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Stories from senior housing: The Really Secret Garden

Posted: September 19, 2013

In my last garden blog I wrote about our Russian Gardeners and their beautiful semi-hidden garden at Golda Meir House. Today, without revealing its location, I will tell you about another hidden and secret garden.  There is a resident, born in a small country in Eastern Europe who had always lived in an apartment.  She had no room for plants, let alone the opportunity to garden.  She moved to Golda Meir House after a long wait, to join her family. The move precipitated an awakening of a latent need and talent for making things grow.

It began when she asked if she could help water the small “table top” garden filled with tomato plants and herbs.  I gladly gave up this chore and watched as things were added to the garden, and suddenly everything grew to twice its size.  The next year I began finding seedling trays hidden around the sunny windows in the building. On warm days, these seedling trays found their way out doors to soak up the warm sun.  Our secret gardener asked permission to plant her seedlings in one part of our garden where  a few flowers were growing. Before I knew it, the area was filled with healthy daisy plants, brightening the early spring garden. In the late summer she added another kind of plant, fast growing and multi-flowering. I had never seen it before, but loved how it brightened the late summer landscape.

And so it goes, year after year. Seedlings collected in fall and planted and blooming in the summer garden.  Last year she asked for a small raised garden bed where she could plant vegetables.  Our maintenance staff obliged and built a small bed.  Immediately it was filled to capacity with tomato, eggplant, lettuce and bean seedlings. Intensive planting was something I had never seen before.  I am a rule follower and always allowed my plants to specified inches between plants. Not our “secret gardener.” I was dubious about the future of these plants, but I needn’t have been. They flourished and produced a bountiful harvest. 

I didn’t think she had any more energy to garden until this year when she asked if she could go to a place that I thought was “ungardenable” hidden among trees and not visible from our building. I was not even sure it was our land. So I thought, what was the harm?  I didn’t imagine that she would clear the land, build beds, and plant more fruit and vegetables than the space should have been able to hold.

I don’t know how she does it. I could never dig, till, plant or care for as much as she does.  She regularly appears in our offices with bags of produce. She also brings vegetables to people who may be sitting outside in the sunshine relaxing.  While they sit, she gardens…and most amazing is that she always wears a skirt and ballet flats while she works. I have never seen her in pants! 

One last note on her work.  Last fall she collected seeds from plants in the neighborhood and around the building. This year she planted the seeds and we now have many lovely hibiscus plants in the garden with flowers the size of dinner plates. She harvested the seeds of wisteria and trumpet vine and has started plants, which will soon grace the hideous construction fence that was left by the builders of the apartment building next to Golda.   She is in her own way, the “Johnny Appleseed “ of the Golda Community.  Her stamina, talent and sheer energy is an inspiration to us all.

Laura Isenberg is the Resident Services Administrator at Golda Meir House.

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