The Upper Garden at Pinecrest Gardens by

2024 Public Projects / USA / Built in 2022 /


The Upper Garden is a new children’s garden located at the historic Pinecrest Gardens in Pinecrest, Florida, near Miami. Pinecrest Gardens is the former site of Parrot Jungle, a historic tourist attraction operating since 1936. The Village of Pinecrest purchased the site in 2003 and opened it as a public garden. Conceived by Village leaders, the Upper Garden project aimed to enhance children’s programming at Pinecrest Gardens, emphasizing inclusivity, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Previously, the site was an underutilized part of the overall garden with an aging playground, a neglected petting zoo, a decaying temporary outdoor activity structure, and a small learning garden, all amidst overgrown vegetation.


The Upper Garden project was developed by an interdisciplinary team that included landscape architects, an inclusivity expert, a zoo design consultant, architects, and engineers. A pivotal three-day design charrette served as the foundation for the design. City officials, garden staff, relevant experts, and community stakeholders convened for the event, guided by the design team. The aims of the collaborative effort were to craft a design harmonizing with the existing historic garden and to position the garden as a premier public space in the region, placing paramount importance on promoting inclusivity, celebrating nature, and setting a new standard for humane treatment of animals.


The new 1.5-acre Upper Garden now stands as an important community amenity, featuring a large playground, petting zoo, learning garden, picnic areas, inclusive restrooms, an urban nature trail, and the iconic Inspiration Center. The design is set within a new extensive ecologically focused planting design with large native shade trees. Entry to the garden is through a new oolite stone moon gate. Decorating the gate are artist sculptures that feature native butterflies and a 6-foot native anole lizard. The gate is flanked by dense native planting, creating a threshold experience into the new garden. The first element that visitors encounter is the new play space. The space is designed as an expansive and immersive shaded play environment. The transformative impact of the Upper Garden’s design is evident in its innovative features. At the heart of this experience lies the new accessible play area adorned with iconic local nature-themed sculptural elements, custom designed with input from the team’s inclusivity expert. The design centers on a larger-than-life anole lizard play sculpture that is also an accessible ramp to elevated areas. Other play elements include lovable frog-play sculptures, a spider spinner, a swing-set, an embankment roller slide, and play music instruments. The innovative approach to the playground area extends to the redesigned petting zoo, incorporating inclusive interaction features and pioneering benchmarks for animal comfort. This includes naturally lit and ventilated shelters, along with large buffered outdoor yards and hurricane-resistant shelters. The Upper Garden design also encompasses an expanded learning garden with accessibility features, such as raised garden beds and broad pathways. The garden also has new outdoor seating areas providing ample accessible seating at all tables, and inclusive, non-gendered restroom facilities. Anchoring the west end of the site is the new iconic multi-use building—the Inspiration Center, a venue for garden learning activities and events. The new outdoor terrace in front of the building overlooks the garden’s historic “Swan Lake” and offers views of the new artist-designed 23’ tall “Bat Condo.” Connecting the garden together is a generously sized inclusive walkway. The design features a gentle walking slope and an ample width that allows families and groups to walk adjacent to each other, inclusive of those in wheelchairs or with walking assistance devices. The path winds through the site and includes a ribbon of stone tiles as a fun element. The path is also an urban nature trail with artist-created educational signage. Immersed in a shady and ecologically oriented landscape, the new Upper Garden is not just a play space, it is also a protective and nurturing habitat that fosters wildlife. The design includes extensive native planting focused on providing food and haven to birds, small mammals, and insects.


The Upper Garden has become an integral component of Pinecrest Gardens. It is a destination and has become an essential element of the garden experience, boosting daily attendance and garden events. After its opening, garden visitor attendance rose by 18% in the first 6 months. It has been lauded by Village officials and embraced by the community, with recent professional accolades affirming its distinction. The project resonates not only as a haven for families and children of all abilities but also as a community-driven initiative that sets a standard for inclusive and ecologically conscious design.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Felis Consulting (petting zoo)
Architecture offices involved in the design: William Lane Architect

Location: 11000 Red Rd, Pinecrest, FL 33156, United States

Design year: 2019-2020

Year Completed: 2022


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