The Community Garden at the Indian Trail Improvement District’s Hamlin Park has become a mecca for residents desiring to grow their own produce.
Participants will gather this Saturday, July 15 at 10 a.m. at Hamlin House (14893 89th Place North) for a monthly meeting. The meetings feature a different professional horticulturist each month.
ITID Supervisor Gary Dunkley has watched his pet project blossom from an idea to standing-room-only classes. Meanwhile, the community garden is lush with vegetables and produce grown by Acreage residents, who wish to get away from buying commercial produce.
“The community garden has been going on for three years,” Dunkley said. “One of the reasons I established a community garden is because it’s an inexpensive way of ITID working with the community.”
Dunkley personally participates in the community garden and brings his grandchildren to plant seeds and nurture plants. He said Acreage residents are unique in that most have plenty of property and a great climate to garden, if they know the tricks for growing produce in South Florida.
“We’re having a professional come in and spend a couple of hours,” he said. “We started a garden out there. We have a place to get hands-on experience in how to do irrigation, what type of soil to use, how to box it in — all that kind of stuff. This is something that’s a no-brainer. It’s not going to cost the district any money.”
Part of his initiative to start a community garden was out of frustration from losing plants that he was trying to grow on his own property.
“I planted about 30 fruit trees, and I think only 10 survived,” he explained.
The monthly meetings fill the gap between the desire to garden and knowing how to actually do it.
“Once a month, we offer classes free to all of our residents,” Dunkley said. “We teach them how to plant, what you plant, because there are different zones — I didn’t even know that — and there’s different seasonal plantings.”
They also have experts in different plant diseases, which also, unfortunately, are plentiful in South Florida.
“There’s so many different things, and it’s a community activity that everyone will benefit from,” Dunkley said.
Each month, Community Garden Coordinator Howie Zusel, a master gardener himself, has an expert in different agricultural categories give lectures or demonstrations.
Saturday’s speaker will be Mark Young, president of the Palm Beach County chapter of the Rare Fruit Council International.
“Mark is a resident of The Acreage and has more than 110 rare fruit trees on his property out here,” Zusel said. “He is a very successful gardener. I have a great deal of respect for him, so I invited him out to speak at the upcoming meeting.”
Zusel anticipates a full room for the Hamlin House meeting, explaining that the last meeting was standing room only.
“We can’t wait to hear what he has to say,” Zusel said. “I’ve heard him speak many times. He’s excellent.”
Zusel received his master gardener certification from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) at the Mounts Botanical Gardens in West Palm Beach. He works closely with two other master gardeners who live in The Acreage, Jennifer Casia and Jessica Lindhorst, who worked together to get the community garden going in The Acreage.
Zusel said he is very involved with different garden groups and is trying to foster more interest in The Acreage community.
“A lot of people come to the classes to learn so that they can go home and grow things in their own yard,” he said. “The community garden promotes healthy eating. We don’t use any pesticides or chemicals or things like that. It’s natural and organic, and we’re trying to promote that out here in The Acreage.”
Zusel said some of the biggest challenges for budding gardeners in South Florida revolve around learning to plant the right plants in the right place at the right time of year, as well as getting good plant stock.
“You can’t walk into a chain store and get plants that haven’t been treated with pesticides,” he said. “It’s not healthy, and it’s not good for the environment. We promote natural gardening and native plants. You can’t take something that’s going to grow in the north and expect it to grow here in South Florida. Florida gardening is entirely different, and we’re sharing that with our neighbors.”
Zusel’s personal garden was featured in the 2016 Connoisseurs Garden Tour as one of the eight best gardens in Palm Beach County.
He said people have a wide array of gardening questions, from mysterious substances appearing on the leaves of their plants to what and where to plant.
“If we don’t know, we can find out,” he said. “We use the Master Gardener Help Desk. The extension agents are always very helpful to us.”
Visit www.itidgarden.com for more information about the community garden. For questions about gardening, visit www.mounts.org/gardens-gardening/ask-a-master-gardener.
ABOVE: Jennifer Casia and Jessica Lindhorst tend to ITID’s garden.