By LOIS KINDLE
Raleigh Barnes discovered his green thumb as a young boy, when he would follow his father around the yard with a wheelbarrow collecting Spanish moss.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for growing plants, the 29 year old said. “Now I’d like to share what I’ve learned with others who enjoy gardening, too.”
Barnes is the recreation programs specialist who manages the Apollo Beach Recreation Center at 664 Golf and Sea Blvd. Last month he started a new club at the center for anyone who digs plants. Now he’s reaching out to folks in the community who garden or would like to learn how.
The club meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month in the activities center. Its next meeting will be March 21, when the agenda will include Florida Gardening 101, a plant exchange and potluck lunch. There are no annual dues.
“The Apollo Beach Garden Club is a group of people who have a passion for plants and are willing to share their techniques, skills and tools with each other,” Barnes said. “Our goal is to enrich everyone’s gardening experiences and educate them through programs and presentations by gardening and plant experts.”
Barnes said the focus will be on the cultivation and propagation of endemic species (like bay trees, leather strap ferns and elderberry); edibles (moringa, avocado and papaya), epiphytes (orchids, ferns, bromeliads and air plants) and Florida-friendly varieties.
“I’m considering a segment on butterfly gardening,” he said.
Members will get practical experience gardening on-site in a community garden, where they and community residents can work together and partake in whatever’s grown, Barnes said. Funds will need to be raised for beds, tools, mulch and plants.
In May, members will travel to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota and in September to Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. Free transportation will be provided for the first 10 people who sign up.
Other activities will include a plant sale for club members and area residents in November and a holiday party in December.
Details will be announced later.
Barnes used to plant sunflowers and gourds in The Lone Star State after his family moved to Grapevine, Texas, from West Palm Beach. He originally went to college on a scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University to study environmental science but after one semester, he decided he didn’t want that as a career. So he went back to Texas, enrolled at Texas Women’s University in Denton and graduated in 2011 with a degree in exercise science.
That same year he moved back to Florida, landing in Apollo Beach.
“I reconnected with my maternal grandfather who was a lifelong gardener. Over the next two years until he died, he shared all he could about orchids and edible plants.
“The experience rekindled my love of gardening,” Barnes said. “It requires patience, perseverance and positivity. I find it very therapeutic and spiritual.”
Barnes joined the Tampa Orchid Club in 2014, and fell in love with the colorful plants.
“One orchid turned into 127,” he said, grinning. “I have them all in the front yard of my parents’ home.”
He also has gardens of ferns, bromeliads and succulents.
Barnes went to work as a summer temp for Hillsborough County in 2013, and then became a full-time employee in September. He replaced Jack Reeder at the Apollo Beach Rec Center after his retirement last May.
In addition to the gardening club, the rec center recently introduced beginning and intermediate skateboard lessons for kids ages 6 to 14 at its Diego Duran Skate Park. They are offered Thursdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. through May 4. The cost is $50.
The Apollo Beach Recreation Center is open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The dog park is open daily from dawn to dusk, except on Wednesday morning when it’s closed for maintenance. And the skate park is open noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
For a complete schedule of activities and programs or additional information, visit http://hcflgov.net/en/locations/apollo-beach-park-and-recreation-center or call 813-671-7635.