At Blue Skies of Texas, the community garden is more than just a place to raise gorgeous flowers and produce, it’s a social club. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and the expansive green space at Blue Skies of Texas is no exception. Residents are encouraged to plant whatever they think might grow, and in the San Antonio area the sky is the limit. Abundant warm weather and sunshine not only nourish the greenscape but also the souls of residents who take solace in getting their hands dirty.
Two residents, in particular, seem to have a real gift for making a garden grow. These pals, along with their refined knowledge of agriculture, have taken on leadership roles within the community garden. We sat down with Jim Conner and Fran Bell to learn more about this fantastic resource they help curate.
A Man with a Plan (and bees)
Jim Conner serves as the co-president of the garden club at Blue Skies of Texas. He’s been a resident for over seven years and in that time has made numerous contributions to the roughly one acre of land designated for planting, including a drip irrigation system. He relocated to the San Antonio area from South Florida when he decided to look for retirement options. The two-season weather was one of many reasons he chose South Texas instead of moving further North.
There’s an agriculture streak that runs deep in Jim. He was born on a ranch and learned the ins and outs of sustainability farming from a young age. After serving in the Air Force, Jim used his degree in Agriculture to become the senior biological scientist for a research lab at The University of Florida. “I studied insects, so I had a lot of experience with working with commercial farming and pesticide companies,” he reflected.
Jim, a master gardener, visits the community garden at least once or twice a day. This year he has a new reason to stop by—bees! “When I was a kid, I had bees, and ever since, I’ve always wanted to raise honeybees. I thought they’d be great for our nice little garden. Late last year a guy moved in who had also kept bees as a kid. His family has had bees since the Civil War. He was excited about doing it, so we built the hives. We ordered the queens from South Carolina, and they’re really like any other farm animal. We keep track of their progeny and how productive they are. Since we started the hives, it’s amazing how many people have said they’d always wanted to keep bees as well. We just learned the other day that we have another resident who has studied apiology. He doesn’t even use gloves when he handles the bees!” Jim plans to distribute the honey to friends and neighbors of the garden when it’s harvested.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Fran Bell is a newer member of the garden club. About a year and a half ago, she and her husband, and her sister made their home at Blue Skies of Texas. She toured the community several times before deciding. “We looked at fifteen different places in six states, but Blue Skies of Texas kept rising to the top. I liked that they allowed my sister to live together with my husband and me in a duplex-style apartment.” While the garden wasn’t the only reason, it was certainly a factor.
Much like her friend Jim, Fran also has a military background. Her father was in the Service and she followed in his footsteps. Fran spent twenty years in the military and even lived overseas in Stuttgart, Germany where she met her husband. “We had our great romance there and had our wedding performed in German with a translator. Our wedding certificate has seven different languages on it,” she explained. After retiring from the military, Fran went on and got a master’s in family counseling and did another twenty years as a family counselor and helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As Jim and his friends keep bees, Fran plants flowers that encourage hummingbirds to visit. Additionally, she chooses plants that attract monarch butterflies. San Antonio is along the yearly migration route monarchs embark on from Mexico to Canada. Other residents are so enchanted by the monarch sanctuary Fran has created that they often stop by to take pictures.
Wildflowers are an iconic symbol of Texan pride. Fran worked with Blue Skies of Texas administration to create a designated wildflower conservation area on the grounds of the community. Meanwhile, Fran’s sister grows beautiful roses from bushes imported from Oregon.
Making a Garden Grow
It takes a village as the old adage goes. The community garden at Blue Skies of Texas is a collaborative effort between the campus administration and the residents who enjoy planting.
San Antonio provides optimal growth conditions for most things with its predictably warm weather. The most unique items they’ve seen thrive are papayas and pomegranate trees. One person even tried artichokes, which typically only grow in Mediterranean climates. Citrus trees have also done particularly well in their garden.
“You know we’re not doing this for survival, so if you experiment and it doesn’t work, it’s not like you lost too much of an investment. It’s all just for fun.“ Jim explained.
“Something I’ve always liked about the garden is the people who are very knowledgeable about growing in this region of Texas. It’s really great to have people like Jim I can ask things like whether certain insects are friend or foe.”
The relaxing outdoor space is often a gathering ground for residents. Some evenings you can catch a group out there with food and drink sitting around the fire pits getting to know each other.
Jim and Fran would love to invite you to take a tour of the community space they work so tirelessly to keep lush. To learn more about the garden, or any of the other fantastic amenities Blue Skies of Texas has to offer, call 210-677-8666 to schedule your tour with one of our Life-Plan specialists today!