For 35 years, local favorite Kanapaha Botanical Gardens has continued to thrive and be a destination for residents and visitors. Located just off I-75 at the Archer Road exit, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is the closest botanical garden to 1.5 million Floridians. The garden is comprised of 24 major collections visually accessible from a paved walkway, including the state’s largest public display of bamboos and the largest herb garden in the Southeast.
Kanapaha, which operates as a non-profit organization, continues to be an area success due to the work of its founder and director, Don Goodman, and the Kanapaha Botanical Garden team. Goodman recently retired from the director role, and his daughter, Alexis, has taken over the helm. Here we take a look back at what the Goodmans and their teams have done to make Kanapaha Botanical Gardens the treasured area destination it is today.
Why did you start Kanapaha Botanical Gardens?
My wife and I purchased the land that is now Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in the summer of 1977. We knew we wanted to start a garden and so we spent a lot of time driving around Florida for the ideal location. At the time, we were operating a plant nursery and noticed that patrons kept buying the same plants over and over after killing them for one reason or another. So, we started teaching gardening, and that instruction evolved to us teaching at what was then Santa Fe Community College. It was at Santa Fe where we thought of the idea of starting our own botanical garden here in Gainesville.
When we got the land in September of 1977, we entered into a 90-year lease for 30 acres. Later, we expanded our property to what is now 62 acres, all on the same long-term lease. We opened to the public in 1986, and today KBG is the second largest botanical gardens in the state of Florida [after Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens in Miami].
In the early years, we took assistance wherever we found it. Local developer Phil Emmer gave us 500 feet of chain-link fencing and a cargo trailer that we renovated into our first office. Alachua County provided a bit of seed money and the City of Gainesville gave us access to its brick repository, from which we mined, cleaned and transported antique bricks for use in our herb and bamboo gardens.
It was a good ten years before the venture was able to provide me with anything approaching a salary.