This article was written by Master Gardener Lee McDonald in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Beaches Museum Heritage Garden.
April 1, 2018 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Heritage Garden in Jacksonville Beach. Located on Beach Blvd at the Beaches Museum & History Park, the garden, a Duval County Extension Demonstration Garden, is maintained by Master Gardener volunteers with the purpose of community education in gardening practices.
On its first anniversary, Jacksonville’s mayor designated the garden as one of the city’s top greenspace revitalization projects. Soil is critical to successful plantings because, as in much of Florida, our soils are very sandy. In by-gone days, soils here were naturally composted by horses, cows, chickens, and more roaming fauna than we see today. Fallen leaves were returned to landscapes and ash from heating and cooking were turned into the sand and soil. These historical practices made soils more suitable for gardening due to rich natural and scheduled amendments.
Composting remains essential to sustainable gardening. Thus, it is not surprising that the first order of business on April Fool’s day in 2008 was to collect composted horse manure from a local farm and plow it into the soil. These soil restoration practices from that initial day have made continued maintenance and development productive at the Heritage Garden.
Mid-20th century, folks discovered that much chemical fertilization could boost turf and gardens around homes. The last seventy years, however, have taught us that practices, including excessive applications and misuse of certain chemicals in herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides, damage the water table, successful human habitation, and the environment, creating a less sustainable community. As a learning center, the garden’s goal is sharing best garden practices. Volunteers show Extension recommended practices, observing how plant choices and gardening methods work to support quality of life in our specific environment.
The 2008 Heritage Garden, envisioned to complement the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Foreman’s House, was confined to a space measuring thirty percent less than the 13′ x 18′ space is occupied within two years. Numbering fewer than ten in 2008, MG volunteers now number thirty. Over the past four years, the garden has expanded rapidly; specialized garden areas include the kitchen (vegetable and herb), rose, perennial, butterfly, shade or ginger, and bromeliad gardens as well as specialized plantings of historical native and non-native plants throughout the park. At present, the garden hosts over 240 varieties of plants with new additions every season. It is accessible with paved pathways and ramps meeting ADA standards. Visitors may wander through and observe the garden during museum hours. Tours are available by reservation. School and civic groups regularly schedule visits to tour the garden and museum exhibits.
In 2012, the Heritage Garden was recognized by UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener Program as one of Florida’s most outstanding demonstration gardens. Over the decade, we have faced typical challenges of Florida living, actively engaging in renewal and sustainable practices for both edible and ornamental plant growth. The garden has weathered development and redevelopment with the addition of two newly moved and restored historic buildings which altered the footprint of the garden as well as storms and hurricanes which served as reminders of the history of our community. The French first recorded a hurricane here in 1564; but human habitation here at the mouth of the St. John’s spans thousands of years. The Beaches Museum and Heritage Gardens presents the simple, amazing history of the region we call home. The Heritage Garden is a demonstration of practices which will yield a successful home garden on our island today.