Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Floridian Nature Spot of the Week: Ravine Gardens State Park

Now is the perfect time to visit Ravine Gardens State Park. The azalea's should be still blooming and our Florida weather could not be better. The 59 acre gardens were created in a natural steephead ravine by the City of Palatka, local citizens, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Federal Works Project Administration (WPA and the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in the 1930’S. Described in the 1934 Florida Municipal Record as the "Nations Outstanding Civil Works Administration. project," the 59 acre ravines were planted with over 95,000 azaleas including 64 varieties, 11,000 palm trees and more than 250,000 ornamental plants. The gardens were maintained by the City of Palatka until the park was deeded to the State of Florida in 1970. One of nine Florida state parks with New Deal Era structures, Ravine Gardens is the only park with a formal designed landscape. The extensive fieldstone terraces, rock gardens and massive cypress building construction is typical of the era. The Court of States and 64 foot obelisk dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt is located near the park entrance. A 1.8-mile paved road winds around the ravine, offering motorists and bicyclists a view of the gardens.
And speaking of azaleas, did you know that Florida has wild azaleas growing in some areas?  Native azaleas are deciduous shrubs that are in the rhododendron family. It grows along streams and swamp margins from North Carolina and Tennessee to central Florida, and west to East Texas. Color variations and natural hybridization makes positive identification difficult. Found in moist wooded hammocks, the wild azalea can reach a height of six feet. The blooms of the wild azalea come in a variety of colors, including pinks and whites. Wild azaleas bloom in late march and April and attract a variety of butterflies, along with attracting hummingbirds. Wild azalea needs an acidic soil. Never add lime. If your soil is alkaline, forget about growing azaleas. Azaleas do best with plenty of organic matter in the soil. Pile leaves or pine needles over the root zone, and never cultivate there as they have very shallow roots. Florida's native azaleas include, but are not limited to, R. austrinum (flame azalea), an Endangered Species which blooms bright orange and is very early flowering; and R. viscosum, or swamp azalea, which is evergreen and blooms in the summer with small white flowers.

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