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Working Wonders: A Little Bit of Old Florida Thrives in Bonita Springs

Jan 27, 2022 02:35PM ● By KATHY MONTGOMERY

What is tucked behind all that lush landscaping and Old-Florida-style building on Old 41 in Bonita Springs? 

There is no need to wonder! The Wonder Gardens, also known as Everglades Wonder Gardens, is an 85-year-old roadside attraction that is maintaining its rightful place amidst the growing community of new restaurants, condominiums, and retail. 

Step inside and discover that this popular Old Florida destination is being enhanced for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

“As soon as you walk into the Wonder Gardens, whatever you may have on your mind or heavy on your heart just melts away because of the beautiful surroundings and the amazing animals that they have there,” says Lorrie Dale, a supporter quoted in the Wonder Gardens 2020 Annual Report. 

The Piper family established the roadside attraction, originally known as Reptile Gardens, in 1936 along the newly built Tamiami Trail, which was transporting a growing tourist trade from Tampa to Miami. As the animal and botanical exhibits grew, the attraction’s name was changed to Everglades Wonder Gardens to reflect the wider experience available to guests. 

The attraction faded a bit over the years, and in 2014 a group of residents formed a nonprofit organization with the goal of saving the property from being sold for commercial development. The City of Bonita Springs now owns the three-acre property, which is operated by the nonprofit Bonita Wonder Gardens. 

Under the leadership of David Rahahę:tih Webb, who became president and CEO in September 2020, the Wonder Gardens is working on upgrades and introducing new exhibits, events, and educational programs. 

“As a ninth-generation Floridian, maintaining our fun and unique ‘Old Florida’ atmosphere is central to all we do,” says Webb. “With seven new exhibits and even more on the horizon, we have been improving all aspects of the grounds and the facilities.” 

The improvements start once you step inside the entrance at the updated Wonder Shoppe, which is stocked with products and toys that pay homage to the 300 rescued, rehabilitated, and nonreleasable birds and reptiles that call the Wonder Gardens home.  

For a couple of dollars (limited to make sure the inhabitants are not overfed), color-coded plastic cups are available with food for birds and alligators.  

At the first exhibit, visitors encounter lively parrots under metal umbrellas, many of which will squawk a greeting. When the timing is right, volunteers can help visitors hold one of the birds. 

If not, not to worry, wild ibis and resident peacocks roam all over the park, looking for birdfeed. The rest of the birds are in the pond, aviaries, and pavilions, some of which are open to Wonder Gardens guests. For an extra fee, guests can feed nectar and fruit to the lorikeets, colorful birds that land on participants. 

A new otter grotto with clear viewing domes allows children and adults to interact with the otters through the clear cave walls.  

Next to an alligator lagoon with 15 juvenile alligators is a new filter marsh through which plants can clean the water naturally before it is returned to the lagoon.  

A Victorian-style structure made of ornately crafted iron with glass panes, collected from a donated Paris solarium, is available for unique events such as birthday and tea parties, as well as weddings and fundraisers. 

The improvements are part of Webb’s plan to enhance the gardens on many levels, including updating operating procedures. The goal is professional accreditation through the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), which will ensure quality and provide access to funding sources and species survival endeavors, such as the American flamingo breeding program. 


Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region. 



Wonder Gardens 

27180 Old 41 Road, Bonita Springs