1936 – Downtown Bonita Springs’ historic Everglades Wonder Gardens (the Gardens) is established by the Piper family on 3.5 acres of land situated along the north bank of the Imperial River and the west side of the newly opened Tamiami Trail—South Florida’s new, and only, roadway connecting Tampa and Miami. The goal: to provide visitors with opportunities to connect with the unique wildlife of the region—especially the alligator!
1936-2015 – Alligators, birds, turtles, and other wildlife are the stars of the show, but, over time, the Gardens’ compact territory is transformed into a lush botanical oasis that becomes an attraction in its own right. Eventually showcasing hundreds of hand-collected plants from around the world, including hundreds of fruit and nut trees, palms, orchids, bromeliads, and succulents, the Gardens are home to many that are still nowhere to be found in botanical garden collections elsewhere in the state.
2015 – With a $3.5 million loan from the City of Bonita Springs, the non-profit Bonita Wonder Gardens, Inc., was established to take over the privately run, but somewhat ailing old-time attraction. Local backers were eager to preserve the memory-making gem whose majestic leafy canopy had given shade for nearly 80 years to a multi-generational fan base of locals and visitors seeking the unique spirit of “Old Florida.” The Gardens were also made ADA compliant that year. The Gardens’ small Natural History Museum showcases interesting and rare artifacts.
2016 – The Gardens develops an active docent and volunteer program that engages groups from numerous organizations: Florida Gulf Coast University’s College of Education, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, multiple SW Florida garden clubs, and other service organizations. Receives Silver Award for “Best Zoos 2016” from Naples Daily News readers and a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor. Over 25,000 visitors!
2017 – In January, the Board of Directors hires Thomas S. Hecker, a seasoned executive director with decades of nonprofit management and exhibit development experience and an expert in developing and refining the “guest experience.” His most recent past positions include serving as Founding Director of Horticulture at Naples Botanical Garden and CEO of the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center. A membership program is launched successfully. Reciprocal admission opportunities are established for the Gardens’ members: The North American Reciprocal Museum Association® (NARM), the American Horticultural Society (AHS), and the Association of Nature Center Administrator Facilities (ANCA).
2017 – In June, the Gardens receives a historical designation from the Bonita Springs Historic Preservation Board. Also this month the Gardens launches its first summer eco-camps for underserved local children. The Gardens begins using its newly established Environmental Learning Center to present programs for youths and adults; its class kits and field trip curriculum meet Florida Sunshine Standards.
2017 – In September, Hurricane Irma roars through Bonita Springs, causing widespread damage. Hundreds of people put in thousands of volunteer hours, clearing debris and restoring the grounds to even “better-than-before” condition.
2018 – In January, the City of Bonita Springs forgives its $3.5 million loan to help the Gardens recover from Hurricane Irma. In its place, a $1 annual fee is charged. The Gardens registers record-breaking attendance and fundraising for its 2017-2018 season. This arrangement with the City Gardens allows the Gardens to flourish by investing in the enhancement of the gardens, wildlife welfare, immersive exhibits, environmental education and a professional staff.
2019 – The Gardens again celebrated record-breaking 2018-2019 attendance, with over 50,000 visitors! Its revamped and replanted grounds are home to many rescued birds and reptiles, including dozens of alligators, fabulous peacocks, and, recently featured on USA Today, the only flamboyance of pink flamingos between Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale. The Robert and Karin Moe Tea House , Ernie and Sandie Schaub Butterfly & Orchid Pavilion and a new improved Alligator Experience are funded and currently under construction and will open Fall 2019.
For more information, please call 239.992.2591,