Mayor, Mayor, quite contraror, how does your garden grow? With peppers hot, all in a pot — and three stories above street level on a city hall balcony.
It turns out asparagus isn’t the only vegetable at Orlando’s city hall. The next time you’re stopped at the traffic light at South Street and Orange Avenue, look past the glass and steel sculpture that locals have derisively name the asparagus, up at the third floor balcony that is outside Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office, and you’ll see the leafy green tops of a few banana trees. They’re part of Dyer’s “garden,” a few pots planted with vegetables, fruits and herbs that, um, grew out of the city’s start of a community garden project. The few pots, which have a tiny footprint on the huge wrap-around balcony that overlooks the municipal plaza, used to be planted with flowers, the mayor said. “We’ve started a movement toward having community gardens,” Dyer told me. The gardens are in the Colonialtown neighborhood at 1517 Lake Highland Drive, and Parramore, at 654 W. Robinson St. “We’re wanting to expand that program,” Dyer said, “so I thought it would be fun to have a garden on the third floor balcony of the mayor’s office.”
Earlier this summer Dyer took me on a tour of the garden, an expedition that decidedly does not take a tremendous amount of time: it’s just three pots, after all. It was made even shorter by a summer storm that blew in rather ferociously as we inspected the crops. There were tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, rosemary, mint, the banana tree and, “To make sure it has a nice Gator feel to it,” said the mayor, “we have orange and blue marigolds.” His favorite plant, however, was the one he was expecting to produce a bumper crop of baby corn, up to 60 little ears, he said. He has told people in city hall that they are welcome to help themselves to the bounty, but he has made it clear that the harvesters are to keep their hands off the baby corn. Those are his.
Back inside, out of the now pouring rain and in the relative warmth of a fluorescent lit conference room, city hall staffer Selenia Roldan had been called on by Dyer to demonstrate that the garden wasn’t just for show. She had prepared an array of drinks and nibbles using items gleaned from the garden. There was a hot tea brewed with sage and mint iced tea; a cool mango-berry salad with mint (mint from garden, yes; mangos and berries, no); rosemary infused olive oil; herb baguettes; and bruschetta featuring fresh basil leaves. Oh, and the table was set with the marigolds, Roldan also being of the Gator persuasion. It was a nice demonstration of how to make use of the garden’s produce, and that the planted pots are more than just for show.
By the way, when you’re looking up from down below, if you happen to see someone tending to the pots, it probably isn’t the mayor. Robert Bowden, horticulturist and manager of Leu Gardens lends his expertise to keep the garden going.