not see any alligators nor did we especially wish to do so. In the past, my husband who has golfed on some Florida golf courses has seen alligators lying around water hazards. That gives a whole new meaning to hazard!
Generally, from what we learned from my aunt and uncle who lived in Florida for many years, when alligators get to be a certain size (if living among populated areas) they are generally removed and relocated to natural settings in less populated areas of the state. Of course, if alligators' natural territory keeps being swallowed up by human development, more conflicts are likely to arise.
Tallahassee is the location of the Florida State Capitol. Obviously, there is much more to the city and there are many other things to do and see while in Tallahassee but we were merely passing through on our way back to Houston.
My mother and I were really happy that we had stopped and had taken the time to see this beautiful state park with gardens and would highly recommend that you do the same if ever in that part of the country. We happened to be there in mid-March which was perfect timing to see the hundreds of azaleas, camellias and other blooming plants and trees showing off their multitudes of colors.
Hopefully you enjoyed this look at one of Florida's special state parks in the heart of Tallahassee, the Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens.
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Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens
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© 2010 Peggy Woods