A beach trip is always more fun if you can explore the surrounding areas. The sand and the sea are great for a while, but there’s also a lot of enjoyment to be had and history to be learned if you take the time to look around a bit.
One of the treasures we came upon recently was Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida (the panhandle), this 163 acre state park is easily accessible just off US Highway 98 between Destin and Panama City Beach.
And, in keeping with our never-ending quest to seek out “garden tours” wherever we go, how could we resist visiting a place with a name like Eden Gardens?!
The history of the area and the natural landscape and native plants of the Gulf Coast make this a great side trip as part of a coastal vacation.
The park is centered around a beautiful old two-story mansion which was built in 1897 by William Henry Wesley.
Seeing the great value in the surrounding timber (tall pines producing desirable raw materials for ship building), Mr. Wesley first established a lumber company on the property before constructing the elegant plantation style home for his family.
Lois Maxon purchased the estate in 1963, making it into a showplace for her family antiques. She was so taken with the beauty of the home and grounds, that she referred to it as her Eden. Hence the name Eden Gardens State Park when she donated it to the state of Florida in 1968.
Guided tours of the mansion are given if visitors so desire. We spent most of our time on a self-guided tour of the grounds.
The Living Shoreline Trail is a well thought out meandering journey around the manicured but still natural landscape. Discreet but well placed signs identify various species of native trees, flowers, ferns, and other vegetation.
A striking example of the naturally occuring timber which brought Mr. Wesley to the area is a magnificent Slash Pine, valued in the early naval days. Such trees can live more than 200 years and can reach heights exceeding 100 feet.
The trail continues around to the Tucker Bayou and then back to the gardens and grounds that surround the mansion.
A small entrance fee is required for admission to the grounds and to the home. Eden Gardens State Park makes for a great historical and educational garden tour.