DescriptionAs a student at New College of Florida in Sarasota, I fell in love with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Fellow students and I visited to luxuriate in orchid-filled nooks and get away from campus. When campus was steamy and oppressive, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens felt refreshing and rejuvenating.
As a Spanish-language literature major, I never had a good excuse to visit the gardens with a class, although that would have been a blast. Instead, I visited with friends. Somebody had to have a car, which was a rare commodity among my friends on campus. So if you found out somebody was driving over to Selby, you'd drop your pre-existing plans and go. Two of my best friends in college, Candace and Lara, were studying biology and knew a ton about insects, plants, snails, and the like, particularly types you find in Florida. Sometimes I'd roll my eyes when they started going off on the official names of plants, but then I had to remind myself that they kept calm when I wouldn't stop talking about novels and short stories Gabriel García Márquez. I learned a lot from them and from the garden. Lara had a car, which was useful when she and Candace had to do field research at Myakka River State Park and also a great way to get to Selby. We loved escaping campus and exploring Selby, although for Candace and Lara there must have been a lot of reminders of what they were studying back in class. For me, it was another universe.
Classes at New College of Florida were really demanding. We didn't have grades but somehow the professors got us to work extremely hard, perhaps because classes were small and we felt very accountable for our own learning. But I loved a good break at Selby. I remember that the folks who sold tickets (not sure if they were volunteers or staff members) would always act surprised and delighted when we said we were New College students. (A fact we always pointed out in order to get the discount, which was important to us broke students.) Of course, they already knew. My peers and I had goofy haircuts and dressed like weird, quasi-hippies in a community of stable, grey-haired Floridians, so they knew immediately that we were from New College. But it was so polite of them to feign surprise. They were always so welcoming and friendly to us. Maybe they knew we came there to forget about the stress of writing papers and theses.
The orchids were my favorite thing to visit at Selby. As a Florida native who spent a lot of time in the Everglades and cypress swamps, I know that Florida can be a humid, lush swamp with lurid colors and crazy plant growth—and that's the Florida I love. But Sarasota also has its fair share of giant Publix parking lots and sweltering, treeless strip malls. So Selby always reminded me of the parts of Florida I loved. The slightly untamed parts where there might be a carnivorous plant or two right next to an amazing flower and a squadron of mosquitoes. It always amazed me that nature somehow contrived to make the color purple. A bunch of purple orchids is a pretty incredible thing! Selby had that. Looking at Selby's website and Facebook page today, all I want to do is go back and take their watercolor classes!