Almost a decade ago, before the old Parrot Jungle became the 14-acre natural preserve known as Pinecrest Gardens, Karen Mashburn had a twinkle in her eye and saw the future.
Mashburn has been identified by her peers as a visionary, a catalyst, the energizer bunny and an enthusiastic positive coach. All agree that it was largely due to the efforts Mashburn spearheaded through the birth of the Community Garden Charitable Fund (CGCF) that helped Pinecrest Gardens become the world class botanical destination it is today.
“Karen brought together a group of people interested in raising funds to assist horticultural projects specifically,” said Pinecrest Gardens horticulturalist Craig Morell. “She was the torch carrier that boosted Pinecrest Gardens into the next era. From the first day I knew her she said this could be a first class garden and she never waivered from that conviction.” Mashburn organized her friends and fellow Pinecrest Garden Club members to launch the CGCF as a not for profit organization with a mission was to raise money to support horticultural projects beyond the capability of the village.
“If you had told any of us five to 10 years ago that we would come together and share a vision for this fine place I would have told you you were crazy,” said current CGCF vice president Pat Vandenberg,. “But Karen coaxed us to come along for the ride; to get involved in something that was bigger than our lives and families. She is a dynamo of a lady and it was fortuitous that she was able to direct such a great blend of folks to work together.”
According to Morell, it was Mashburn’s brainstorm to get Pinecrest Garden Club members to donate plants for a sale that could benefit horticultural projects specifically.
“That is how I got to know her in those first formative years,” said Morrell. “We discovered the garden club plant sale donations were paying real dividends in addition to the Village funding. It also further connected residents to the garden club and gardens.”
Sine its beginning, the non-profit CGCF has raised almost $100,000 for projects such as the waterfall Koi pond, the colonnade enhancement, the lower garden, the terrace ramp project and the hidden garden.
Mashburn also came up with the idea of a major annual benchmark fundraising event: the Spring Soirée. Now going into its fifth year this February, the gala event is an opportunity to bring more of the community together at the gardens to mingle among friends, celebrate achievements and strategize new goals for the nature preserve.
“It was because of Karen’s persistence that we now have the space, police and village support to hold our annual soirée,” said CGCF President Lynn Wille Fishman. “This was all her vision and it did not start off so easy.”
Described as a petite and soft spoken woman unafraid to go against authority, this Ohio State University psychology graduate and grandmother of five seemed to move mountains at will. According to Fishman, Mashburn met with great resistance in the early days, but was undaunted.
“Although she had to fight the good fight, she was resilient,” said Fishman. “She was committed to the dream and brought some terrific people together to help join her conservation cause. Today her efforts have truly paid off.”
Vandenberg says those early challenges are behind them and they are blessed to enjoy a shared vision with the council and community.
“We have moved forward like the little engine that could. Today’s council is the right people at the right time and it has been a great ride, thanks to Karen.”
In October 2010, Mashburn suffered a stroke and has been convalescing at home with the support of her husband, Jerry.
“She has come a long way thanks to rehabilitation therapy, but we still have a long way to go,” said Jerry Mashburn.
“Karen is a master gardener and conservationist who observed the gardens when they were not in the best shape. She devoted herself to make it better. Karen wants to encourage all her friends and supporters to contribute what they can of time or money to continue to enhance the Pinecrest Gardens landscape. We look forward to the day when she can return.”
Today, Pinecrest Gardens has more than 1,000 varieties of rare and exotic tropical plants and palm trees in a native tropical hardwood and cypress setting. On Oct. 17, the National Park Service announced the addition of Pinecrest Gardens to the National Register of Historic Places.
For information, go to <www.pinecrestfl. gov> or call 305-669-6990.