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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Naples Botanical Garden: Where Flowers and People Bloom

Feb 29, 2016 02:44PM ● By Lisa Marlene

Good things can come out of tragedies, even catastrophies such as Hurricane Andrew. The 1992 category 5 storm blew gale force winds across Florida’s east coast, damaging or obliterating homes, buildings and Fairchild Tropical Gardens. The massive rescue operation that led botanists and arborists to descend on the largest botanical garden in the continental U.S. in order to save the renowned collection was actually responsible for the birth of Naples Botanical Garden. “While gathering plant materials to send to Fairchild, someone suggested starting a botanical garden here,” says Taylor Burnham, Naples Botanical Garden’s Buehler Family Foundation Enabling Garden Coordinator.

Enthusing about the Buehler Enabling Garden, Burnham articulates her good fortune to work with approximately 50 dedicated volunteers in different capacities. “There are 30-plus program assistants offering support and individualized attention to participants during programs, six volunteers working on only horticulture, five “exceptional” volunteers and approximately 10 visitor assistants providing awareness and engagement to the public in this garden,” she says.

The hospitable space of the Buehler Enabling Garden invites individuals, regardless of their physical or sensory abilities, to enjoy the benefits of a garden. Outstanding characteristics that make it particularly “enabling” are it’s accessible design, raised beds at differing heights and vertical garden, as well as smooth, wide paving, a potting cart and tables. In the category of adaptability, two of the outstanding features are wind chimes in different tones for the visually impaired. Horticulture in this garden, located within the Scott Florida Garden, engages all five senses in unique ways.

The garden’s variety of therapeutic horticulture programs for individuals living with special needs requires volunteers such as Cynthia Nyquist, Corinne Cassaday, and Nancy Temte, who reflect upon how time in the garden has impacted them and those they interact with.

Nyquist is a horticultural volunteer who likes to get her hands dirty weeding, pruning and digging. The Naples resident relishes her work in the garden because she has four to five hours a week to get up close and personal with the all the plants and trees, but most particularly her favorites, the fragrant almond tree and the popcorn plant, as well as the Japanese honeysuckle she nursed back to health. “I grew up tending to a garden of vegetables and flowers, so it was only natural that I pursued a degree is in biology with an emphasis on botany and landscaping,” says Nyquist.

“I’ve been aware that the garden was here since my husband and I moved from Chicago in 2013. Last year, when I chose to spend my birthday here, we met Greg, a docent who saw us wandering around and asked if we wanted to join his tour. Greg’s enthusiasm was so enjoyable that when he asked if we wanted to continue after the tour, we agreed. I became a volunteer four weeks later,” advises Nyquist  

Temte, a former Minnesotan is a programs assistant volunteer. She and her husband also chose the garden for a birthday celebration and were impressed by the volunteers they met, one in particular from Minnesota.  “Lots of Green Bay Packers fans down here,” quips Temte, who is training to be a docent. “I love volunteering because of the youthful infusion of energy. I interact with so many incredible, imaginative and creative children who come to garden on school field trips. It’s a very vibrant place and it’s wonderful to be in such a positive and therapeutic atmosphere,” she says.

Cassaday is a botanical gardens volunteer. The former New York resident is grateful that her 33-year old son Tom has been accompanying her to the garden since 2015, when she began volunteering. “Tom and I love coming to this beautiful, peaceful and calming atmosphere. It is heart-warming that Tom, whose disability is autism, is so welcomed and respected here,” comments Cassaday.

Tom transferred his skills to a small herb garden at home where he grows basil and oregano from clippings. He’s even growing radishes, and helped his mom to plant 150 begonias in their flower garden. “Tom wouldn’t have done this if he hadn’t had the experience and training in the garden,” says Cassaday.

In a garden where volunteers take such joy in connecting people with plants, giving and receiving become one, resulting in blossoming and enrichment for all.

 For information about the Naples Botanical Garden, located at 4820 Bayshore Dr., in Naples, call 239-643-7275. Visit

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