A Bloom­ing Beauty

The Peace River Botan­i­cal & Sculp­ture Gar­dens draws lovers of art and na­ture

Times of the Islands - - Departments -

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. 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.

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 g ardens, 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.

There visi­tors can en­counter Feuer­man’s hy­per­re­al­is­tic works. Next Sum­mer sits in the re­flect­ing pool and looks as if an ac­tual swim­mer snuck into the wa­ter to en­joy the sun.

“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.” 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.

“Roger and Linda Te­trault have blessed this com­mu­nity with

It’s a won­der­ful place to spend con­tem­pla­tive time strolling the board­walks and view­ing the in­cred­i­ble sculp­tures made by in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed artists.” —Lo­rah Steiner, direc­tor of tourism for Char­lotte County

their vi­sion for, and ex­e­cu­tion of, a world­class 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.” Beth Lu­berecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based free­lance writer and reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia. Learn more about her at beth­lu­berecki.com.

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

Some of the sculp­tural high­lights in­clude (clock­wise from left) F eu­er­man’s Bibion­theBall ; Jack Dowd’s Yel­lowAndy , greet­ing visi­tors as they ar­rive; and Ja­cob Kulin’s SteelPalm, over­look­ing the gar­dens.

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