From wandering through the creeks and wild exploits of Wellington and Altamonte Springs, Florida, I developed a fascination with reptiles, air plants, sprawling live oaks, and crystal clear water. Such clarity was easy to sight in the early undeveloped 90’s of Florida. Prior to being transplanted to Grapevine, Texas, from Altamonte Springs, I managed to eat my first surinam cherry – so many that my friend, Robby Gregory, and I became sick. I was instantly fascinated by the fact that we had dinner and didn’t have to pay a dime for it! Of course, I was also eight years old and looking for any reason to not have to eat my brussel sprouts.

When we moved to Texas some of my earliest memories consist of gardening with my father and sister and crying with my mom at night wondering why we moved from Florida to Texas. Tears shed like the recent biblical rains in Texas, and I found myself frustrated with my parents. Why would they move from Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth to a dry and crusty concrete jungle? My mind was too young to realize my dad changed jobs, and wanted to better provide for his family. (Side note: I thank my dad and love him unconditionally for doing what he did for us.)

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I soon found myself wandering through creeks, catching crawfish and western fence lizards, as well as eating my first chickasaw plum. This wild and tiny edible was beyond sweet, and my buddies and I would pick the neighbors tree when we had the chance. Not too sure if he was our biggest fan, but if my memory is correct the tree just may have been on the outermost portion of his yard. Rest in peace wild chickasaw. Sad to see you fall victim to development’s blade. Around the same time Zach Seward, Zach Petty, and I were eating the neighbor’s plums, I found myself searching the newspaper for growing plants.

My father, sister, and I grew a 14-foot-tall sunflower amongst many other large sun gourds and found ourselves on the front page of the local paper. I was jubilant to the fact that my dad helped my sister and I sow our first seeds into that red Texas clay only to experience magic, publicity and my first love for growing things. You mean to tell me if I plant seeds, give them water, fertilizer (Miracle Grow at the time), and sunshine we can end up with a 14-foot-tall plant? My mind was boggled then, and I still can’t seem to wrap my head around the concept.

As grade and middle school progressed, I continued to learn about plants and animals and further aspired to be like my idol, Steve Irwin. The passion for conservation and respect for animals bestowed upon Irwin inspired me to do more for our green world. So much so that during my sophomore year in high school, I was allowed to take a senior level college ecology prep course. My professor, Sherri Steward, impacted my development and growth all while instilling a passion for ecological sciences. She also directly introduced me to a group of community college professors who exposed me to the Hawaiian Islands through a field studies program. The 13-college-credit-hour classes impacted my life so much that I later became a tutor at the community college and went to the islands a second time.

Upon return from Hawaii for the second time, I became the green club president at North Lake Community College. While president we created a community compost heap as well as posted recycling informational documents around campus.

During my undergraduate studies, I lost touch with gardening and was consumed by other external forces. Although, I was productive and graduated Magna Cum Laude something was missing. The three-year absence from gardening was a growing period to say the least. Or maybe it was a dead period?

I managed to find myself with my parents in August of 2011 and here we are. I’ve managed to find myself as a member of several clubs and societies: Tampa Orchid Club, Sarasota Bromeliad Society, Selby Garden Volunteer, Friends of the Fakahatchee Member, and the SWAMP Mountain Bike Club Member. Within each group, I have been further exposed to individuals who have been instrumental with my horticulture skills.

The Apollo Beach Garden Club was started as an educational, inspirational and community-driven entity. It has evolved drastically within the first year of existence and the future couldn’t look any more promising! New things are going to be happening in the future and change will be an inevitable positive force of innovation.

My name is Raleigh Barnes, and I love to garden.