Marilyn Molen has lived at The Mayflower Retirement Community in Winter Park for five years. She’s a walker and often takes morning strolls around the property that includes a mix of single-family homes, apartment buildings, a commons building and two lakes.
Recently, Molen has enjoyed a new sight on her walks: a garden consisting of 14 raised, cedar-framed beds filled with herbs like rosemary and basil, produce such as zucchini and broccoli, and even some edible flowers including pansies and marigolds.
“Every day I walk by the garden and see it grow,” Molen says.
Hannah Ricci, 22, is also a common sight in the garden. She planted it and now maintains it. “It turned out way better than I expected,” she says.
Ricci is an environmental studies and sustainable development senior at Rollins College. Her mother Jana, the marketing director at The Mayflower, brought the idea of the garden to retirement community’s senior staff after the urban garden movement in Orlando made national headlines.
Fleet Farming, a homegrown urban farming nonprofit, has been a local leader in bringing small farms to Orlando front yards. Farmlettes, as the organization calls them, begin as donated prior-lawn plots of land and are converted into food-producing gardens. Fleet Farming maintains the farmlette and sells the produce at local farmers markets and to local restaurants. In return, homeowners with farmlettes can harvest a share of the produce.
Fleet Farming built and installed the beds at The Mayflower, although its produce is not collected by the organization. Instead, it is all for the enjoyment of the residents.
Ricci will be graduating from Rollins in May. Although she’s not entirely sure where she will end up after she moves that tassel from right to left, she says the garden will continue to be cared for through an internship program to be set up in conjunction with Rollins College, which has a partnership with The Mayflower.
But for now, Ricci is excited about what she and the residents of The Mayflower will grow next, noting they will be planting pumpkins in a few weeks.
While many garden beds are low to the ground, the height of the beds in The Mayflower garden are conducive for residents with varying flexibility levels, as you don’t need to bend over very far to pick some sorrel or dig up a carrot. Many residents like Molen, who has her meals provided by The Mayflower, stop by the garden to pick out a few things to add to their salads.
“There are a lot of residents that will come in their wheelchairs,” Molen, who is president of The Mayflower’s resident’s council, says.
Gardening has been shown to have health benefits including stress relief and moderate exercise. While Ricci does most of the maintenance, residents do occasionally water the plants and tend to the garden. Besides the health benefits and tasty plantings, residents take joy in the natural beauty of the garden, too.