In 1936, brothers Bill and Lester Piper established the Reptile Gardens for tourists traveling the Tamiami Trail, the only road back then connecting Tampa and Miami. Here, visitors took a break from the road and marveled at the wildlife wonders of Southwest Florida.
As the attraction’s wildlife and botanical exhibits grew, the Pipers changed its name to the more apt Everglades Wonder Gardens. Eventually, the Gardens also became known for its wildlife rehabilitation programs. For three generations—all under the original owners—the Gardens embodied the nostalgia, history, and wonder of Florida, and introduced visitors to trees and plants from around the world.
In early 2013, the Piper family decided it was time to find a new owner and closed the attraction’s doors. But a local family stepped in, leased the property from the Pipers, and managed the Gardens until a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to saving the Gardens, could be established.
In 2014, a group of local residents formed the Bonita Wonder Gardens Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Two years later, the City of Bonita Springs generously provided a major loan so the new organization could rent the property from the City and various business assets. These events saved Everglades Wonder Gardens from commercial development. Thus a new chapter began for this beloved attraction—one of very few original Florida attractions to survive the tides of development sweeping the state in recent decades.
While preserving the very best of this 80-year-old cultural icon, the non-profit is dedicated to enhancing and improving the property. It is busy restoring wildlife enclosures; nurturing the beauty of the gardens—a botanical gem in their own right; adding new elements to the visitor experience—a pollination pavilion, butterfly enclosure, and tea house; and developing and executing education programs, including children’s summer camps. In addition, the Gardens offers a huge number of volunteer opportunities, leading many more seasonal and year-round residents to embrace and celebrate this jewel in their midst.
Today, the Gardens are experiencing record-breaking attendance and introducing its wide variety of rescued reptiles and birds, including its famed flock of bright pink flamingos, to new generations of visitors.
Click here to download and view a slideshow on the history of the Everglades Wonder Gardens!