By LOIS KINDLE
Anyone who digs plants and needs a place to work with them is invited to lease a garden bed from the Apollo Beach Garden Club. The nonprofit group recently created the Apollo Beach Community Forest Garden at the Apollo Beach Park and is ready to share its resources with others in the area.
The club will host an open house from 9 a.m. to noon at the park, 664 Golf and Sea Blvd., Aug. 28 and 29. The garden is to the far right of the recreation center upon entering the parking area.
Interested gardeners can select a raised bed at the open house or do so now on the club’s website at www.apollobeachgardenclub.com.
“I’m so proud of the Garden Club volunteers and how they helped bring (his and the club’s) dream of a community garden to fruition at the park,” said Raleigh Barnes, former Apollo Beach park supervisor, who now owns Third Insight Design & Nursery with his wife, Annie. He is the community garden coordinator, and she is the club’s secretary.
The couple donated many of the plants and all of the gardens fruit trees, which comprise the “forest” part of the garden.
“This entire project was something I wanted to give back to the South Shore and Apollo Beach communities. It was a way for me to share my passion for plants and give people of all ages the resources they need to help them enjoy gardening.”
The 24 4-foot by 8-foot by 10-inch raised beds are $75 per year for community members and $37.50 for club members. Club dues are $15 per year for those who’d like to join.
Eleven of these are already leased. Lessees can rent one or more spaces, as long as they’re available.
For folks with special needs, there are also six 4-foot by 4-foot by 10-inch table beds that are high enough for someone either to stand or sit in a wheelchair or stool to garden. Each is screened and netted underneath. The cost for these is the same.
Lessees may plant anything they desire (fruits, veggies or flowers), but they are required to garden following organic principles. GMO seeds are not permitted.
They may garden from dusk to dawn daily, as desired, and are given a gate code for entry.
Barnes actually helped the Apollo Beach Garden Club get started through Hillsborough County in March 2017. He is proud the club is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit and tends its own Community Forest Garden, which is planted on property leased from Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation.
“Our role is to keep this garden looking wonderful,” said Paula Oleson, the garden club’s president and lifelong gardener. “We began creating the plots in January and built the raised beds during February and March. Then the pandemic hit, and everything stopped. That’s something we can’t undo, but we can move forward, and we are.
“Our Community Forest Garden is a way for families to grow some of their food together and for children to learn where their food comes from,” Oleson said, adding that kids are welcome to work with their parents. Pets are not allowed.
Apollo Beach resident Joanne Armstrong, who calls herself, the garden’s “lone weeder,” has been with the club the past two years.
She has yet to sign up for a bed because she wants to make sure there are some available for members of the community.
“I garden to take me away from the worries of the day,” she said, adding in addition to helping out at the community garden, she has plants at home she tends.
Olesen agrees. “I enjoy being out in the open air, the freedom to create and the pleasure of seeing something happen, regardless of the result,” she said.
The Apollo Beach Garden Club is a group of people who enjoy working with plants and sharing gardening experiences. Members exchange ideas, suggestions and best practices. Currently, the group has 23 members and guests to attend the meetings.
The club focuses on cultivation and propagation of endemic species (plants unique to a specific geographic region), edibles, epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants but aren’t parasitic, like ferns or bromeliads) and Florida-friendly varieties.
Normally, the club meets the third Tuesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Apollo Beach Recreation Center, where it hosts a speaker and plant exchange each month. No meetings are scheduled for July and August; however, they will resume Sept. 15, even if it needs to be held outdoors.