Exploring the great outdoors is an essential part of life in the Sunshine State, offering more than just sunshine and scenic beauty. For many Orlando residents, community gardens serve as a sanctuary for communing with nature, engaging in physical activity, and even spiritual growth. These gardens are not only a place to relish the outdoors but also a hub for cultivating food and fostering community connections.
Community Gardens in Orange County: A Thriving Green Culture
In Orange County alone, there are 17 community gardens available where residents can come together to dig in the dirt and share their love of the great outdoors. Shelbë Spurlock is a member of the Druid Lake Community Garden (DLCG), which has approximately 40 plots, including a Pink Ribbon Garden, dedicated to breast cancer patients, survivors, those who have died from the disease, and their families and friends.
How Does the Garden Grow?
Community gardens in Orlando, particularly in urban areas like Central Florida, are often the only gardening space available to many. According to Spurlock, people of all ages and walks of life come to the DLCG garden. Families, young adults, older generations and people from various careers and backgrounds garden. Even though most members live close by, Spurlock says some gardeners drive out 40 minutes to over an hour to come to tend their plots.
The variety of plants in these gardens is vast, ranging from spinach and broccoli to exotic fruit trees like olives, mulberries, and avocados. At DLCG, Spurlock says they are fortunate also to have some fruit-producing trees, including an olive tree, a mulberry tree, a fig tree, banana trees, avocado trees and citrus trees.
Climate Challenges in Central Florida Gardening
This summer’s record-breaking heat in Central Florida posed significant challenges to gardeners. “Very few gardeners, myself included, were out and about during the heat,” Spurlock says. This situation underscores the importance of adapting gardening practices to the changing climate in Orlando.
This can create a problem because summer is a good time to solarize plots. Solarizing involves covering garden beds with plastic to heat the soil to kill bacteria and pests. Because fewer people were working in the garden in summer, it made it difficult to keep up with overall garden maintenance. By the end of summer, many plots at DLCG were full of weeds and needed some major work.
Spurlock says if things continue to stay this hot, it will become more difficult and dangerous to work during the summer months and possibly delay the growing season further into the fall, making for a less productive season when winter frosts creep into Central Florida.
However, more gardeners are returning to their plots now that temperatures are more comfortable. “It’s been so nice getting back out now that the summer heat has started to give away to cooler fall weather,” Spurlock says.
Gardening for Good
Beyond the physical act of gardening, Orlando’s community gardens offer numerous benefits. They are a source of exercise, stress relief, community bonding, and educational opportunities. Most importantly, they provide access to fresh, healthy produce.
“As someone whose work and hobbies mainly keep me indoors, I love getting the opportunity to walk to the garden and see some familiar faces while cultivating something I’ve grown with my own two hands,” Spurlock says.