A fruitful hobby blossoms

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Danielle Rexrode

Pat Kasuda covers plants in her garden on the grounds of Charlestown retirement community. Charlestown is one of many communities for older adults that provide gardening space for residents. Studies show that gardening is good exercise, improving bone mass and helping people recover more quickly from surgery and illnesses.
Photo by Mel Tansill

Before Rose Wolford even moved the first piece of furniture into her new apartment at Charlestown retirement community, she was getting her hands dirty in her new garden.

“I actually obtained my garden before I moved in,” said Wolford. “I brought over a few plants from my house, including some annuals and two low-growing woody plants.”

Wolford and other residents of apartment-style retirement communities are discovering that, although they may have left their yards behind when they moved, they can still find a place to plant beautiful blooms and healthy greens.

Raised in Pennsylvania, Wolford found she had a green thumb when she was just four years old. “We grew our own food, more out of necessity than pleasure,” said Wolford. “My mother would always let me have a row in the garden where I could plant flowers, and I really loved it.”

Wolford later built a career as a landscape designer. 

This spring, as soon as the threat of frost subsided, Wolford was eager to get her garden going. “Once it’s fit to be outside, I’m out there,” she said.

“I have always loved growing flowers, so I planted an ornamental flower garden. I chose colors that would complement my apartment so that I can cut bouquets and bring them inside.”

Exercise and camaraderie

In a garden plot near Wolford’s, fellow resident Patricia (Pat) Kasuda grows tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, onions and zucchini. “I enjoy being outdoors,” she said. “I go to my garden daily, and either weed, pick or groom my plants.

“Gardening is great exercise, and I like meeting fellow gardeners, listening to their experiences, and learning new ways to do things in the garden and in the way of preparation, such as canning and freezing.”

A graduate of the Master Gardener program through the University of Maryland Extension, Kasuda, along with fellow gardener David Pollitt, oversees Charlestown’s community gardens. The square spaces are available to residents on a first-come, first-served basis.

A retired Presbyterian minister, Pollitt moved to Charlestown from a small farmhouse in Harford County where he grew his own fruits and vegetables.

“We had about 9,000 square feet of gardens,” said Pollitt. “I grew everything you can think of, from asparagus, green beans and lettuce, to strawberries, peaches and apples. We ate our share, and distributed the rest to friends and family. We also made strawberry preserves and applesauce.”

In spring 2012, just a few months after moving to Charlestown, Pollitt planted his first crop of strawberries, lettuce, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, and a variety of other vegetables. Since then, he has acquired two additional gardens.

“One is completely dedicated to strawberries,” said Pollitt. “The other two have all the vegetables. Last year, we froze some of our green beans and peppers and enjoyed cooking with them throughout the fall and winter.” This year, he already has many of the same plants in the ground.

Many gardeners at Charlestown grow more than they can eat, and are happy to share their bounty. Extra fruits and vegetables are left for the taking on a table located near the gardens, but they don’t last long. 

In late summer, the gardeners hold a picnic prepared with the fruits of their labor. “It’s an opportunity to get together and grill hot dogs and have a fun-filled afternoon sharing the goods (and the not-so-goods!) of the growing season,” said Kasuda.

As for Wolford, fresh flowers aren’t the only thing she’s growing. Working in her garden has also allowed her to cultivate new friendships.

“I’ve met quite a few fellow gardeners,” said Wolford. “It’s been a great way to get to know people, especially since I’m relatively new.”

Therapeutic benefits  

As the residents of Charlestown have discovered, gardening has many benefits both physical and emotional. The National Diabetes Education Program, for example, recommends gardening as one way for older adults to be more physically active.

Gardening has been found, for instance, to improve bone mass and density, which many people tend to lose as they get older, according to a study from the University of Arkansas.

The Alzheimer’s Research Center notes that therapeutic gardens help people remain connected with nature, recover more quickly from surgery and illnesses, and provide a means to continue enjoying outdoor activities they have done throughout their lives.

And one of the greatest benefits of gardening is the effect it can have on managing and reducing stress. A Dutch study, for example, found that gardening after a stressful task yielded a better, more relaxed mood, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than similar relaxing leisure activities.

At the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, residents may not only take part in structured gardening activities, but can also enjoy a sensory garden that was donated by the Levindale Auxiliary.

Located at the entrance of the Levindale campus, the garden gives residents the opportunity to enjoy plants and flowers that change with the season, as well as tranquil waterfalls, soothing music and colorful lights. The garden is based on similar models in the United States and Israel.

“Many of the residents had homes where they had their own gardens,” said Eve Vogelstein, a member of the auxiliary and an enthusiastic gardener herself. “It was hard for them to leave their own gardens, and this gives them a sense of home.”

Like Levindale, Sunrise Senior Living of Pikesville also involves its residents in gardening. There is a garden on the third floor balcony where residents in the Reminiscence (memory-care) neighborhood can participate in gardening activities. And on the first floor level there are flowers and pots that are used in gardening activities once the weather warms up.

Different gardening roles

For Roland Park Place resident Jean Silber, gardens hold a sense of the past. Before moving to Roland Park, Silber and her late husband, Sidney, developed a well-known garden over the course of 55 years.

In 1956, she, her husband and another couple purchased 40 acres of woodland in Lutherville. While her husband was the avid gardener at first, Silber caught the bug once their children were grown. The couple took classes at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and toured gardens all over the world.

Hundreds of people from all over the country have visited the Silbers’ garden, and in 2005 it was included in the Smithsonian’s archives of American gardens.

Now living at Roland Park Place, Silber doesn’t have the opportunity to garden as she once did, though she serves on the community’s grounds committee and “clips and fixes” what she can. Residents have also helped choose the landscaping on the community’s campus, and planted a garden on one of the roof spaces.

What Silber loves about gardening is its “instant gratification.” “You can do one small thing, and you can change the whole scene right before your eyes,” she said.

Silber’s neighbor, Sally Freedman, is also an enthusiastic gardener and tends two small garden plots from among those available for Roland Park Place residents.

Friedman, a former resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., was an avid gardener and former volunteer at the renowned Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Now close to 90, she admits that gardening is “harder work” than it once was, but she still keeps at it.

“I like to see nature,” she said, adding that she looks forward every Memorial Day to the blooming of her Oriental poppy. “When my neighbors come by to admire it, my chest goes out like a proud mother,” she said.

With additional reporting by Carol Sorgen and Laura Bogart.