FERNANDO’S HIDEWAY: A vacant lot grows into a community garden in Kelly Plantation
Bob and Terri Hensley, who live in Kelly Plantation in Destin, fought with nature for 14 years to keep their vacant lot next door in reasonably acceptable shape. As soon as they had it mowed to the ground, in a few weeks it was back to its ugly, scraggly self.
Last summer they ordered their first raised planting box as an experiment. Terri exclaimed, “I got so excited about the amount of produce we could grow in one small box. We had plenty and then enough to share with the neighbors.” The seed was sown to develop a community garden with a low membership fee.
Bob says, “I grew up on a farm and I thought what a novel and unique idea for Kelly Plantation. We could provide our neighbors the opportunity for home grown, fresh fruit and vegetables year round. Then we thought, ‘What a tremendous opportunity for meeting neighbors and making new friends.’ ”
The couple decided to jump in with both feet and give the idea a try.
Most important for their project, obtaining planting boxes — BIG ones! Bob and Terri turned to A&E Remodeling to build seven boxes, 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and 30 inches tall.
The boxes are built off the ground, with good drainage holes throughout and drip hoses in every box. Each box contains a mixture of 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and, straight from the barnyard, 1/3 of some of that really good stuff (politely called compost).
The day Terri and Bob got this mixture emptied into each box, kids from all over the neighborhood arrived to see what was going on. The kids were instructed to take off their shoes, jump inside the boxes and start mixing, mixing, and mixing with their feet. The hardest part was getting them out of the boxes.
I happened to be there with a camera and saw an industrious, three-year-old having the time of his life, but he confused the instructions and was throwing the good soil out of the box on to the ground. I told him three times, “In the box, not out of the box,” and every time I turned my back he was busy at work outside the box again. Finally I laughed, gave up and thought, “What the heck, perhaps we will have a ‘Jack and the Beanstalk story here one day.”
The boxes went in, the pergola went up, and the stepping stones were positioned throughout the garden.
Late fall was quickly closing in, so, Bob and Terri made a trip to our local Home Depot and bought seeds for planting. Five weeks later when this writer arrived, I was startled to find it was already time to harvest. The Mesculun lettuce was already 5-inch tall, tender and sweet to the taste. The same box had arugula and the onions were 2-inches high, cilantro the same. Within the seven boxes scattered around the garden you will find basil, cabbage, thyme, dill, marigolds and collards. Several rows of collards reach for the sun and on a recent morning their bright green leaves are covered with tiny dewdrops like diamonds. At this small size, the collards are tender and delicious just to break off and munch on.
Other boxes contain spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, carrots and beets. This community garden rule is to take only what you need for the day.
The garden holds ten fruit trees including Owari satsuma, ruby red grapefruit, lemon, lime, pomegranate, Methley plum and brown turkey fig. Across the front of the garden you will find a hedge of Howard ligustrum showing off its new vibrant yellow leaves shimmering in the sun. Behind the front row is a mixture of maiden grass, crepe myrtle, giant elephant’s ear, gardenia, butterfly weed and royal cape plumbago.
The centerpiece of the garden is Fernando the frog who sits atop his wine barrel surrounded by wine corks. He has a mischievous, wide smile as he raises his glass to welcome all who enter the garden in friendship and merry making. Fernando was a special commission to Beau Smith in Atlanta who makes these amusing copper frogs.
The garden is dedicated to the memory of Terri’s sister, Kathy, from Santa Rosa Beach, who recently lost her 14 year struggle with breast cancer. High schooler Nick Bowyer is the chief weed killer for the community garden.
Happy Holidays to you all and a special thanks to my editor who allows my quirky articles to pass his desk and go on to the pages of the Destin Log. It has been my pleasure.
Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.