Sunday, October 16, 2011

A park with good taste

Juicy oranges grow next to the fitness course at Aesop's Park in Tavares

Simply Living
October 17, 2011

There are many words to describe a park — scenic, convenient, nicely landscaped — but "tasty" is not usually one of them.

Aesop's Park in downtown Tavares is the exception. The 11.5-acre park at the end of Caroline Street, which will have its grand opening Saturday, meets all of the usual descriptions while striving to satisfy the tastes of the community with an edible landscape.

"We have been planting lots of fruit trees," said Tim Ernst, a landscape specialist for Tavares. "We're hoping people will use the fitness areas and then, after exercising, refresh themselves by picking an orange off the tree."

Park visitors also can sample blueberries, figs, bananas, pears, pineapples and persimmons in season.

I love the concept of a city's inviting the public to enjoy fresh fruit while visiting a park. Although some public venues showcase gardens and fruit trees, it's a rare place that lets visitors try samples for free.

While still in the beginning stages, Aesop's Park already has much to offer. In addition to fruit trees, the park has a community garden with raised-bed plots available to the public for $20 a year, a butterfly garden bursting with blooms, a nature-themed playground and tennis courts. There's also a dog park with a dog-washing station and a fitness course for the exercise-minded.

People who love books will gravitate to the park's "reading tree," where a wooden bench encircles a camphor tree, enabling book lovers to enjoy their favorite reading material while relaxing in the cool shade.

A wooden bench surrounds a broad camphor tree providing shaded reading stations at Aesop’s Park in Tavares.

Anglers of all ages will appreciate the fishing lake, a small pond in the center of the park stocked with 1,000 catfish, courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. People like me, who simply want to meander along scenic paths, have the added benefit of picking ripe fruit to munch on as they wander along.

The recently planted trees are young, and production is modest. But as time goes by, the quantity of fruit will increase. Plans are also in place to add move varieties of edibles and to include information about each variety.

"We're going to have information plaques by the fruit trees to let people know what they are," said Tammey Rogers, director of the Tavares Parks and Recreation Department.

The park has been a labor of love by a staff excited about its effort to transform a limited-use facility into a park that meets the needs of a diverse community.

"There wasn't much to do here before or reason for people to come," said Rogers, "but that has changed as we've cleared more land and expanded the park."

I have no doubt I'll be returning to Aesop's Park throughout the year. Let's see … blueberries ripen in May, orange season begins now and runs through the winter. Hmmm …I can see where this is heading!

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