Manatee County Demonstration Gardens Win Award of Excellence

At the 2015 Statewide Master Gardener Conference, Manatee County received the Award of Excellence for their demonstration gardens. As winners, the Manatee County Master Gardener volunteers showed that their gardens have educational components that effectively reach their intended audiences.

Barbados cherry tree with sign

The Manatee County Master Gardener volunteers' Educational Gardens and Greenhouse officially opened to the public January 31, 2012—the fruition of years of plant sales and other fundraising activity. Located at the site of the former Extension office, which was demolished in 2007, the gardens are adjacent to the new office and the county fairgrounds.

These gardens were created with the purpose of teaching Manatee County residents about Florida-friendly gardening principles and providing them with tactile examples of those conceptual principles. Visitors include school groups, families, children with disabilities, homeowners, and members of various clubs. Manatee County Extension Agent Lisa Hickey says, "All find something useful and entertaining in our gardens."

The gardens occupy about 20,000 square feet and include gardens featuring vegetables, butterflies, and wetlands, as well as a state-of-the art greenhouse, orchard, goldfish pond, large garden sundial, and sensory garden. There's also a children's garden, complete with a kids' maze and teaching area.

Signs are found throughout the gardens to enhance education. The native or non-native status of all perennial plants and trees are indicated— white signs for native plants and beige signs for non-natives.

rain boots being used as planters

The fruit tree orchard includes: pumelo, jaboticaba, lychee, pomegranate, Barbados cheery, and mango trees. Signs have photos of the trees full of fruit, so that visitors can see what the fruit looks like no matter what time of year it is. The signs also feature QR codes that link visitors to more information in UF/IFAS online publications.

The gardens encourage learning in visitors both young and young-at-heart, especially in the "A to Z Garden," where you can find large colorful letters, as well as an alphabet of plants. This garden showcases plants with animal names from A to Z, including: ant plant, dotted horsemint, gopher apple, kangaroo paw, lion's tail, octopus hugs, rabbit's foot fern, tiger grass, wormwood, and zebra grass.

The gardens illustrate how recycling can be incorporated into the landscape, with rain barrels, composting bins, an old fountain re-purposed as an herb garden, and ornaments made from wine bottles, clay pots, and discarded rubber kiddy boots.

The sensory garden invites visitors to experience the garden with all of their senses. Plants like lamb's ear provides a sumptuous tactile experience, while heirloom roses are a treat for the eyes. Herbs like mint excite the olfactory senses and edible nasturtium flowers offer visitors a sweet taste. The sound of ornamental grasses swishing in the breeze floats throughout the garden.

With so much to offer, it's no wonder these gardens are an award winner, and it's not just this one award. The "Keep Manatee Beautiful" program has also recognized the gardens with two additional awards—one for recycling in 2013 and another for landscaping in 2014.

Girl in front of sunflowers