Spring Fever For A Worthy Cause: Garden Festival Raises Money For Horticulture Scholarship

Serya Yesilcay

Rick Schoellhorn rksch@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu

MILTON — For the first time in its three-year history, a local flower and garden festival is recycling more than soil, seeds and leaves into the community.

Because this year, the color of green means more than just tropical perennials, lush landscaping or greenhouse tours at the Milton campus of Pensacola Junior College/ University of Florida.

This year, green became “Dollars for Scholars.”

All profits from the Third Emerald Coast Flower and Garden Festival held March 31 to April 2 will go to a scholarship fund in horticultural studies, said festival chairman Gina Jogan from the Pensacola Federation of Garden Clubs.

“We will give our first scholarship this fall to a freshman or sophomore for horticulture studies, endowed by the Pensacola Federation of Garden Clubs,” she said. “We already have about $5,000 with state matching funds.”

Another first for the festival this year was its move from PJC’s Pensacola campus to Milton. It all has been a very cooperative effort, Jogan said, bringing together PJC and UF faculty, students and volunteers of participating garden clubs.

“It was great to see the provost on a ladder and the dean dragging stuff around,” she said. “I was touched.”

The festival already was a hit on its first day, when horticulture students sold about half of the plants they had cultivated for the show.

“We weren’t really planning to get excited until Saturday morning, when we expect at least 2,000 visitors,” said Rick Pluckett, coordinator for academic support services at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the West Florida Research and Education Center in Milton.

Then he ran back to coordinate with volunteers on how to keep up with demands ranging for more Japanese honeysuckle plants to tour requests for UF’s greenhouses on the campus.

The three-day festival attracted around 5,000 people this year, said Rick Schoellhorn, environmental horticulture professor at UF/IFAS’ West Florida Research and Education Center. He has been lecturing and building displays for the event for the past three years.

“I think UF involvement in the event is critical,” he said, “because we have the nursery connections and educational background to bring in vendors and add to the educational lecture series.”

His own lecture this year on tropical perennials attracted around 75 people listened to him in a in a setting that included a rainbow of colors and fragrances rising from award-winning flower and plant cuttings.

There were 536 entries in the standard flower show. Also part of the festival were 72 flower arrangements created by horticulture students; retail nursery, vendor and craft booths; garden and interior design displays; student plant sales; master gardener displays; tours of UF’s Milton Gardens.

Pensacola Federation of Garden Clubs Inc., together with PJC/UF Milton campus and Milton Garden Clubs Inc. sponsored the show this year, said Tina Tuttle, show chairman.

Showing off an opportunity quilt she pieced, Tuttle reflected participants’ excitement in the festival. “It will be raffled off,” she said, showing the colorful quilt with blocks of flower designs she quilted on a green background of fabric. “And it will help raise money for our scholarship.”

Vendors also helped to raise scholarship money through booth rentals and got a chance to promote their own businesses at the same time.

“We’ve had a good day,” said Pete Singletary, a volunteer with ARC Santa Rosa, a non-profit organization which helps people with disabilities.

“A lot of the people find out about us here, and will then come out to our training facilities for the handicapped.”

And at the end of the first day, he still had the energy to joke with a customer who had just picked up an exotic honeysuckle from his stand.

“We’ll be here tomorrow,” he smiled. “Because you’ll go home and say ‘I wish I had another one!’”