The Ringling Bayfront Gardens are located on a 66-acre estate on the shores of Sarasota Bay. Your experience on the estate begins at the historic gatehouse, where the original driveway to Ca’ d’Zan began and still exists today as a tram and pedestrian pathway. As you make your way to Ca’ d’Zan you pass by Mable Ringling’s first major landscaping project – her formal rose garden. Completed in 1913, this 27,000-square-foot garden is laid out in a wagon-wheel design she had likely seen on trips to Italy.
Continuing along the pathway under the many banyan trees, you will reach the Secret Garden, directly to the north of Ca’ d’Zan. Historic photographs indicate that there was a garden in this location prior to the Ringlings’ purchase of the property, so it is probable that Mable built her new garden over the old one. It was home to specimen plants, referred to as “onesies and twosies”, presented to Mable by friends and guests.
Through a generous donation from David F. Bolger, a Bayfront Promenade was developed in 2010, which connects Ca’ d’Zan to a Millennium Tree Trail at the southern end of the estate. Created to mark the year 2000, the trail provides a welcome respite from the intense Florida sun, and showcases a wide variety of trees, including oak, holly, citrus and magnolia.
The Museum of Art Courtyard embodies many of the ideals of a true Renaissance garden, marrying perfectly with the Renaissance-style of the Museum itself. It’s U-shaped structure with long loggias flanks the central courtyard, featuring bronze and stone copies of famous Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque sculptures. The courtyard consists of three, tiered terraces linked by a central staircase. Turf, low-growing juniper, slash pines and grasses are included in the terraces. The west end of the courtyard is home to a splendid water feature, consisting of a moat flanked by statues of reclining figures representing the Nile and Tiber, the great rivers of Egypt and Rome.
Circling back toward the entrance of the estate, you will come upon the Dwarf Garden. The word “Dwarf”, in this case, does not refer to the plants in the garden, but to the whimsical limestone statues of commedia dell’arte players found there. The commedia was a type of improvisational theater developed in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The figures in the garden are a nod to the theater next door, brought to Sarasota from its original home in Asolo, Italy.