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A Blooming Beauty: The Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens Draws Lovers of Art and Nature

Aug 23, 2018 05:00AM

Carole A. Feuerman’s hyperrealistic sculpture of a swimmer in the reflecting pool.

The plants aren’t the only thing growing at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda, Florida. The site itself is blooming with new life—and will continue to do so over the next several years.

The site’s botanical gardens feature bromeliads, which are native to tropical and subtropical America.

Today, 11 acres are open to the public, filled with palms, bromeliads and other plantings alongside large-scale sculptural works by artists such as Carole A. Feuerman and Jacob Kulin. Upon completion, the site will encompass 27 total acres and include gallery spaces, conservatories and wedding and event venues. It is located on the south bank of the Peace River, east of the city of Punta Gorda.

The gardens are the brainchild of Roger Tetrault and his wife, Linda. The couple built a home on the Peace River in the late 1990s. When an adjacent piece of property came up for sale in 2005, they purchased it. As additional neighboring plots came on the market, they kept buying them up and eventually had enough to create the gardens.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Tetrault served in executive roles at General Dynamics and McDermott International. He traveled the world for his work, and he and his wife would visit art museums and gardens wherever they were. “It was something we had a passion for,” says Tetrault.

The couple’s desire to give back stems from their modest upbringings. “When I retired, we started looking at what we wanted to do with the extra money that we had,” he says. After taking care of their family needs and supporting their alma maters and other organizations that had helped them along the way, they still had funds they could put toward creating a picturesque site for their community and others to enjoy.

Trails wind throughout the gardens and lead to boardwalks that offer views of the Peace River.

Tetrault is building the gardens though his Tetrault Family Foundation. A separate entity, Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens Inc., actually runs the gardens. When finished, the site will be a $30-million facility and will include the Tetraults’ home and extensive art collection after they pass away. The third construction phase of the site is going through approvals now, which will result in a welcome center, new restroom facilities and the opening up of a two-acre wetland island.

“At the rate that I’ve been building it, it will take more than another decade to complete the gardens,” says Tetrault. “But we have major plans for the gardens, which we believe will make this a world-class garden site.”

The spot is already plenty impressive today. Visitors start on the south side of the gardens, where they first encounter Jack Dowd’s Yellow Andy, a depiction of legendary pop artist Andy Warhol just begging for a photo op. Colorful bougainvillea blooms climb three metal tree trellises positioned along the pathway that leads to the riverside portion of the gardens.

“Look at how the tube is indented where her weight is on it,” says Tetrault. “It’s amazing. And we asked [Feuerman] if she would put hibiscuses on her bathing suit, because Punta Gorda is the City of Hibiscus.”There visitors can encounter Feuerman’s hyper-realistic works. Next Summer sits in the reflecting pool and looks as if an actual swimmer snuck into the water to enjoy the sun.

Sculpture by Yu Zhaoyang.

Another Feuerman piece, New York City Slicker, rises out of another section of the pool. “You can see the ‘rain drops’ on her face,” says Tetrault.

Yu Zhaoyang’s Ostriches towers nearby. A bowing couple made of aluminum and sporting bright red outfits serve as unofficial greeters to the riverside portion of the site. “We wanted things that were a little bit different, a little bit fun,” says Tetrault. “And I think we’ve achieved that.”

Other don’t-miss works at the gardens include Kemal Tufan’s Keel, which had to be installed with a 200-foot-crane because of its weight, and Kulin’s Steel Palm. This 18-foot-tall piece was inspired by the ancient palm frond fossil that the Tetrault Family Foundation uses as its logo. It’s positioned at the highest point of the gardens to offer visitors different perspectives on the sculpture. At two spots directly in front of and behind it, all of its stem-and-blade components line up to look like a single piece.

Jacob Kulin’s Steel Palm, overlooking the gardens.

“Roger and Linda Tetrault have blessed this community with their vision for, and execution of, a world-class botanical and sculpture garden,” says Lorah Steiner, director of tourism for Charlotte County. “It’s a wonderful place to spend contemplative time strolling the boardwalks and viewing the incredible sculptures made by internationally acclaimed artists.”

Tetrault admits that the site’s botanical elements are starting off more slowly than its sculptural side. Governmental regulations required that the acreage be raised before anything could be constructed, which meant clearing the land and bringing in a lot of dirt. The gardens have started off with brand-new plant life. Large trees are expensive, so what visitors see today are mainly small to midsized trees (including coffee and kapok trees), along with themed garden areas such as the new sensory garden.

“In the two years before we opened the garden, we planted 3,500 plants,” says Tetrault. “I think that as the years go on, the botanical side of the gardens will become more appreciated by the public than perhaps it is right now. I think if most people say wow [when they visit], it’s primarily because of the sculptures they’ve seen.

“We’ve been working at this since 2005, so I’ve got over 12 years in it,” he continues. “I’ve been a builder all my life, and building the gardens seems to be something that’s worthwhile to do.”

IF YOU GO

Peace River Gardens

5800 Riverside Drive, Punta Gorda

941-621-8299; peacerivergardens.org


Beth Luberecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based freelance writer and regular contributor to TOTI Media. Learn more about her at bethluberecki.com.

art september-october 2018 gardens