Lakeland’s 1.2-Acre Hollis Garden Delights and Mesmerizes
by MARY TOOTHMAN
The city of Lakeland has its share of treasures, and one that is a particular point of pride is the lovely Hollis Garden. The unique, formal garden has 16 rooms, more than 10,000 flowers, shade trees and ornamental shrubs and hosts nuptials with dozens of brides and grooms each year.
Popular yet serenely quiet, the 1.2-acre garden located within the historic Lake Mirror Park was established when Lynn Hollis and her late husband, Mark, decided to donate for its creation. It opened in December 2000.
The garden was an addition to the renovation of the Lake Mirror Civic Center. A garden was intended to be featured on the south side of Lake Mirror, but had never been set up. Mark and Lynn Hollis came up with the idea of Hollis Garden after they visited a garden in New Zealand.
Hollis Garden’s primary caretaker is city employee Kevin Polk, who is delighted to have a job devoted to the care of the garden. “I’ve been working in Hollis Garden since I was 19 years old, so for 17 years,” he says. “I started out working for the Parks and Recreation Department, maintaining the routes downtown and around Lake Mirror.
“When the position opened up in Hollis, I was very interested in the opportunity to work there. I chose to work with plants because I have been interested in nature my entire life. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and growing vegetables, flowers, and herbs. My great-grandma got me into it when I was young, and that’s what got me started.
“I was promoted to grounds maintenance supervisor a little over a year ago, and was very psyched to get the opportunity to continue the direction, vision and mission for Hollis Garden. I love my career and I have a passion for what I do.”
A Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association horticulturist, Polk is working on obtaining a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of South Florida.
“In this field, you never stop learning, and there is always something different to do,” he says. “It is never-ending, but in a good way.
“I enjoy learning new things with regard to landscaping, but most importantly, I enjoy teaching those things to my crew and encouraging them to strive to be the best.”
The staff, he said, strives to ensure that visitors see something new and have a different experience every time they visit the garden.
“The staff and I at Hollis Garden have a lot of passion for what we do, but most importantly, we love providing a beautiful place for the community to visit. It is very satisfying when you see all of your hard work and planning come to life, and the smiles that it brings to this community.”
Tending to Hollis Garden involves quite a bit of planning and upkeep. Duties include organizing and designing all the flower beds and general maintenance – including grass maintenance, trimming, mulching, irrigation, keeping up with the fountains and koi pond.
The “rooms” at Hollis Garden are:
- The Grotto: A cool, moist grotto with limestone walls dripping g with spring water. It is covered with tropical ferns and orchids.
- Gazebo and Trellis: A neoclassical, Tucson and masonry structure with a clay barrel tile roof. It’s designed to offer relief from the hot Florida sun.
- Rosette Plaza and Fountain: An open space with flowers and a swan fountain.
- Sustenance Orchard: Features rare and exotic fruits.
- The Tropical Room: A shrub-lined enclosure featuring a sampling of tropical plants that produce exotic flowers and fruits.
- The Red Room: It lives up to its name — its all red foliage and flowers.
- The Herb Rooms: Two rooms that feature a collection of edible herbs in a traditional English format.
- The Yellow Room: A brilliant collection of all that is yellow.
- The White Room: White flowers and silver foliage.
- Bowls and Runnels: Water channeling from the Rosette fountain into Lake Mirror.
- The Vegetable Room: The largest open space in the garden, with walls of Japanese boxwood, it’s filled with vegetables.
- Trees of America: A lovely selection of American trees.
- Lily Pond: With large leaves the size of dinner plates, this home to koi is peaceful.
- Patterned Flower Beds: A bright display of seasonal color.
- Butterfly Garden: Secluded in the corner of Hollis Garden, this features a magnolia hedge and is home to a collection of vegetation that attracts butterflies.
In addition to maintaining the rooms, the staff is responsible for 25 to 50 weddings held each year at Hollis Garden. “There is something different every day of every week,” Polk said. “It is a lot of fun.”
Designed by architect Jay Hood, Hollis Garden features neo-classical architecture. Music that can be heard throughout the garden is from the late baroque and early classical period, reflecting the age of neoclassicism in architecture.
“The layout of Hollis Garden tells a story about Florida’s history,” Polk said. “It starts in our native section, which represents primitive Florida. Down through the spine of the park, we have bowls and runnels, which connect the different ages. The water flows from primitive Florida to our agrarian age, which is why we have the vegetable room, two herb rooms and our fruit orchard. It then flows down to our modern landscaping era, which consist of our white, yellow and red rooms.”
More than 20,000 flowers are produced each year, and are usually changed out with the seasons. There are between 60 to 70 fruiting trees, and shrubs like mangos, avocados, peanut butter fruit, Barbados cherries and blackberry jam fruit.
“We also have herbs and spices that are used for culinary, aromatic and medicinal purposes,” Polk said. “We have a great collection of plants — you just have to look because they are tucked everywhere.”
There are flowers in the ground and in the trees — epiphytic orchids and bromeliads. There is a butterfly section here, historical tree section, a koi pond, and a great collection of cycads.
“We try to utilize every spot in the 1.2 acres, and include some of the rarest plants we can find,” Polk said. “My favorite part is being able to create and design landscapes from scratch.”