Devereux Garden uses nature to teach life skills

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.

A yellow hibiscus blooms in Devereux Gardens.

A yellow hibiscus blooms in Devereux Gardens.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

His hands work tirelessly as they search for the perfect part of a full-grown plant to cut from.

With one quick motion, he snips it and then lightly dips the stem in growing hormones.

Gently, he carves out a hole in a pot of fresh soil and replants the stem.

Propagation is one of many skills Jacob Luke-Sparks learned during his residency at Devereux Adult Vocational Program.

The program helps those with severe mental health and development disabilities learn vocational and social skills as well as contribute to the community by producing goods such as plants, flowers, candles and baked goods.

The products are sold locally through Devereux Gardens' Victoria and Goliad locations as well as at the grow center.

Luke-Sparks, who enrolled in the program in January 2011, works in the greenhouse.

"It taught me how to be around nature," he said about his job in which he pots plants, sweeps and washes pots.

Luke-Sparks said he is looking forward to getting a job and his own apartment in Austin, his hometown.

The grow garden produces hundreds of varieties of plants and flowers and is most known for its tropical and subtropical plants, said Lon Smith, vocational director and grower for Devereux.

The garden is located among 450 wooded acres, has several greenhouses and is most known

for its perennials such as the hibiscus and heirloom tomato.

Devereux typically plants flowers and plants that are meant to grow in South Texas' humid climate, and that's why its plants are beautiful and able to grow in abundance, Smith said.

For many years, Devereux was known for its annual hibiscus sale, in which more than 60 varieties of the flower were sold. But due to the lack of variety being propogated, the business has not had the festival in two years, Smith said.

Devereux is planning a festival for June 2014.

Smith said what he believes makes Devereux stand out is its community-driven outlook on retail.

"When they started the program, they wanted to make sure it was something that added value to the community," he said. "People that shop here know the money benefits the community and that it makes a difference."

The vocational program teaches residents skills, so when they leave the program they will receive better jobs, Smith said.

Christa Swanlund, a horticulture teacher at Devereux, said she is amazed by how well the residents work with the plants and flowers.

"Most are eager to learn," she said. "There's a lot of pride in it."



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