By Margie Plunkett
The Junior League’s Community Garden, located along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks east of the Downtown Library, closed its eastern half in late February to make room for construction of the new Virgin Trains station.
The garden, which has been at its current site by 400 NW Second Ave. for a decade, will fully close by mid-April and has been preparing for relocation to Meadows Park, where it hopes to open in the fall.
“We’re using this opportunity to see what we would do differently in this garden if we could go back 10 years,” said Junior League President Cristy Stewart-Harfmann.
The Junior League has a verbal agreement with a contract in the works for the new Meadows Park location, at 1300 NW Eighth St., and has been working with Virgin Trains, formerly Brightline, to design the new garden. Virgin Trains has pledged $300,000 to help move the garden. The new site is 2 acres, while the library site was just under that amount.
Volunteers took to the east side of the garden in mid-February to get it ready for closing. The group donated recyclable items like soil, mulch, plastic plot beds and garden supplies to area nonprofits and schools so those organizations can start their own gardens.
They also donated fruits and remaining vegetables to Boca Helping Hands. During growing season, each gardener donates 10% of the fruits and vegetables grown to Boca Helping Hands, while all the fruits in the Food Forest go to that charity. In the last decade, the garden has donated 10,000 pounds to the group, Stewart-Harfmann said.
A Virgin Trains-supplied landscape architect is working with the Junior League to design the new garden, hoping to include features like a pergola, making sure there’s a great connection with next-door Boca Raton Middle School and enlarging a composting area. They’re also studying including more raised beds that would allow access to people in wheelchairs.
“But the big project and biggest concern with the location is that there’s an irrigation ditch or canal there and there’s a number of iguanas,” Stewart-Harfmann said. Part of the challenge with the cost of the project are recommendations to keep iguanas out, possibly including special fencing around the garden and around trees to keep iguanas from climbing or digging in.
“A couple iguanas getting into the garden could mean all the fruits and vegetables could disappear in an afternoon,” Stewart-Harfmann said.
Simultaneous to the design work, the Junior League has been discussing relocating trees in the Food Forest, where fruits like papayas are harvested and pineapples have been planted. While trees in the forest will be transplanted, the plants in the garden plots won’t be. Those plants are replanted every year, and the growing season is almost over this year, Stewart-Harfmann said.
Looking back on the first 10 years of the garden, Stewart-Harfmann said, “It really has been successful. It’s been amazing to see. We have a number of nonprofits that come out, individual gardeners, restaurants like Kapow that have leased plots with us. We’ve created an amazing culture of gardeners. They have potluck meals together. We have a variety of different events. It’s become an amazing community.”
While Stewart-Harfmann doesn’t know yet whether all the nearly 100 plot leasers will come over to the new garden, or whether the annual lease prices will remain the same, she expects nothing will be lost of the garden’s purpose and community.
“The Junior League is really excited about this opportunity to rebuild and start fresh in a new location.” she said. “We’re just so grateful to all those gardeners who’ve wanted to be a part of this for the last decade. And we look forward to being a real opportunity for more people to learn about the garden. We hope the community sees this as a real gift due to the partnership of the Junior League, city and Brightline.”