My Five Favorite Things

My Five Favorite Things: Selby Gardens Horticulture Director Mike McLaughlin

Horticulture director Mike McLaughlin lovingly tends the 15-acre Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

By Ilene Denton May 30, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Mike McLaughlin

Horticulture director Mike McLaughlin lovingly tends the 15-acre Marie Selby Botanical Gardens —the most biologically diverse per acre of any botanical gardens in the world—with a staff of 10, plus 100 volunteers. “It’s a privilege to work here,” says McLaughlin, who came to Selby 15 years ago from Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables. And as Selby Gardens plans for its future $67 million expansion, he says, “There will be new favorite plants and views to enjoy.”

My Favorite Plant

Elaphoglossum peltatum

“It’s impossible to pick one, like choosing your favorite child. But my favorite today is a teeny, unusual epiphytic fern from Ecuador that’s in our greenhouses and often on display in our conservatory. It doesn’t get much taller than an inch or two, and it’s very tactile, like a sponge. We don’t encourage people to touch our plants, but this one you’ve got to. ”

My Favorite Greenhouse:

Greenhouse No. 4

“This is the big one, about 125 feet long and over 6,700 square feet. It’s not open to the public. Every square inch is filled floor-to-ceiling with plants from our living collection; it fascinates me by the diversity and the sheer mass. When you walk in, especially in the wintertime, it’s hot and humid with that wonderful musty greenhouse smell. You can imagine all the oxygen pumping through that house.”

My Favorite Tree

The Moreton Bay fig

“The tree comes from Moreton Bay on the eastern coast of Australia, and by its size we guess it was planted in the late 1930s by Mrs. Selby. It’s otherworldly, like something out of Avatar. I’m drawn to it because it’s sculptural, very powerful. I love the light that plays on the roots’ holes and protrusions at different times of day. You get an amazing view of it from the Children’s Rainforest tower.”

My Favorite Piece of Art:

The Buddha Amitabha

“It’s a jade-green marble Buddha along the walkway between the Visitors Center and the conservatory. I was there when we received the donation from a man whose wife had just passed away. The two had been traveling in China and saw it at a granite mine. It wasn’t for sale, but he desperately wanted it and convinced them to sell it and ship it to the United States. It’s exquisite; I love the moss green color and its spiritual significance.”

My Favorite Public Spot:

The Steinwachs Family Foundation Mangrove Walkway    

“If I need to do some deep contemplative thinking, like master planning, I’ll go down on the promenade that sticks out into the water overlooking the Ringling Causeway. I watch the sailboats, the seabirds fishing. The tide is out or in, and I’m surrounded by the different types of mangroves. It really reveals what a unique site Selby Gardens is, protruding into the bay right on the edge of downtown. ”

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