St. Petersburg, Florida, features a garden below sea level, one of the oldest roadside tourist attractions in the United States.
When a plumber and avid gardener, George Turner Sr. bought 6 acres of land and a shallow lake all 19 feet below sea level, he had some work to do to turn the land into his dream garden. Turner drained the area to plant papayas, citrus fruits, and other exotic plants on the rich soil around his home. George Turner Sr. opened a nursery and sold the plants, vegetables, and fruits he grew in his garden in the 1920s. The visitors paid Turner a nickel each to walk through the gardens. By the fall of 1935, he had enough traffic that he fenced his garden and charged visitors 25 cents to walk through the amazing gardens. The gardens became even more popular so by the 1970s, making this place one of the top commercial attractions in Florida.
George Turner Sr. died in 1961 and his sons, Ralph and George Junior, took over running the gardens, and eventually, Ralph's 3 children carried on the operations. They sold the gardens to the city in 1999 for more than $2.26 million. The gardens are operated by the City of St. Petersburg now, and it is maintained with the help of volunteers. Admission is required, and the gardens are open every day. There are educational programs, special events, and weddings held on the Wedding Lawn. They also have banquet facilities in the Garden Room.
The Sunken Gardens has thousands of plants, several waterfalls, a butterfly aviary, and wildlife shows. In 2016, the Sunken Gardens received a young flock of 20 flamingos from the San Antonio Zoo. The gardens did have two elderly Chilean flamingos, George and Lucy, from the original 17 bird flock who have been living in the gardens since 1956. The flamingos and their nighttime enclosure were paid for by a nonprofit group called Flamingos Forever. The group now goes by the name of Sunken Gardens Forever. Outside food and drink are welcome, and there are picnic tables throughout the gardens. A tropical paradise awaits you in Florida, the Sunken Gardens are truly magical!