By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- The organizers of this year's annual garden extravaganza are advising guests to BYOW, bring your own wagon.
The Garden Club of Indian River County is gearing up for one of the highlights of the late winter season, Gardenfest!, which will be held at Riverside Park Feb. 2-3 starting at 9 a.m.
Individuals who love to have dirt under their fingernails are sure to enjoy the 12th annual Gardenfest! celebration, which will include plant and garden accessory vendors, youth activities and food vendors, raffles and "ask the expert" booths, said Barbara Russell, Garden Club member and event-co-chairwoman.
Last year, more than 20,000 garden enthusiasts participated in the weekend activities.
This year, similar levels of participation are expected and close to 100 vendors are expected to participate in Gardenfest! 2013 "Nature's Finest Marketplace." Admission to the event is free.
A wide variety of plants, planters, pottery, fountains, furniture and lighting, all for the garden, will be available for sale from the invited vendors, Ms. Russell said.
"It's good for homeowners, but it's also for people who just like plants and gardening. The vendors will have so many choices: wind chimes, hanging baskets, pottery, we will have a vendor with new birdhouses," she said.
One of the vendors at the event will have cut flowers, something the festival doesn't always have, Ms. Russell said.
Portions of the proceeds from Gardenfest! go toward projects of the local garden club. Recent past projects include funding scholarships for students majoring in horticultural and environmental sciences at the University of Florida, Fort Pierce campus and Indian River State College.
The club also participates in landscaping projects in the county, including projects at the Indian River State College Mueller Campus in Vero Beach, and planting shade trees for the play area at the Hibiscus Children's Village in Vero Beach.
Karen Vatland, who is also co-chairwoman of the event, said it will go on, rain or shine, but she's hoping for blue skies and sunshine.
Each day there will be several "ask the experts" sessions where the public can listen to lectures from experienced garden professionals or ask them questions, Ms. Vatland said.
At 10 a.m. on Feb. 2, Dennis Gretton, owner of D & D Growers, will present "Herbs from Garden to Table." At noon, Robert Bowden, executive director of Harry P. Leu Gardens, a botanical garden in Orlando with a historical home onsite, will speak about gardening myths.
At 2 p.m. Shari Blissett-Clark of the Florida Bat Conservancy will present "Beneficial Bats" and at 4 p.m., Dennis Cathcart, owner of Tropiflora in Sarasota, will present "Succulents for Florida."
On Feb. 3, Paul Price, president of the Vero Beach Orchid Society, will give a presentation on orchids, followed by a noon presentation by Kevin Songer, owner of MetroVerde, who will present "Sustainable Landscapes for the Homeowner."
The final presenter of Gardenfest! will be Greg Vafiades of Shining Light Garden Foundation, Ms. Vatland said.
Shining Light Garden Foundation was started in 2008 by Winter Beach farmer Joel Bray. His mission has been to distribute fresh produce to those in need in the community. Since September 2010, more than 1,500 bushels of food have been distributed to local families and organizations such as the Gifford Youth Activity Center, Father's Table, Youth Guidance of Indian River County, and food banks and pantries.
Mr. Vafiades' presentation, "Feeding the Hungry, One Garden at a Time," will highlight how the ministry works and how people can plant vegetable gardens themselves, Ms. Vatland said.
For more information about Gardenfest! call (772) 567-4602 or visit www.gardenclubofirc.org.