By LOIS KINDLE
Sun City Center resident Anne Priante learned three years ago she actually has a green thumb.
Although she had never gardened before, she agreed to help a friend tend a large plot of veggies in the Tillers and Toilers Club’s Garden of Eat’n.
After the first year, the friend decided to hang up her hoe, but by that time Priante had become hooked on growing and harvesting her own vegetables. So she decided to keep the garden and enlisted her husband, Steve, to assist.
“I love it,” she said, about her new avocation. “[Gardening] is meditative and good for the soul. It’s a good stress release; you’re rewarded for your efforts; and it’s simply fun to do.”
The Priantes grow and harvest an actual salad bowl – two varieties of eggplant, onions, carrots, scallions, red and green cabbage, plum tomatoes, red and yellow beets, nasturtiums, yellow and green beans, and Crispino lettuce. They enjoy having plenty of freshly grown produce and often share it with friends and neighbors.
So do Cecil Richardson and his wife, Janet.
“We spend one hour a day together doing whatever is needed,” he said. “We started with half a plot when Covid came along. It was a real blessing. We could spend time outdoors doing something we enjoyed, talk with other gardeners and not be too close. We’re now in our fourth year.”
A Tiller and Toilers member who leased a garden next to theirs could no longer keep up it, so the Richardsons now tend it for her. The neighborly arrangement helps them both.
“We share the veggies we harvest with her,” he said. “We enjoy seeing things grow.”
The Tillers and Toilers have been “up and running” for more than 35 years, said club President Joe Michaliszyn, a nine-year member. “It’s open to Sun City Center Community Association members, including Aston Gardens and Freedom Plaza.”
Membership is limited to the number of gardens we have at any given time, he said, estimating the club has a total of about 185 garden plots, ranging in size from 5-foot by 10-foot mini-plots to 17-foot by 32-foot, full-size garden plots. Members are required to plant, maintain and harvest whatever they grow, but they have complete freedom to choose what that is.
A tour of the Garden of Eat’n reveals the individuality of its gardeners. While some are arranged in hodge- podge fashion, others are picturesque and well-ordered. There are all kinds of boxes and containers, trellises, raised beds, even concrete-block borders. Creativity is rampant.
Some members have more than two plots. There are currently six or seven people on the waiting list for the large gardens, but some of the smaller gardens areas are available.
“They’re perfect for people who’d like to give gardening a try,” Michaliszyn said.
Members pay a $20 per year, regardless of plot size, and they may grow veggies, flowers and fruits. They must bring their own hand tools, but water (for the plots), large garden tools and wheelbarrows are provided. Trees are not permitted, unless already grandfathered in.
Each member can have one helper, who pays $5 annually, and that helper can be a spouse, friend or neighbor, Michaliszyn said. The helper gets first option on the plot if the member they’re attached to leaves.
The Tillers & Toilers occasionally host free classes; plant sales; and group events; like pizza parties and potlucks. The club provides the meat, and members bring covered dishes.
“We like to play dirty,” said Michaliszyn, who has a garden he calls the Construction Zone. “I enjoy watching the fruits of my labor grow and seeing how it happens. I like spending time outdoors while I garden, sit and enjoy the garden and simply enjoy the day. There’s nothing like freshly grown [produce], especially when it’s yours. The flavor is beyond description.”
Interested in joining? Visit https://sites.google.com/site/scctiller for information on signing up, go by the garden at 1516-A W. Del Webb Blvd., or call Michaliszyn at 713-254-9125.