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Dreams Become Reality, Part II

Happy Friday, friends! It’s early May and the garden is rolling right along! Every time I step outside, I can feel summer speeding closer, the garden right at its heels drinking in every drop of heat and sunshine, wind and water, standing on the precipice of full riotous bloom. It's hard to believe that only two months ago this same space had no flowers or vegetables at all. As I mentioned in a previous post, back in March I had four large raised planting beds installed along the east side of my yard - in my mind, a dedicated space for me to grow all my cut flowers and vegetables and to experiment with new varieties of medicinal herbs and dye plants. The whole endeavor has been part of a dream nearly a decade in the making, and I'd like to share with you all a little about that process and where the garden is today!

All in, the whole process took several weeks, but was definitely worth it in the end. Knowing I was returning to Central Florida at a distinct disadvantage as far as climate and knowledge of local pests and disease was concerned, I ultimately decided to save my back and give my plants a head start by using raised beds so I could control conditions a bit more closely. Each raised bed is 4’ wide, 8’ long, and 26 inches high. The sides are made of roofing tin bolted together at the joints with pressure-treated two-by-fours to stabilize the structure so it doesn’t bow out from the weight of the soil. You can find the design on Leu Gardens’ website here. If you live in Orlando and are lucky like me, you might even have Leu Gardens' own Robert Bowden build and install them for you!

After everything had been constructed, I made sure the bed frames were positioned where I would ultimately want them (since once they were filled, there'd be no moving them!). I opted to keep things a bit on the tighter side, with about 12-16 inches between the beds and the fence, and about the same distance between each bed so that I could maneuver fully around them for tending, harvesting, and watering purposes. Thankfully, I'm a pretty small person! I also had to have the irrigation for my lawn taken out a few feet so the beds wouldn’t be sitting on top of the sprinkler heads.

Once those logistics were set, I worked with a local landscaping company to fill each bed with builder’s sand and organic top soil. With the beds being so high, it was more affordable to fill all but the top 8-10 inches of each bed with builder’s sand. It took several trips in a flat bed truck backed precariously down my narrow paver driveway to finish the job. In total, more than a dozen yards of sand and top soil were added - not an easy feat in parking-limited College Park! Next up, I amended each bed with Black Kow compost and organic Espoma Plant Tone fertilizer. As an aside - I have mixed feelings about Black Kow. In some markets it’s great, in others (like northern NJ), it’s awful. However, at the time with COVID looming and the prospect of the garden centers closing, I stocked up and got the job done. For each bed, I manually mixed these amendments into the top 6-8 inches of soil and then watered everything in deeply and let it sit for a week. 

While all this was underway, hundreds of flower, vegetable and herb seeds I’d sown weeks earlier were nestled under grow lights in my garage or being hardened off under an unseasonably hot Florida spring. Given the dramatic shift from over a decade of gardening with seasons in the northeast to suddenly being faced with finding plants that can survive in conditions akin to the surface of the sun, I focused on tried and true varieties that could really take the heat - zinnias, gomphrena (globe amaranth), celosia and salvia, basils and other hardy annuals. In total, I sowed more than 80 unique varieties of flowers and herbs, plus veggie staples like cherry tomatoes (which thrive better in the Florida heat than their larger counterparts), collards and kale, eggplant, arugula and bok choy.

I staggered planting for certain things like zinnias and cosmos, to ensure a full season of healthy blooms, but for the most part everything was planted in late March. Now, nearly a month and a half later, the garden is coming into its own. My favorite orange cosmos, grown from seed collected in my NJ garden, dance playfully in the breeze while the zinnias and salvia are just beginning to unfurl. Meanwhile, I've been harvesting fresh 'Apollo' argulua for weeks to accompany my evening meals, and shared my bounty of 'Puple Lady' bok choy with my family for an asian-inspired dinner this past weekend. Soon there will be too many cherry tomatoes to count, bountiful harvests of basil for fresh pesto and tea, and much more, not the least of which will be flowers in every color of the rainbow!

I'm proud of how much has happened in such a short period of time, and know this space will serve me and my growing dreams well for years to come. If you're ever in College Park, reach out - I'd love to show you the garden in all its glory! Until then, you'll find me there, dirt streaked and happy.

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