Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Sets a New Green Standard

Come for the orchids, stay for the electromagnetic cooking at the first net-positive-energy botanical garden in the world

A large building with a garden in front

Photo: Ryan Gamma Photography

One of the new buildings at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens downtown campus.

When it came time for a rethink of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens campus in downtown Sarasota, Florida, president Jennifer Rominiecki gave her design team a simple request: Make the project as green as possible. About seven years, a new three-building complex, and some 55,000 square feet of solar panels later, the team exceeded her wildest expectations. The reimagined space is now the first net-positive-energy botanical garden complex in the world, generating more energy than it consumes. 

Bermuda shoreline
Stay in Touch with G&G
Get Due South, our weekly travel newsletter.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The gardens first opened to the public in 1975 after green thumb and Sarasota resident Marie Selby bequeathed her home and property along Sarasota Bay “for the enjoyment of the general public.” Since then, the nonprofit, split between two sites on forty-five bayfront acres, has drawn visitors to its century-old banyan grove, stunning array of 4,450 orchids, and rare botanical book collection dating to the late 1700s, among other holdings.  

photo: Rod Millington
A living plant wall at the plant research center.

Now, the downtown campus is in the middle of a three-phase facelift, with phase one freshly completed. There’s a new welcome center, plus a plant research center that houses over 125,000 specimens along with the second largest collection of bees in the world. The crown jewel, though, is the Morganroth Family Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), home to the vast majority of the property’s solar panels, a plant shop, and a restaurant called the Green Orchid, whose leafy dishes pull from an on-site rooftop garden that grows everything from lettuce and eggplant to edible Nasturtium flowers. The cooks don’t turn to gas or flame for hot dishes; electromagnetic fields heat pots and pans. 

photo: courtesy of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Warm roasted chicken salad with basil at the Green Orchid.

Going green has long-term benefits: The solar panels will save Selby over $100,000 each year in energy costs and offset 1,020 tons of CO2 annually. Plus, the project promotes Sarasota’s water quality by collecting water from the building and the ground and filtering it before release into the adjacent Hudson’s Bayou. 

And they’re only getting started—the next two phases have equally ambitious goals for sustainability and resilience to hurricanes. “We hope we will be a model for others to follow,” Rominiecki says. “We went from behind to ahead of the curve on green infrastructure, and we want to educate the public and be a demonstration site of how this can work.” As Selby celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, it’s fitting that they’ve secured a greener future for the next fifty.