Photo by Melody

We Make a Garden

By Marie Harrison (can2growJuly 21, 2014

How many of us have an opportunity to make a garden from scratch to turn a blighted piece of earth into a paradise for pollinators? My garden club had such an opportunity, and it has been very rewarding.

Gardening picture
The garden club takes seriously its charge to educate not only children, but ourselves and the community at large about gardening and the contributions gardeners can make to the welfare of our planet. In response to this charge, we find areas in the community where we can put our beliefs into action. 
For years the garden club has had an association with the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida. We have participated in its fund-raising festivals with flower shows and plant sales, and the museum has supported the club from time to time by offering us a meeting place, a place to give educational programs to the community, and by offering a place to hold plant sales and flower shows.

Some members of the club knew about the fenced-in area behind the museum where various groups over the years have attempted gardens. The area had been neglected for many years and was an unsightly, weed-filled jungle. Some areas were occasionally mowed. Its primary use was a holding space for classes of school children who were bussed in for tours of the museum. It was certainly not a place where museum visitors were invited. (Mouse over pictures below for interpretive information.)

Garden club members have become aware of the plight of butterflies, especially the monarchs, bees, and other pollinators. We wanted to do something positive to make a difference in their welfare. What better to aid pollinators than a garden designed to attract them, to gather nectar, and to raise their young? The site behind the museum offered a perfect place for such an endeavor. We decided to make a garden for our local pollinators and a refueling stop for migrants that come our way.

First of all, of course, was the ever present funding problem inherent with volunteer, non-profit organizations. All endeavors must be funded, so we had to find a way to pay for the pollinator garden. Gardens cannot exist in Northwest Florida without a water source. Raised beds were required because the garden was once a parking lot covered with oyster shells. Needed were trellises upon which to plant vines and benches upon which visitors and classes of school students could sit for outdoor lectures and demonstrations. Of course, we also needed plants, soil amendments, mulch, and all the garden accoutrements as well as volunteers to bring this vision to fruition.

Our first fund raiser presented itself as a response to a Florida statewide initiative celebrating 500 years of Florida’s history. Celebrations were to be held all over the state recognizing our history. Naturally, the garden club, the city, and the museum wanted to be a part of this. It was decided we would hold a “Viva Florida 500” festival as a fundraiser for the garden. Food and craft vendors were invited, a large plant sale was included, and activities for children took place throughout the day, as well as lectures about gardening in our area by knowledgeable extension agents. The official groundbreaking of the garden was held on that day, and city officials, the museum board of directors, and garden club personnel were involved in the process. The club earned about $1800 in this venture, and it was enough to get us started. 

Donations from individuals sweetened the pot considerably, and local businesses provided services free of charge. A landscape contractor built the raised beds, an Eagle Scout built trellises and benches, and an irrigation specialist installed an irrigation system and water faucet. Garden club members provided the plants, and students from a nearby high school gained some valuable community service hours by helping prepare the beds and planting the plants the club had selected for attracting pollinators.
Emerald Coast Nursery donated pine needle mulchImage

 Raised beds built by landscape contractortrellis and benches by Eagle Scout
A “Name That Garden” city-wide contest was held. School students and citizens sent in their suggestions for naming the garden. The official name was selected by a committee of garden club members and museum personnel. From the many suggested names, Paradise Gardens was selected. After all, we live in Valparaiso, meaning “Vale of Paradise,” and what we were creating was to be a paradise for pollinators.

Under the garden club’s leadership, the patch behind the museum changed from an eyesore to a beautiful spot ready to receive and support pollinators and to become an official exhibit of the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida. This summer the finishing touches are being made on the garden, and it is readying for the onslaught of school field trips and regular museum visitors who will visit the garden and learn about pollinators and the impact they have on our way of life.
Educational brochures are being produced by garden club members, and other members are being schooled in various aspects of the garden, from native plants to selecting which plants attract which pollinators. Members are studying to be educational docents who can knowledgeably lead groups of people through the exhibit and tell about the plants and pollinators. The club is scheduled to hold some lectures in the community room of the museum to teach club members and other groups how they can help our diminishing population of pollinators.

The garden club is very proud of this garden, and it is with pride that we share it with our community. We hope it will lead to similar efforts elsewhere and encourage citizens to include plants for pollinators in their gardens. It is not essential to have a big yard, or even a garden, to make a contribution. Just a few flower pots could help, especially if neighbors work together. A community-wide network of gardens, window boxes, and sidewalk planters could form a biotic bridge to outlying natural plant communities so migratory species would always find nectar to replenish their strength and continue their journeys. Paradise Gardens will be a small part of that pathway, and with your help, we can make a difference in the diminishing numbers of pollinators, and consequently to the continuation of life as we know it.

  About Marie Harrison  
Marie HarrisonServing as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at

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