Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Growing Up and Giving Back

By Sarah McCartan

Before beginning your spring gardening projects, consider paying a visit to an area plant nursery, which not only helps you grow your own garden, but also provides the opportunity to give back to a community dedicated to serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Arc Gateway plant nursery began in the 1960s as a therapy and education program, and first opened for commercial sales in 1988. A community cornerstone, the nursery provides work opportunities for 32 developmentally disabled adults, with the guidance of two full-time supervisors, a part-time supervisor and a nursery manager.

Whether you are in the market for some basic bedding, annual blooms or other seasonal selections to supplement your home garden, or are in need of some supporting plants to fulfill a commercial landscape project, the nursery offers a diverse variety of plants and resources to meet your gardening needs.

“We offer plants to your typical home gardener, but we also provide plants to local landscaping businesses and even local plant nurseries,” Darlene Bonelli said.

Bonelli recently came on board to serve as the new nursery manager. She holds a degree in horticulture/landscape and nursery management and has nearly a decades worth of experience in the field.

“Many members of our staff are very knowledgeable about the plants we carry, and we have staff members who have received professional training in horticulture,” she said.

Beginning your planting endeavors by consulting with a nursery such as Arc allows you to brainstorm ideas and talk through the elements and variables specific to your garden space before getting your project underway. This allows you to make your garden undertaking efficient, cost-effective and ultimately, over time, a full-grown success.

“It’s always a good idea to consult with your local plant nursery before beginning any garden project,” Bonelli said. “Sometimes we find things in magazines that we would like to implement, but oftentimes the plants they suggest do not grow in our climate.”

Plus, a nursery can help outline the necessary prep work that needs to be taken to get a designated area ready to plant, considering elements all the way down to the soil itself.

“There are many things one must do to prepare the area where you plan to create a garden and nursery professionals can provide you with that information,” Bonelli said. “We want to see our customers’ gardens grow, so we are always happy to give plenty of advice.”

Before you get too carried away, keep in mind that timing is everything. A trip over to Arc can help break down exactly what should be planted and when.

“It’s a great time to prepare planting beds, but its best to wait until April to plant anything flowering,” Bonelli said.

Speaking of spring, the nursery is currently in the process of gearing up for planting season. As far as shade-loving annuals go, the garden stocks varieties including impatiens, begonias, and periwinkle, as well as many sun-loving annuals like marigolds, salvia and zinnias.

If you have a desire to kick off an herb garden, Bonelli provided a rundown of the types of herbs to expect to find at the nursery, including, thyme, oregano, parsley and basil. If you have your heart set on a garden filled with vegetables, the nursery confirms several varieties coming soon.

“We know we will carry tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, but are not sure when they will be ready for purchase,” Bonelli said.

The nursery also stocks a selection of larger fruit-bearing bushes and trees for the planting, such as blueberries, pears and crab apples, as well as citrus trees including Meyer lemons, limes, grapefruit, satsumas and navel oranges.

“The individuals we serve are always eager to assist you in carrying and loading your purchases and have a way of making sure you leave with a smile,” Bonelli said.

Of course, along with any bountiful, inviting garden comes the appropriate finishes. Situated directly off the drive to the plant nursery is the Dove Garden Shop. Once you have selected your plants for growing, this is a prime stop for functional accessories. The store carries garden-inspired items including recycled planters, decorative pots, gardening gloves, small tools, yard ornaments, wind chimes and birdhouses.

If you have any questions before making your way to the nursery and garden shop, the staff welcomes you to call ahead. And be sure to visit arc-gateway.org for updated news and latest hours.

Arc Gateway Plant Nursery
WHERE: 1112 E. Fairfield Drive
WHEN: 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday (Additional Saturday hours during spring)
DETAILS: 469-0849 or arc-gateway.org

The Dove Garden Gift Shop is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.