For the love of gardening
I moved to Cape Coral from Massachusetts almost 19 years ago. My love of gardening came from my parents who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II. Even though we lived in an inner-city Boston neighborhood, we always had a garden. The little strip of land in our backyard was always overflowing with fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Although my main contribution was weeding — ugh — I loved taking a break and munching on a just picked grape or tomato. I hope I never get over the joy of putting a little seed in a dirt pile and watch a plant emerge, grow and bloom!
Having been a very prolific gardener up North, I came to the Cape thinking I knew all about gardening. Ha! What surprises Florida had in store for me! Who knew you started tomatoes in the fall; that “Full Sun” for a plant up North means “you better give me afternoon shade in Florida or I will shrivel up and die;” and rainy season really means rain and lots of it! About a year into my pathetic looking front yard, a kind neighbor took pity on me and brought me to my first Garden Club of Cape Coral meeting. That started a love affair that continues today.
What appeals to me about the Garden Club is not only do you get to meet and socialize with both wannabe and experienced fellow gardeners, you learn so much about plants and everything garden related from others’ real-life experiences. Another consideration is that the whole point of our fundraising is to give back to our community.
Plant sales are the main way we fund raise. I remember helping at my first plant sale years ago, when we had one table full of plants and happily sold $50 worth. I then volunteered to be plant sale manager and was thrilled when we sold $300 worth of plants. We thought that was amazing. This year, at our 2020 annual fund raiser, March in the Park, we netted almost $3,300.
All of that money went to monetary awards to deserving high school seniors heading to college, to Habitat for Humanity, to Camp Wekiva, to local school gardens and much more.
You may not be aware that all of the plants sold at the club plant booth have been raised by members. Our plants have been live tested in Cape Coral gardens — a member has success with a plant, propagates it and then shares it with the rest of us. This is a real labor of love. We bring close to 500 plants with us. Consider how much planting, weeding, mulching, bug picking and praying goes into getting all those beauties ready for the plant sale. This is accomplished by so many members working together to make it happen. One of the rewards of all the hard work is the number of repeat/regular customers that come to March in the Park year after year. They come to share their successes and failures with previous purchases and to see what we’ve got this year. They pick through our butterfly, native, flowering, foliage, xeriscape, succulent, bromeliad and herb plant assortments and then smile as they find the perfect plant.
Equally rewarding is meeting someone new, who is looking for something different or a beginner looking for some advice from our Master Gardeners and hoping to find the perfect hard-to-kill plants.
I am especially heartened by the club’s outreach to children through our connections with Cape high, middle and elementary schools. Putting aside all the practical benefits of gardening: good exercise, respect and appreciation for Mother Earth, feeding ourselves, conserving and protecting our environment, we hope to cultivate the sheer joy of gardening. Consider the state of the world today, then consider how it feels to be in your garden. It does not matter if your garden is a few pots on an apartment balcony or tons of plants in your yard. All the stress goes away and you’re left with is a moment of peace and joy. Now imagine passing that feeling along to others, especially children.
Quick story: a few years ago, at the plant booth at March in the Park, a young teen shyly came up to me and asked what one plant he could buy with his allowance to start a butterfly garden. We got to talking about plants and gardening and then my helpers and I loaded him up with a pile of butterfly plants and more. The smile on his face and his obvious joy in the plants was amazing, but barely came close to the smiles and joy on the faces of the Garden Club members who were there. And that is why I garden and participate in Garden Club activities — to share the joy!
PS: Our next March in the Park will be March 13, 2021 at Jaycee Park — save the date! For a sneak preview, join the Garden Club at the Tropical Plant Sale at Rotary Park on Oct. 24, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., where we will host a booth for a mini-plant sale.
Dona Baliotis Zeuli is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and March in the Park Plant Booth Manager.