ELLENTON -- Colony Cove green thumbs now have a place to dig in the dirt and grow their favorite vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
A community garden, a first for Colony Cove, and the company that operates the 537-acre property straddling U.S. 301 North, opened Thursday afternoon on a tranquil spot along the Manatee River.
"The whole concept is new to us," said Kristan O'Keefe of Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc., which operates 386 mobile home and RV communities in 32 states and in British Columbia.
Lisa Hickey, horticulturist for the Manatee County Extension Office, advised Colony Cove on pitfalls to avoid to ensure success in the new resident-run venture.
Many times communities considering opening a garden get stuck early on by failing to provide an irrigation
source, Hickey said.
Colony Cove seems to have taken careful note, however, including running a water line to the garden, providing 27 individual gardening boxes, and making it attractive with a beautifully landscaped river location.
Prior to opening the garden, Colony Cove completed six months of discussion and planning, and a resident survey, O'Keefe said.
Resident reaction to the garden was overwhelmingly positive, she said.
A big factor in Colony Cove being selected to open Equity LifeStyle's first community garden was the Florida weather, and a near year-round growing season, O'Keefe said.
Residents will be chosen by lottery to till the garden boxes, she said. If there is enough demand, a second phase of the garden could be opened. Colony Cove is home to about 3,000 residents.
"It seems like community farming is a nice trend, and a good way to get residents active and involved with each other," O'Keefe said.
What if Colony Cove produces a bumper crop?
"We have a food pantry. Anything grown in excess can be donated and shared," said community manager David Stanz.
Thursday, residents lined up at the garden, filling out lottery forms, drinking pumpkin beer, enjoying a buffet and listening to songs by the Porch Dogs band.
"This is beautiful," 28-year Colony Cove resident Joyce Austin said. "I will be anxious to see the finished product when the crops grow in."
Hickey said she is excited that Colony Cove is opening a garden, and hopes that other Manatee County communities will become part of the trend.
The Extension Office can continue to assist green thumbs after gardens open by presenting classes on how to keep the garden healthy, she said.
For more information, call Hickey at 941-722-4524 or email at email@example.com.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1