In a special dedication ceremony early Wednesday morning, the community gathered to observe a recently discovered headwater to the Tampa Bay Watershed that begins its journey right here in Plant City.
Something special can be found trickling through the trees at the Plant City Commons Community Garden and Botanical Treasure Garden.
At first glance, the small stream that hugs a bend in the trees at the end of a gravel walkway appears to be nothing more than a tranquil spot to reconnect with nature. A black snake slithers across a protruding root and birds chirp from their nests in the boughs above. Below the ground, however, something even more miraculous is occurring.
Thanks to a combined effort from members of the garden and dedicated employees at the City of Plant City, it was recently discovered that small trickle is actually one of the many headwaters that contribute to the Tampa Bay Watershed. Sharon Spires, an employee with the City of Plant City’s Water Resource Management Department, spent hours nearly every weekend tirelessly working under the blazing summer sun to reveal the stream and carve out a serene clearing at the edge of the garden.
“Impressed by the beauty of this newly established feature, my mind began to wonder where the water in this wetland goes and what contribution to the big picture does this wetland offer,” William Moriarty, member of the garden club and one of the spearheaders of the event, said. “This curiosity led me to Al Miller, director of the City of Plant City’s Water Resource Management Department, who through his kind assistance, as well as Mr. Johnson, provided documentation that the water you see before you trickling eventually takes a 49-mile journey to Tampa Bay. Now I began to see the big picture this wetland plays every day. This wetland’s connection to Tampa Bay then got me thinking about the land management practices at the Botanical Treasure Gardens and all along this 49-mile journey to Tampa Bay has an effect not only locally, but regionally.”
The journey is long, but each drop of water that starts its trek in Plant City plays a key role in forming the watershed. Along the way it will flow beneath, through or into places like the East Canal, Blackwater Creek, the Hillsborough River, Lettuce Lake Park, Two Rivers Ranch and Tampa Bay. And it couldn’t have picked a more picturesque place to start.
The Plant City Commons Community Garden and Botanical Treasure Garden is one of the community’s greatest hidden gems. Found right at the edge of the south side of the local Hillsborough Community College branch, 2001 E. Cherry St., the gardens are a welcome oasis to escape the hustle and bustle of the quickly changing town.
Prior to the ceremony, Moriarty led early arrivals on an elaborate tour of the garden, pointing out the purpose of every tree and revealing anecdotes of the many uses and histories of the foliage. Whether you’re an avid bird watcher, enjoy gazing at swarms of butterflies or find peace in identifying and soaking in a diverse set of wildlife, the gardens have the perfect outlet for you.
The goal has long been to preserve and restore natural Florida, a mission Community Gardens President Karen Bornstine has brought to life. Thanks to a variety of partnerships with the local community, including special projects by the 2019 Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce’s Plant City Leadership class, the Plant City Lions Club, the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District and more, the garden continues to blossom both figuratively and literally.
As the tour came to a close, Moriarty brought the group to the center of the garden. Blue tubs filled with plants and neatly trimmed trees fill the space. As peaceful as the gardens may be for attendees, this was where the it truly made an effort to give back.
Everywhere the attendees turned, they were surrounded by food. A banana tree, lemongrass, persimmon trees, fig trees, pomegranate trees, a variety of low-chill pear trees, a horseradish tree, a peach tree, several plum and apple trees and even tea plants were all proudly reaching their leaves toward the sun. And so much of what is collected is then given to those in need. Whether it’s the United Food Bank of Plant City or several local groups that feed the homeless and hungry, the garden gives away barrels of fresh produce every season.
A passion for growing is in their blood and their green thumbs have transformed the property into an Eden. On the other side of a section of vineyard that grows seven varieties of grapes are rows of decorated plats of dirt, miniature gardens for anyone who wishes to rent out the space to grow whatever they’d like. Flowers, produce and almost anything else is game and the community heavily utilizes the unique offering, filling up the rows with colorful plant life.
There’s always been something special, something nearly otherworldly about the garden. To discover it holds one of the starts of a life-bringing waterway only adds to its appeal.
During his speech to dedicate a sign indicating the existence of the headwater, Moriarty took a long moment to thank every single person who had gone out of their way to make this discovery possible. Motioning toward the trickling stream beside him, he smiled, pouring out his thanks for the support of the community and city and spending a moment to look ahead to the future of the garden.
“The result is what you see before you now, and that is a view into the world of natural Florida that up until then was not possible for those teaching in the garden,” Moriarty said. “I had no idea this existed until Sharon was wonderful enough to do this incredible work here. We had obliviously walked past this natural treasure several hundred times… In essence, Sharon opened for all of us a portal that let us know we are now standing in the middle of our own acres of diamonds.”