By Rebekah Monson, Sun Sentinel
9:42 p.m. EDT, April 21, 2011
It's difficult to imagine the sandy, barren piece of land downtown lush with trees, flowers, herbs and vegetables, but construction starts Earth Day Friday on one of the largest community gardens in South Florida.
The Boca Raton Community Garden eventually will cover about 1.5 acres — or two football fields — east of the new library site at Northwest Fourth Street and Boca Raton Boulevard. It will include educational space, picnic areas, open space and special raised beds for gardeners with disabilities, said Wayne Tonning, the landscape architect who designed the project.
"We didn't want it to have a single use," he said. "We wanted it to be a park space where people can come together that will have a lasting impact on the community."
Ten percent of the organic produce and flowers grown at the garden will be donated to Boca Helping Hands to help feed the hungry.
Mayor Susan Whelchel initiated a partnership with the Junior League of Boca Raton to plan and run the garden, said Schuyler Thompson, Junior League community garden chairwoman.
"This is a municipal, corporate and nonprofit partnership," Thompson said. "We're enhancing quality of life by beautifying the city, connecting with nature and feeding ourselves and those at our food bank the most nutritious organic produce available."
Whelchel said plans for the garden have surpassed her expectations, and it could garner national attention when it's completed.
"I see it blossoming into a really unique community experience, and one that will provide for people in need," she said. "Its educational aspects, the sustainablity and the relationship to our new library are going to be very beneficial."
The garden eventually could contain more than 250 plots, but about 45 will be constructed for the fall growing season, she said.
The plots — 4-by-4 feet, 4-by-8 and 4-by-12 — will rent for $40, $60 and $80, respectively, per growing season, she said.
"All in all, if we had to pay for everything, this project would cost about $200,000," Thompson said. "But, we've had corporate sponsors step in to help, and people are contributing through our sponsorships and through the Whole Foods campaign."
The Junior League continues to offer engraved bricks for the garden's central walkway and sponsorships for benches, trees, gazebos and fountains, and shoppers can donate to the garden when they check out at Whole Foods, she said.
"We can build it as fast as people can donate for it," Thompson said. "All the people who have contacted us just really want a place to garden, so we're working on getting the plots built first."
The garden plots will include amended soil and water access, and master gardener Betsy Pickup will be on hand to assist with organic gardening techniques, she said.
"Florida has unique growing conditions with bugs, soil and heat, and a lot of what I'll be doing is helping people to learn about how to deal with those," Pickup said. "I think this will be a great place for the community, not just gardeners. It's satisfying to be outside and to be growing things, though. It's therapeutic, and it's very affordable, too."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6624