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Growing Wellness: Spring Gardening Tips for Active Aging in Senior Living

Growing Wellness: Spring Gardening Tips for Active Aging in Senior Living

Growing Wellness: Spring Gardening Tips for Active Aging in Senior Living

Wellness Gardening: Growing Connections at Meadowood

It was about two years ago when CEO Paul Nordeman suggested cross-pollinating one of the gardening plots in Meadowood’s Victory Garden.

Not the plants, mind you. But rather, the gardeners.

That’s when he invited resident Dr. Arlene McLean to join him, VP of Health Services Regina Farrell, and several other Meadowood administrators and staff in planting and tending a plot.

“I knew we needed Arlene on our team,” Paul says. “She’s the plant doctor.”

“Arlene is our garden guru. She knows what to do about everything,” says Director of Admissions Adrienne Rohrman, one of the garden plot’s tenders.

Take, for example, the time when the corn needed to be pollinated. “Who knew you needed to help corn that way?” Adrienne says. “We’d be at a loss without her.”

Adrienne grows flowers in her home beds, zinnias and sunflowers among them. Arlene also has two other plots she tends, one at the Victory Garden and one at her home. But one gets the impression this comes easy to her.

“I grew up on a small farm,” she says. “My parents were both avid gardeners. I grow things I like, and things I’d like to try, like yellow beets. In the Victory Garden I have cantaloupes, watermelon, and sweet potatoes. Behind my house I have a little bit of everything — lettuce, beets, carrots, tomatoes….”

The riches of summer — vegetables, fruits, flowers — are abundant at Meadowood. So abundant, in fact, that there are baskets set up in the Schultz Community Center for “excess” produce and flowers. Enough to share with everyone in the community.

At any given time, there might be herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes (lots of tomatoes!) or a bag of string beans waiting for someone to appreciate the fresh bounty. It doesn’t sit for long before it’s put to good use.

There are plenty of spaces for community gardens here. The Meadowood Victory Garden is just one. It‘s next to the employee parking lot, across from the McLean Memory Care Center.

According to resident and “Garden Czar” Bob Greer, there are 44 plots ranging in size from 20’ x 20’ to modest to 4’ x 8’ beds, with several sizes in between. All plots are currently claimed by a mix of residents and staff, and there is a waiting list that attests to the popularity of gardening on campus.

The rules are simple, but strict: Keep your plot in good condition, maintain and harvest your space in a timely manner, and clear your own end-of-the-season debris by fall. If not, you run the risk of losing your spot.

If you’re looking for some expert planting tips, here are a few resources from the National Wildlife Foundation, tips on gardening tools, and ideas for easily accessible vertical gardens and raised beds. As part of the wellness staff here at Meadowood, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that gardening is one way we promote active aging here. It’s a low-impact activity that builds strength, flexibility, endurance, and aerobic capacity. Green therapy, as we call it, is a great stress reducer, too.

Like Arlene, other residents have become quite adept at cultivating the spaces around their apartments or homes. Flowers abound in well-tended beds. Veggies grow in pots on patios. We have an extremely active gardening club, guided garden tours, and talks from local experts.

“Gardening breaks down barriers that might exist during the workday and makes us all ‘real’ people. We’re all just people who love to garden,” Adrienne says.

Arlene agrees. “The Health Center staff and I never discuss work when we are gardening. It’s all about dirt, weather, seeds, watering…. That’s what makes it so relaxing. Just friends getting together.”

While Paul laments that he doesn’t have a lot of free time to get over to the garden these days, he’s secure in the knowledge it’s well taken care of by the rest of the crew.

“I take care of the supplies, they take care of the garden,” he says. “They’re doing a fantastic job.”

I’ve grown a gardening connection here, too. Resident and master gardener Sally Rowland has generously coached me in my small home-growing efforts and encouraged me to “just plant stuff and see how it does. Experiment. Have fun. You don’t have to take it so seriously!”

It’s the best gardening advice — and perhaps life advice — I ever received.

Just like the staff crew and Arlene, we’ve had a great time getting to know each other through our love of green, earthy things.

Sally and I had a grand time last summer growing potatoes in pots from cuttings rooted in glasses of water. Sweet potatoes for her, tiny white potatoes for me. This summer, I’m working on lunaria plants sprouted from seeds she gave me last fall.

I know as long as there is dirt at Meadowood, our gardens, and our connections, will grow.

Until we meet—