Gardens transformation provides peace and tranquility at Casa Mariposa
What was once described as a jungle crowding the rotunda area at the Casa Mariposa complex just off of Periwinkle Way, can now be looked upon as a peaceful and beautiful piece of work.
After years of wild growth, the garden area, which is tucked below the boardwalk of the 12-apartment Community Housing Resource unit, has been transformed into limitless beauty, thanks to the spearheading effort by new tenant Alison Ward.
Ward was determined to move into Casa Mariposa, after touring the facility and falling in love with the area.
“It is so peaceful here and I just had good vibes when I visited,” Ward said.
Last February, Ward submitted her application and she remained on the waiting list for nine months. She lived off of Casa Ybel in a CHR apartment and she became a regular voice and visitor at the CHR office hoping for an opening at Casa Mariposa.
Finally, she received a call in October about a potential opening and by Thanksgiving Day, she was moving in.
“I broke down into tears,” Ward said. “It was just knowing I was going to be able to live in a place like this.”
Ward brought a love of shelling and gardening to Casa Mariposa and instantly, she saw huge potential for combining both loves with the gardens underneath the apartments.
“By the time I was moving in, the gardens were in weed heaven and filled with poison ivy,” Ward said.
She went to work…and boy did she work.
The landscaping company hired by CHR helped out by clearing out some of the bigger weeds, but Ward started in by pulling out the wild ferns which occupied the space.
Ward earned the nickname “White Tornado” by Casa Mariposa resident Charley Kelleher, after seeing her outside in the gardens working everyday.
“I was just so happy to do something,” Ward added.
What was once named “The Jungle”, quickly started becoming something resembling a garden, or more specifically, butterfly gardens, which was the first intent purpose when Casa Mariposa was built about 15 years ago.
“There were three rings interconnected and they were made of pit shells,” Ward said. “But they were all covered up.”
One day while walking with neighbors on the boardwalk and overlooking the butterfly gardens, she noticed a walking circle outlined in the ferns.
So she started plucking through the ferns and uncovered the path and even a memorial marker dedicated to Max Anderson, who was a leader in constructing Casa Mariposa.
“I would be pulling four or five feet of ferns and neighbors would drop down bottles of water,” Ward said.
CHR received some donations of mulch and the charitable organization ZONTA also helped out to shape the butterfly gardens.
Ward was also inspired by 90-year-old Maria DeEspinoza, who would walk the garden’s paths picking up sea grape leaves. The small and petite neighbor would do this every morning and sometimes early evening.
“She is so cute and she picks up the sea grape leaves, one by one, every morning,” Ward said.
DeEspinoza loves the new look to the gardens, as well.
“I like walking and picking up the sea grape leaves every morning, but they just keep on falling,” she laughed.
Ward estimates she has put in at least 200 hours of work to transform the gardens. She also has lined walking paths with over 550 Quahog shells and has used shell filler she picked off the beach to decorate the rest.
She added she uses no chemicals or herbicides, besides the red spray paint she marks the poison ivy with.
“I feel it gives this place a different flavor,” Ward said. “People are pleased, because this is our home.”
Phyllis and Charley Kelleher, who does the raking and other tasks, take advantage of the improved environment every day.
“It adds peacefulness and a serenity here,” Phyllis Kelleher said. “We have the shaded side and the garden side now. I come out and read here and it’s so peaceful and beautiful.
“I often walk around now. I love the shade of the trees in the summer and sun on the other side in the winter. We now have two different ecosystems to enjoy.”
Even though Ward was influential in recreating the butterfly gardens, she appreciates all the support and helped she received from her neighbors like DeEspinoza and the Kellehers.
“I could not have done all this myself, everyone helped out,” Ward said. “And I can’t stop now, because if I give up now, all this will be for not. With gardens, especially in Florida, there is always something to do and I want to maintain what I started.”