AVON PARK — Its manager calls it an ever-growing project; its customers call it one of the best bargains in town; its workers call it a way to make an income and have a fun time learning and sharing.
Now, there is even more time for all to spend outside in the garden.
The Ridge Area Arc Plant Nursery, 120 W. College Ave., has added new varieties of plants and is now offering Saturday hours, giving those who can’t make it to the nursery during the week a way to buy on weekends a variety of flowers, indoor and outdoor plants, fruits and vegetable trees and bushes.
Beginning Saturday, the Ridge Manor Arc — the largest national community-based organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families — will be open from 8 a.m. to noon the third Saturday of each month. Those hours are in addition to the 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. regular hours during the week.
Besides the additional hours, Carlos Rodriguez, the nursery operator, said he and the nursery staff have added — in addition to flowering, decorative and landscaping plants — a variety of trees in stock for sale. He said there are also now varying sizes of coconut baskets — handmade with coconut husks and imported from Venezuela — for sale for $3 to $5 each, depending on size.
Rodriguez, who’s worked at the Ridge Area Arc through South Florida State College since 2009, said he and 14 Arc clients help keep the garden green and growing throughout the year.
Among the potted trees the Arc has added are pear, apple, nectarine, peach, avocado, persimmon, pecan, plum and fig, in addition to non-fruiting trees such as live oak, maples and palms. The trees are purchased wholesale and resold for prices ranging from $17.50 for Dorsett and Anna tropical apple and varieties of pear trees, to $24 for persimmon and $34 for pecan trees.
There are also seeds for trees available, including tabebuia, dwarf poinciana and yellow iris.
Closer to the ground and on the other price end, customers can buy small, decorative plants such as liriope grass for $1.50 each. The 120-by-40-foot nursery also has an extensive stock of decorative and fruiting yard plants for sale, such as jatrophas, blackberries, grapes, junipers, society garlic, and vine-like confederate jasmine and pandora vine.
“The new hours will help the people who can’t make it during the week; this will allow more people to come out,” said Rodriguez, who spent 38 years in the nursery business in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
Rhonda Beckman, Ridge Area Arc director, said the 3-year-old campus nursery serves as a revenue source and a training tool for some of the participants in Arc’s Adult Day Training program. While working, they learn about seeding, re-potting, weeding, root cutting and general plant maintenance.
Beckman said it’s also a life-learning and hands-on educational-vocational experience for the client — and one that they look forward to.
“They learn responsibility and new skills that would help them at home and develop new skills for work. It’s life-skill as well as vocational-skill learning,” she said.
One nursery worker and Arc client, Andre Rushing, said he learned a lot about the growing process and what it takes to grow healthy plants. He said the addition of the trees has broadened his horticultural education.
“I’ve learned about the different plants and trees and what kinds of fertilizers each type needs,” said Rushing, 42, of Avon Park. “I like the whole (growing) process and it’s nice and quiet out here.”
Much of what is grown in the nursery garden is sent Sundays to the Arc’s five area group homes — three in Avon Park and two in Sebring — and used in the kitchen, such as collard greens, peppers, carrots, onions, green beans, okra and parsley.
The Arc nursery opened in April 2010 with some plants donated by the Hardee Arc. South Florida donated a small greenhouse, irrigation and planters, and the garden began with tomatoes, turnips, leaf lettuce, cabbage, beans, radishes and hot peppers.
For nursery information, call Rodriquez at (863) 452-1295. For information regarding Ridge Area Arc, call Beckman at (863) 452-1295, ext. 112, or email rbeckman @ridgeareaarc.org.