FIVE IN ONE – Bonita Springs Florida Weekly

Keith Hart, Marlin Bird, Julie Concannon, and Gary Elliott in Mr. Bird’s lanai garden.

The residents of Naples Reserve like gardening so much, they have five forms of community gardens.

There are 23 raised bed planters for vegetables, an herb garden along a hillside berm, a pollinator garden to attract butterflies, another flower garden with more ornamental varieties, and an orchard with 17 different fruit trees, including mango, blood orange, calamondin, star fruit, lime and more lemon.

These gardens wrap around a dog park along one of the main roads through the East Naples community with 1,088 homes that is just finalizing construction.

“The community garden is a tremendous asset and a great security,” said Julie Concannon, general manager of Naples Reserve. We’re very grateful for the volunteers. They do a lot of work.”

Gary Elliott is co-chair of the landscape committee along with Jeannine Whitlock. The community garden club is a subset of this committee and has about 20 members.

Originally from Canada, Mr. Elliott lived on Marco Island and elsewhere in Naples for about 20 years before moving to Naples Reserve two years ago. To help him make the best decisions for his neighbors, Mr. Elliott took the nine-week master gardener program through the UF/IFAS Florida Extension.

One of the community's flower gardens is in the foreground, while the raised bed planters for vegetables are visible in the background.

One of the community’s flower gardens is in the foreground, while the raised bed planters for vegetables are visible in the background.

“I needed to learn all of that so I could talk to our landscaping contractor about what’s right and wrong,” Mr. Elliott said. “It was so informative.”

He shares what he learned, such as sending out the Extension Office’s schedule of suggested vegetable planting timelines for Southwest Florida. “I got several compliments on that,” Mr. Elliott said.

Keith Hart, another landscape committee member and an accountant by trade, said he appreciates guidance and assets such as model landscaper contractors that the Extension Office provides.

They really encourage having a landscape committee for a community of this size and having at least one master gardener. We’re trying to do what we can to conform to University of Florida guidelines.”

Mr.  Bird stands among the banana trees.

Mr. Bird stands among the banana trees.

Mr. Hart also likes the UF website lists of plant species that details where they grow best, how to cultivate them, and tips about water, soil and pests. “It’s really a wonderful resource.”

Since the gardens launched about five years ago, much of what the community garden committee has learned has been through trial and error.

Marlin Bird has been active with the group since 2019, when vegetables were grown directly in the ground. The members learned that the soil was too sandy and the production they spent so much time growing was very attractive to rabbits, deer and birds. Mr. Bird used his own money to build raised bed planters that could be encased by screening.

Gardening is hard for some of the older folks, so I made the beds 16 inches tall and put two-by-fours on top so people could sit while they plant and weed. Bird said.

Tomatoes, peppers, melons, eggplant, rosemary, lemongrass, mint and more now grow so well, garden club members share their harvest for free on Saturdays at the clubhouse, so all residents can have fresh vegetables and herbs.

Marlin Bird and Gary Elliott sit among the raised bed planters that Mr.  Bird built for vegetable gardening at Naples Reserve.  ROBIN DEMATTIA / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Marlin Bird and Gary Elliott sit among the raised bed planters that Mr. Bird built for vegetable gardening at Naples Reserve. ROBIN DEMATTIA / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Many residents have enjoyed the truly locally grown produce so much, they have started container gardening on their lanais. The club now promotes this idea and is launching monthly home visits to share tips.

Mr. Bird was the first to showcase his garden. He recently expanded his lanai and now has some plants growing directly in dirt along one side, many growing in individual planters, as well as a raised bed that runs the entire back length of the lanai. He has an extensive compost system that features coffee grounds from Starbucks and manure from a nearby horse stable, and he spreads the final product at the community garden.

“The horse contribution is an unlimited supply,” Mr. Bird joked.

He also started thinly shredding cardboard to use as mulch in the vegetable gardens. “We did this last year and it made a world of difference,” he said. It seemed like you could almost eliminate watering. Nothing dried out.”

Pat Molloy grows orchids and herbs on her lanai.  ROBIN DEMATTIA / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Pat Molloy grows orchids and herbs on her lanai. ROBIN DEMATTIA / FLORIDA WEEKLY

The fruit trees are still maturing, but Mr. Hart thinks they will eventually provide not only delicious fruits to eat but be very photogenic and lead to wonderful assets used on the community’s social media presence.

The raised bed planters are available for free on a first come, first served basis, and free gardening tools are available. While the committee would love to have more members, Mr. Elliott knows that not everyone can make the time commitment. That is why the group is encouraging more residents to plant vegetables and herbs on their lanais.

Pat Molloy is one of those interested in this concept and proposed the monthly gathering to visit people’s lanai gardens for inspiration. She has close to 60 orchids on her lanai and added rosemary, oregano, chives, basil and parsley.

“There is a woman in here who has an extended lanai with orchids and other plants, and I’ve learned from her already,” Ms. Molloy said. “It would be nice to see what other people do and get ideas from them.”

Members of the Naples Reserve Garden Club share their harvest weekly with fellow community members.  COURTESY PHOTO

Members of the Naples Reserve Garden Club share their harvest weekly with fellow community members. COURTESY PHOTO

With all of these activities, Naples Reserve truly defines “community gardening” in many ways. ¦

The raised beds can be enclosed by screens to keep out birds, rabbits and deer.  COURTESY PHOTO

The raised beds can be enclosed by screens to keep out birds, rabbits and deer. COURTESY PHOTO

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