Cultural Conversation: Delray Beach Children’s Garden

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Just a few blocks away from bustling downtown Delray Beach is an oasis of greenery where kids can learn what its like to grow their own produce, get lost in the banana forest and make a wish in a wishing well.
The nonprofit Delray Beach Children’s Garden, 137 SW Second Ave., allows children, parents and nature lovers to stop by for fresh air.
“It’s a beautiful lush garden,” said founder Shelly Zacks.
Zacks said she first got the idea to start a children’s garden about 15 years ago. She was working as a preschool teacher and had read a book called “Last Child in the Woods.” She said the book talked about the amount of time kids are spending away from the outdoors.
She said she remembers spending her childhood outside playing in gardens and making a fake “salad” out of flowers and twigs. She said she didn’t want kids to lose that time outside and wanted to create a safe outdoor space for kids.
“I thought to myself how wonderful it would be in Delray to have a place like that close to the downtown area, a nature scape,” she said. “Not just a playground and not just a garden, but a place where kids can go.”
The idea began to take off when she met Pablo del Real of nonprofit Auroras Voice. The two teamed up and worked on the Frog Alley Community Garden and someone mentioned that St. Paul’s Episcopal Church had some land for the children’s garden.
The church agreed to lease the about half and acre to the garden and Palm Beach County awarded the garden a $5,000 grant. The buildout took about a year and the garden officially opened in January.
Zacks said volunteers worked on the garden every Saturday morning until it was complete. Maintenance work and projects are still completed on Saturday mornings.
She said the garden only hired one contractor to help with the Chickee hut and the rest of the work was done by volunteers.
There is an aquaponics area with fish and a turtle, a medicine garden, a labyrinth vegetable garden, a butterfly garden, a well-wishes healing garden with a wishing well, a story telling area with an oversized story telling chair and treasure chest filled with books for kids to read, a banana forest of bananas, plantains and papayas, a mulch mountain for kids to climb on and a composting area.
“It’s very different from anything else in South Florida,” Zacks said.
The garden has all types of trees and plants including a starfruit tree, a cinnamon tree, an all spice tree, coconut tree, Barbados cherry tree and chocolate tree. It has an egg fruit tree, where the fruit tastes like a sweet potato but has the consistency of a hard boiled egg and a peanut butter fruit tree, which tastes like peanut butter. The fruit allows kids who are allergic to peanut butter to taste what it is like.
“Our goal is to plant as many food plants and native plants as possible,” Zacks said. “We want kids to realize you don’t even have to go to the grocery store.”
The garden recently hosted a movie night and has a calendar filled with programming, which can be found online. There are mommy and me programs, after school programs and workshops.
“I really thought just having the garden was good enough,” Zacks said of fulfilling her dream of opening the garden. “But the people is the most rewarding part for me. The people who are keeping the mission and the vision of having a place where kids can be connected to nature.”
The garden is open from 9 a.m. to noon Fridays and Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.
For more information on the garden and happenings, visit www.delraybeachchildrensgarden.org