The sun hangs low in the beginning of the Gardens Tour, peaking over the Visitors Pavilion and casting long shadows of both the group of eager patrons and the featured works.
“Mable would have appreciated that people would visit to see her gardens,” says Sheri Philpott, an 11-year veteran volunteer at The Ringling.
Philpott and fellow docent Leone Levy guide a small group of garden enthusiasts who bundled up and braved 50-degree temperatures during the first docent-led Bayfront Gardens tour scheduled for Friday and Saturday morning’s through April. The newest premium tour at The Ringling highlights perhaps the “living collection” on campus, and honors the legacy of Mable Ringling’s transformation of the grounds of her estate into a European style garden.
The Ringling’s campus looks much different now than in Mable’s time. The clear sightlines meant to host crowds of Ringling visitors would be heavily planted with vegetation when the estate was John and Mable’s private home. Even with these necessary alterations, Mable’s remains a major influence on The Ringling’s gardens.
Prior to her arrival in Sarasota, native plants such palms, oaks and slash pines dominated the grounds. Mable brought with her both a European influence and plenty of exotics of which, some of the most gorgeous examples sit right outside the Visitors Pavilion.
A few steps into the tour, Philpott pulled a flower of an African tulip tree to display both the beauty of the orange blossom and to show its functionality as a source of water in its native African climate. The nearby rainbow eucalyptus tree is considered one of the most beautiful trees in the world. The trunk appears almost translucent, and it changes colors as it takes in water and its bark peels away.
The African sausage tree draws its name from abundant fruits, which hang from vines. Similar to a potato in appearance, the fruit is poisonous, but it has many uses in African herbal medicine and can be fermented into an alcoholic beverage. The tree also features flowers that blossom only at night.
The tour includes a closer look at two signatures of the estate—the massive Banyan Trees and Mable’s Rose Garden, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013.
For the veteran docents on this tour leading the first tour, The Ringling Bayfront Gardens are like another gallery on the estate- filled with overlooked treasures for those willing to slow down and take it in.
To reserve your spot on a Bayfront Gardens Tour click here.