Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bird Sculptures at the Edison Estates

The theme this year for the ninth annual “Art in the Gardens” outdoor sculptures  using recycled materials was “Birds.” Schools from throughout Lee County participated and entered their birds, which were situated throughout the Edison Heritage Garden area near the museum. “Birds” is a fitting theme, as the Edisons and Fords were avid bird watchers and advocates. 

Teachers were awarded funds to assemble the weather-proof, recycled  materials for the sculptures, and the art was up to the students. There were supposed to be 20 schools represented, but on the day I went, April 28, there were 17 sculptures. The exhibit started on March 19 and continued through April 23. It’s a good idea to visit this site earlier rather than later because sometimes the weather plays havoc with these outdoor sculptures.

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates, the Lee County Art Educators and Lee County Schools collaborated to bring the project to fruition. Sponsors included Winn Dixie,  Forestry Resources and GoMulch. The exhibit was free to the public--it wasn’t necessary to pay the usual fee to visit the Estates. 

Entrance into the Art in the Gardens exhibit from Larchmont Street

Edison Family Pet Peacock

The Edison family owned a pet peacock. If it was spoken to softly, it would spread its tail feathers for visitors. 

Signage for Art in the Gardens

Mina Edison and bird sculpture in the Heritage Garden

Bird sculpture by Bill Frye, Edison Ford Winter Estates employee

Student art exhibits at the very entrance to the garden

Bird-themed sculptures line the walkway

Saint Francis Xavier Catholic School, Teacher: Vanessa Lombardo 

Ida S. Baker High School, Teachers: Elodie Cotton & Lorna Bluestein

Close-up of Bird house

Fort Myers High School, Teacher: Todd Abbey

Bird sculptures down the right side of the walkway

Diplomat Middle School, Teacher: Oliver Dominguez 

“Big Bird” made of plastic spoons and knives

Dunbar High School, Teacher: Linda Jones

Peacock on a ribbon

Mariner High School, Teacher: Jennifer Reilly

Close-up of Mariner Redbird

Lehigh Senior High School, Teacher: Cristina Penuel

Lehigh birds and bird houses

Edison Park Elementary School, Teacher: Karen Flanders

Edison Ford Winter Estates Home School and Manatee Elementary School

Edison Ford Winter Estates Home School, Teacher: Deborah Bowers

One of the bird faces hiding under the bougainvillea

Manatee Elementary School, Teacher: Andrea Luizzi
A bird family and its nest

Tortuga Preserve Elementary School, Teacher: Christina Sterrett

Tortuga Preserve “Tree”

Tortuga Preserve American Eagle

Bonita Springs Middle School, Teacher: Joy Cooper

Bonita Springs birds in buckets

Bonita Springs bird close-up

South Fort Myers, Teacher: Maria Cabrera

Varsity Lakes Middle School, Teacher: Marjorie Resler

Trafalgar Elementary School, Teacher: Helen Garcia-Valdez

Stacks of ceramics

The Alva School, Teacher: Nicole Bizjak

The Alva School bird plaque

North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts Middle School, Teacher: Brenda Lown 

North Fort Myers Academy

North Fort Myers Academy

North Fort Myers Academy

North Fort Myers Academy

Bird sculptures in the Heritage Garden

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs

In 1936, brothers Bill and Lester Piper established "The Reptile Gardens" as a roadside attraction along the newly-built Tamiami Trail from Tampa to Miami. As the animal and botanical exhibits grew, the attraction’s name was changed to the "Everglades Wonder Gardens" to better reflect its offerings. The Gardens also became known for its wildlife rehabilitation programs. For three generations, the Gardens was  under the ownership of the Piper family. In early 2013, landscape photographer John Brady and his family leased the property from the Pipers and helped form a not-for-profit organization dedicated to saving the Everglades Wonder Gardens.  

In 2014, a group of local residents formed the Bonita Wonder Gardens Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. With financial assistance, in the form of a $3.5 million loan from the City of Bonita Springs, the new organization was able to purchase the property and business assets from the Piper family in April, 2015, saving it from potential commercial development. 

Thomas Hecker, who has extensive environmental non-profit management experience,  started as the new Executive Director in January, 2017.  “We’ve got a strong vision for the future,” he said. “We just need some time and funding to make it happen.” Hecker’s plan includes a renewed focus on education. “We want to bring kids in from local schools to really learn and experience what we have here,” he said. While renewed education is an important part of Hecker’s plan, there are many other projects that remain, such as rebuilding wildlife enclosures, nurturing the botanical beauty of the property and renovating the flamingo lake. A new building, wedding gazebo and dock are also in the works. “It’d be great to give tours on the Imperial River,” he said. A large green space for events would finish off the acreage. Once restored, the Wonder Gardens will be a great asset to the community of Bonita Springs. 

 Billboard for the Everglades Wonder Gardens

The Gardens is on Old 41 between W. Terry and Bonita Beach Road. This stretch of Old 41 is undergoing a renovation/beautification process, and it already looks like a trendy and inviting neighborhood.

The entrance to the Wonder Gardens ticket office and gift shop

Estero Island Garden Club members at the entrance

Greatly enlarged brochure featuring the attractions of the Gardens

Master Plan for a new and improved Wonder Gardens

Gift shop

Pink flamingoes in gift shop

Macaws & cockatoos in gift shop

A menacing owl suspended from the rafters

Big Joe exhibit in Natural History Museum

Big Joe was at one time the largest American crocodile in captivity. He was 15 ½ feet long and weighed over 1200 pounds. He attracted visitors from all over the world until he died of old age at 75 years old in 2003.

Close-up of Big Joe

Display in Museum

Alligator with prey in its mouth in the Museum

Splayed alligator skin becomes a giant plaque in the Museum.

Bird cages for Macaws

Winnie, a blue and gold Macaw

A koi pond with fisherman sculpture

Pond with koi

Plants for sale

Huge staghorn ferns hanging from old growth trees
The name “staghorn” comes from their uniquely-shaped fronds.

Duck enclosure

Ibises in the duck enclosure
The ibises go anywhere they want.

Alligator signs

Alligator pond


Alligators sunning

A cone-domed cage for a white cockatoo


A green iguana with a black-ringed tail named “Buddy” in a glassed-in enclosure

Carol and Joanie in a parrot cut-out board

Carol and Margaret in the cut-out board

Ibises in a pond


Flamingoes by their pond

The Imperial River runs right alongside the Gardens property.

Cactus garden

Cactus garden

Pond with water lilies

Bromeliad garden

A peacock roamed the grounds, but never went far from the bird enclosure.

A guinea hen that the peacock had a “thing” for is inside the enclosure--an unfortunate case of unrequited love.


Bantam rooster, Big Foot

Members admiring Big Foot

Joanie and Margaret taking a break

Picnic area

Stray alligator in the pathway

Water feature with cascade