Pensacola Magazine


A Peek Behind the Fences of the City’s Most Stunning Gardens

One of the best ways to discover new species of plants, landscape designs and general gardening techniques, is by visiting other gardens and chatting with the folks who cultivated them. That’s the premise behind the Pensacola Federation of Garden Clubs Secret Gardens of Emerald Coast Tour. The annual Secret Garden Tour offers both veteran and aspiring gardeners the opportunity to visit the private gardens of local homeowners and find wonder and inspiration in their unique and charming outdoor spaces, both large and small. This year, the tour showcased five private, residential gardens, which were each selected by the Secret Gardens Tour committee based on their creativity, use of native plants, stunning garden features and interesting horticulture specimens.

The Secret Gardens of the Emerald Coast Tour was held May 17-18, but don’t worry if you weren’t able to attend! We visited and photographed each of the spectacular gardens to bring you highlights from this year’s tour. A special thanks goes out to Lynn Page and Virginia Manthei at the Pensacola Garden Center for all of their hard work and for helping us coordinate each of the garden visits. From shady palm estates and stunning greenhouses bursting with the sights and smells of the tropics to an impressive collection of more than 400 orchids, you’re sure to find some inspiration within these local secret gardens.

Andy + Gen Braun | Milton

Featuring a stunning array of ornate orchid specimens, this poolside garden space is sure to have you in awe. Over the last 20 years, Andy Braun has curated an impressive collection of more than 400 dazzling orchid species. As a young man, he always thought orchids were exotic and too out of reach. That was until the day his wife, Gen, decided to buy an orchid for Easter instead of the traditional lily. Andy was instantly intrigued and headed to the store and ended up purchasing two of his own orchids from the half-price plant rack. He soon began researching just about everything there was to know about orchids and their care, and has been hooked ever since! Andy is fascinated by the dependent relationship between orchids and other flora and fauna. This fascination let to the couple’s stunning collection of 482 orchids.

Andy and Gen have lived in Milton for three and a half years and grow a majority of their plants in their poolside greenhouse. Their collection includes species of plants from around the world as well as historical plants. The couple’s collection also consists of many wild-collected species from around the world, including one of Andy’s most prized orchids that was imported from Australia and dates back to the 1940s. During the hot summer months, you will find the Braun’s plants growing inside of their screened-in pool enclosure or hanging from a wooden pergola situated on the side of their yard. “Orchids are not difficult to grow, just different,” Andy explained.

Traverniti Gardens | West Pensacola

Traverniti Gardens is situated on six acres of private land with a freshwater canal flowing across the back of the property. This property enjoys a warmer microclimate than surrounding areas due to its proximity to the wet-prairie landscapes of the nearby Tarkiln Bayou Preserve. Each section of the sprawling tropical oasis was carefully planned out to be accessible yet still secluded, serving as the homeowner’s own private paradise. As you enter the property, you drive down a winding shaded driveway that’s lined with native Magnolia Grandiflora trees and a stunning array of mature palms.

The sprawling gardens are a labor of love for homeowner Joe Traverniti, who repurposed old concrete from a nearby demolition project to construct his own water features throughout the property, including a drainage gully with retaining walls and cascading waterfall flowing into a large pond filled with flowering lily pads. Other defining characteristics of this tropical escape include a number of species of mature palm trees, towering bamboos, banana trees and other exotic plants.

The expansive property also hosts a number of fenced-in and open edible gardens tied together by wide pathways, providing easy access at harvest time. Edible crops include everything from potatoes, elephant garlic, chives and ginger to onions, tomatoes, turmeric, strawberries and beyond. Nestled amongst the edible gardens, grows one of the homeowner’s most prized specimens—an heirloom Florida Cracker Rose (also known as a China rose) propagated from an 1897 cutting.

The homeowner also constructed a large greenhouse on the property, which serves as home to a number of tropical plants and manmade concrete trees for epiphytes to grow on. The lush greenhouse also hosts a number of sprawling cacti, climbing vines and rare plant species—both ornamental and edible. However, the real star of the show is the mature starfruit tree situated at the heart of the greenhouse.

Scott + Becky Snyder | East Hill

Personally landscaped by homeowners Scott and Becky Snyder, this “not so secret” four-season garden boasts more than 100 varieties of different plants and flowers. The Snyder’s corner lot provides ample space for their bountiful front yard gardens, which are filled with flowering ornamentals, tasty edibles and numerous pollinators. The Snyder’s have purposefully cultivated their gardens to not only be accessible to them, but also to their friends, neighbors and passers-by.

The walk from Avery Street enters at Victory Garden, which is filled with ginger and tumeric. Poison bulbs, swamp lilies and thornless blackberries line the street. Endless summer hydrangeas and Texas star hibiscus are situated to the left of Victory Garden beneath two shady oak trees. To the right side of the garden entrance, is an ever-changing vegetable garden. A limelight hydrangea brightens up the yard with beautiful blooms during summer and fall. Along the front porch is a hosta bed with spiral ginger center and three large oak leaf hydrangeas. The step up to the couple’s front porch is filled with lemongrass and potted bromeliads, perfectly framing the entry to the front door.

Along the corner of the property beneath the street sign, is Sundial Garden, which is filled with multiple lilies, blackberries and oregano. Located on the east side of the property, is Stephanie’s Garden, which was named in honor of a dear friend who was blinded by an attempted suicide and now inspires others through her story of resilience. This garden is one for the senses, featuring an abundance of fragrant herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil and Mexican sage at the center. Along the sidewalk is a large crepe myrtle-shaded pollinator garden filled with daylilies, firespike, native azaleas, milkweed and giant coneflower.

Some other highlights of this garden include an eight-year-old plum tree and 100 year-old damask rose trellised by repurposed wrought iron window bars. A teak loveseat is situated along the side of the home in front of three cassia trees, which resemble golden raindrops when in bloom. Along the side of the house underneath a driftwood gate, is the couple’s prized camelia, cultivated by three-time past president and board member of the Pensacola Camellia Club, John Davey. Other varieties of Davey’s camellias are planted throughout the yard to provide some color when nothing else is blooming.

Paul + Virginia Williard | Warrington

From the cottage-inspired garden shed to the tranquil goldfish pond, the Williard’s charming backyard garden is filled with whimsical touches. As you enter the backyard, you are immediately greeted by a stunning array of blooming orchids hanging beneath a large crepe myrtle tree and several fruit trees. The entire backyard is surrounded by blooming azaleas—all planted nearly 40 years ago by Virginia’s parents who once owned the home.

The expansive backyard is shaded by a number of large oak trees, one of which Virgina has fond memories of from growing up in the house when she was a child.

Growing under the shade of a large oak tree, sits the Williard’s prized 100-year-old night-blooming cereus plants, which showcase beautiful fragrant blooms several times during the warm season. Near a large outdoor patio space is a lovely garden shed, affectionately referred to as “Grannie’s Gardenia Cottage.” The cottage-like shed houses the Williard’s gardening tools and includes a potting table and numerous shelves for displaying potted plants. The garden shed also boasts a shaded front patio area that’s lined with a variety of potted plants and colorful, blooming bromeliads. Next to Grannie’s Gardenia Cottage, is a large wooden pergola covered with flowering vines, providing overhead shade for the tranquil goldfish pond situated below. The pond was lovingly built by the Williard’s son, and serves as home to a variety of coy and goldfish. A quaint garden bench was situated nearby for relaxing and enjoying the fish. The Williard’s also have a designated space in their garden for different varieties of blooming annuals, making them readily available for fresh flower arrangements.

The large shaded backyard has many separate garden areas, including a circular flowerbed blossoming with beautiful daylilies, numerous vibrantly colored bromeliads, several gardenia bushes and a large shaded plant bed with an iron plant, ginger, hibiscus and more. The real star of this charming garden is the Williard’s 35-year-old staghorn fern that is prominently displayed at the center of the backyard. Hanging from a custom-built wooden structure, the impressive fern spans nearly 4 feet across and weighs more than 40 pounds.

Charles + Tami Buzbee | Pensacola

They say that looks can be deceiving, and this is certainly the case when it comes to the Buzbee’s secret garden escape. As you drive down Chadwick Street off North Davis Highway, you suddenly stumble across a massive garden area, which is fairly uncommon for a property located inside city limits. The Buzbee’s property consists of two separate lots, one of which was later purchased for the sole purpose of expanding their garden. Today, the couple’s nearly 1-acre property boasts a bountiful array of citrus trees, lush tropical palms, larger-than-life elephant ears and edible gardens.

As you enter the left-side of the property, you are greeted by rows of banana trees, thornless blackberries, blueberries and three tall rows of scuppernong and muscadine grapes.

During the summer months, you’ll find vegetables growing between the towering rows of sweet grapes. Some of this year’s crops include tomatoes, green beans, bell peppers, jalapenos, okra, sweet potatoes, and last but not least—one of Mrs. Buzbee’s personal favorites—purple hull peas. Situated near the back corner of the property behind the edible gardens, lies an unexpected surprise—a grove of more than 19 citrus trees including lemon, lime, orange, loquat, blood orange and more.

A white sandy pathway lined in lush tropical plants and elephant ears, leads you from the left side of the property into the Buzbee’s shaded backyard retreat. You’re immediately greeted by a large swimming pool and numerous entertaining areas consisting of multi-level decks and patio spaces, including a fire pit. Along the back corner of the pool, sits a one-of-a-kind rock structure with a cascading waterfall, which was designed and built by Charles Buzbee. The impressive waterfall feature boasts a spa tub at the summit and a walkthrough cave that leads to the top of the structure.

The couple’s outdoor living area is surrounded by colorful potted plants and palms, providing an exceptional place for evening dinner parties or relaxing with a drink.