The usually tranquil oasis of Kanapaha Botanical Gardens was transformed into a bustling bazaar this past weekend.
Parents with young children in tow, hand-holding couples and gaggles of students flocked to southeast Gainesville. Cars filled every spot in the parking lot and overflowed onto the grass. Attendees young and old lined up to buy their tickets at the registration tables, where they were secured with a yellow wristband for admission to the Spring Garden Festival.
On Sat. March 19 and Sun. March 20, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens hosted the annual Spring Garden Festival. Tickets were $10 for an adult and $5 for children aged 3 to 13. Members of the botanical garden received a $2 discount. The event was funded in part by Visit Gainesville / Alachua County, the Gainesville Garden Club and the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA).
More than 100 white tent booths showcased plants, garden tools, arts and crafts and educational exhibits. A variety of food trucks offered smoked barbecue, hot apple dumplings and myriad fruit pops to attendees. Just beyond the designated festival area, the 68-acre expanse of flora provided a reprieve from the crowd of eager festival goers.
With the sun shining on Saturday and Sunday, the Spring Garden Festival gave 18-year-old freshman biology major Mika Matteo her first opportunity to visit the botanical gardens.
“I’ve been meaning to visit the Kanapaha Gardens since I moved here last year, but hadn’t had the chance to see it in good weather yet,” Matteo said. “I went with my boyfriend and we walked the garden paths after looking at the festival booths.”
Matteo’s favorite booths were the ones selling crystals and succulent plants. She also enjoyed one booth that had koi fish and carnivorous plants.
“I bought a string of turtles plant as a gift for my friend and an apple dumpling from a food truck,” Matteo said. String of turtles (Peperomia prostrata) is a succulent native to Brazil with long vines and leaves resembling turtle shells.
Many other varieties of succulents and cacti sat on tables waiting to be taken home.
Dharma Sandvik, 22-year-old junior sociology major and part-time plant seller, tended to the booth for Willow Gardens, a nursery based in High Springs. The booth featured echeverias, rose-shaped succulents, and string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), a hanging succulent native to Africa with round leaves resembling peas. Willow Gardens focuses mostly on cacti and succulents, but also sells herbs and fruit trees.
"A lot of people will come to us because we're a local business that isn't like a monopoly," Sandvik said. "We try to do everything within Florida and be eco-friendly."
Willow Gardens was also a vendor at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens' annual Fall Plant Sale and Orchid Show last October.
"I think the spring one is definitely busier than the fall one. There's a lot more vendors and a lot more food," Sandvik said. "It's nice to see places that aren't just plants too. I love the lady raising awareness for bees."
Across from the field stood a booth under which hung a large yellow banner. At the top in bold black text, the banner read "Support the License Plate". Below the text was the image of a honey-colored Florida license plate, "HONEYB", with an illustration in the center of a bee hovering over a white flower. The bottom of the plate read "Save the Bees."
Retired nurse, two-time UF alumna ('73 and '99) and beekeeper Susan Harris presented the Florida State Beekeeping Association (FSBA) exhibit to curious passerby.
"I'm here today to tell people that a new Florida specialty plate exists and to try to get them to go and get a pre-sale voucher from the tax collector's office," Harris said.
The money from the sale of the specialty license plate, called "Save the Bees," will go towards honey bee research and education.
"Bees are important in our food supply," Harris said. "The things that are problematic for bees now, part of them are caused by people."
Harris encouraged community members to take classes at UF's Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory (HBREL) to learn more about bees.
The legislature that approved the plate requires a minimum of 3,000 presale vouchers be sold before the plate can go into production. To purchase a presale voucher, those interested can visit their tax collector's office or visit the website for the Orange County tax collector's office.
"We were given two years in order to get that number purchased," Harris said. "Well, the last two years, nobody wanted to go into the tax collector's office, and we haven't been able to come to events like this and tell the public that plates like this exist. So we're kind of behind on getting the numbers we need."
Harris hopes that by advertising the plate at the Spring Garden Festival — where attendees are likely to be interested in "having healthy plants and healthy honey bees" — will push FSBA over the threshold for the plate's presale vouchers.
"People say they want to do something to help the bees, but not everybody's going to be a beekeeper and not everybody has the means to have bees even if they want them," Harris said. "But by buying a specialty Florida license plate, the money that they would put there, which is only $30 a year, would still help the bees."
Contact Eileen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @EileenCalub.