Community garden interest budding

By Susanna P. Barton


Plans for a community garden at the old Willowbranch Branch Rose Garden Park are beginning to take root.

After years of discussion and planning, Riverside Avondale Preservation’s “Green Team” committee has met with city officials and gauged local interest in the garden — which would start with 20-25 garden plots, showcase native landscaping and feature a potential partnership with nearby West Riverside Elementary School.

The group is considering a plan designed by local landscape architect, Jake Ingram, developed more than five years ago.

“We’re going to have him work on a plan that provides plus that are four by 20,” said Carmen Godwin, RAP’s executive director. “That will feed a family four.”

Godwin said she and RAP green team leaders, Amanda Searle and Sally Robson, met with city parks and recreation director Kelley Boree this summer about the community garden project at Willowbranch. Godwin said Boree was “really excited about it.”

The Willowbranch Rose Garden site was chosen because it already has a water meter installed. Robson said there are also plans to incorporate a few “lower maintenance rose bushes along the fence that will surround the community garden to commemorate the era in which it was an active rose garden.”

“We’ll pay for the build-out, the irrigation and the building of the beds,” Godwin said. Funds from Party Benefit & Jam’s recent “Pop Up Party” under the Fuller Warren Bridge could help support some of the start up costs, she added. Robson said the cost to irrigate the garden plots would be covered by a membership fee paid by each gardener. While the fee has not yet been set, Robson said, organizers anticipate the cost to be about $50 per gardening cycle, or January through June and July through December. The fees also would cover insurance for the garden, another substantial cost to the project.

All of the beds would be raised beds, and some would be raised to another height for those with disabilities. Fencing would be the project’s most expensive component, Godwin said, and native plants would be donated. While RAP does not have a project estimate for the community garden project, she thought $3,000 could be a ballpark figure.

To move forward, the garden plans must achieve a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city’s historic division.

“A lot of other community gardens are not on public property, and because this is it will take a little longer to do,” Godwin said. “We have to have an agreement with the city that outlines what we intend to do — we’ll take the maintenance away from them, which will reduce the city’s cost.”

She said the current garden on site only takes up about one-third of the parcel, so there is also room to expand.

That’s good insurance because already, the waiting list to have a garden plot at the proposed community garden is already full at 20 people.

Adding an educational component to the plans is an outreach relationship with West Riverside Elementary School. The school is interested in having a plot or two at the garden for students at the school.


Tales of a secret garden

Here’s a little history on the Willowbranch Rose Garden Park from the City of Jacksonville: Willowbranch Rose Garden Park is located in Riverside between Mallory St. and Azalea Terrace, across from Willowbranch Park. In 1916, the site was part of the City’s initial purchase for the land to create Willowbranch Park. It remained part of the park until 1955, when members of the Jacksonville Rose Society established the Variety Rose Garden on the site. The Society and other volunteers (with the City’s help) maintained the roses for many years. However, eventually the garden deteriorated until in 1998 two teenage brothers, Adam and Joseph Bierce, took over restoration of the remaining garden. At the request of Riverside Avondale Preservation, the park name was changed in 2002, and today it contains two rose beds with timber borders, a bench for relaxing, and parking for approximately eight cars.


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