ICYMI: Florida Parks Service Breaks Ground on Nation's First Public Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park

Florida Department of Environmental Protection


CONTACT: DEP Press Office, 850-245-2112, DEPNews@FloridaDEP.gov


Florida Parks Service Breaks Ground on Nation's First Public Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park

Serenity Gardens Groundbreaking

Members of DEP's Florida Parks Service joined elected officials, the Florida State Parks Foundation, the Wekiva Wilderness Trust and community members to break ground on the Serenity Garden at Weiwa Springs State Park.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Last week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Park Service broke ground on the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park located near Orlando in Apopka. The one-acre garden is believed to be the first public serenity garden in the nation and will offer a welcoming retreat where visitors – particularly those with diverse abilities and special needs – can enjoy a unique sensory experience.

Lushly landscaped with an array of native plants, the garden will feature interactive and sensory elements as well as enhanced opportunities for exercise, social gathering and therapeutic programming.

"The Serenity Garden is a shining example of how Florida is a leader in taking an innovative approach to expanding equitable access to nature," said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. "It will facilitate the highest possible level of enhanced opportunity and engagement for recreational activity, relaxation, exercise, social gathering, and educational and therapeutic programming for visitors of all ages and abilities."

National and regional expertise has been engaged in designing the garden according to evidence-based principles established by the American Therapeutic Horticultural Association. In 2020, faculty and graduate students from Adventist University of Health Science's Occupational Therapy Department spent two days at the site as groundwork for the first evidence-based research study to be performed at the garden. The ongoing study will explore the quality of life impacts of the Serenity Garden's design and programs for four specified groups: seniors, people who have lost their sight, Wounded Warrior veterans, and children and adults with autism. 

"We're honored to break ground on this new addition to our award-winning state park system," said Chuck Hatcher, acting director of Florida State Parks. "Providing access for everyone is one of our core values, and the landscape architecture for this project has been specifically designed to the highest possible standards and purposes of accessibility, universal design, education, safety, and enjoyment by visitors of all ages and abilities."

The use of specialty gardens to enrich human health and wellness dates to the Middle Ages. In the 21st century, research at major U.S. hospitals and universities began to produce a body of modern evidence. It is now understood that time spent in green spaces can benefit human health in culturally significant and scientifically measurable ways. 

Through its participation in this research, the American Therapeutic Horticultural Association solidified a set of evidence-based principles, which became the standards for developing gardens used for therapeutic purposes. Gardens now serve in therapeutic capacities at many hospitals, rehabilitation centers, psychiatric facilities, nursing homes and vocational rehabilitation programs across the country. Still, none are as comprehensive as the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park. The funds for this project were raised by the Wekiva Wilderness Trust, the citizen support organization that supports three state parks in the Wekiva Springs basin.