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In the Garden
“All my hurts, my garden spade can heal” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
By Debi Trammell
I am not a gardener. My husband has kept a vegetable garden for all 18 years of our
marriage and my contribution has been requesting my favorites and eating them when
they are ready.
On a particularly ambitious day, I will sit in a lawn chair and drink iced tea while
watching him toil in the soil.
My manicure is important to me, and dirt and I are not friends. We’re not even
speaking to each other.
But our facility has this patio…
It’s very pretty, with patio tables, umbrellas, even a fountain. Attached to the activity
room, the location is perfect.
It has access from the Activity Room, and a secure gate. The only problem was; it
wasn’t being used.
I decided I needed to figure out how I could use that space. How about a patio
A team effort
Enter our Assistant Executive Director.
He is a talented gardener of both flowers and vegetables, and was more than eager
to get the garden started.
Our receptionist, also possessing a green thumb, quickly joined the team.
My initial role was to contact vendors and families for donations of soil, fertilizer and
any other garden materials.
Next, we invited residents to join the “Garden Club” and we were ready to start!
Vendors donated all the basics, family members brought in pots and garden tools,
and the Family Council gave us a $100 donation towards whatever we needed for the
Our AED built a 4ft by 4ft raised garden.
So far, we’ve planted:
A Dogwood Tree A Plum Tree A Peach Tree
Blackberries Onions Potatoes
Tomatoes Spinach Peas
Lettuce Watermelon Cucumbers
Broccoli Banana Peppers Hot Banana Peppers
Butterfly Flowers Mint Garden Salsa Peppers
Marjoram Chives Salvia (Black and Blue)
Marigolds Strawberries Sage (Mexican Bush)
Zucchini Crazy Daisies Russian Sage
Radicchio Gardenias Straight Neck Squash
Tree Rose (Red Ribbon)
We marked every plant so anyone touring the garden would know what they were
We’ve also added wind chimes, a bird feeder and a worm farm.
Yes, I said a worm farm. We have 2000 red wigglers making our very own fertilizer.
So now we have a beautiful, useful space. But that’s just part of the story.
I have discovered that I may actually like gardening.
I even handle the worms!
In fact, at a recent meeting, I found a small spider in my hair and carefully picked it
off and held it in my hand, examining it to make sure it was alive.
All I need now is a little more patience so I’ll give the garden a chance to grow.
When I said “we” planted the garden, I meant that staff and resident’s planted it. It’s the
residents I’d like to talk about.
Resident #1. “Mary” is an 86 year old woman who spent the last 62 years taking care of
her Down syndrome son.
For the last 4 years, they shared a room here where she continued to see to his
needs until he passed away a few months ago.
After his passing, “Mary” was lost.
She mourned her son, but that was to be expected.
What was troubling to me was that she didn’t know what to do with her time and
isolated herself in her room, which was still full of her son’s belongings.
Because of her complete focus on her son, “Mary” didn’t have a group of friends or
interest in any calendar activities.
I asked our Resident Council President to invite “Mary” to our Friday coffee chat,
where I started a discussion about gardens.
During that discussion, I discovered that “Mary” had been an avid gardener.
She told us about the bushels of vegetables she’d grown, and her beautiful flower
bed. At the end of coffee chat, I asked her if I could show her our patio and share the
plans we had for it.
I’m excited to tell you that “Mary” goes out to the garden with us every day.
She’s transplanted her room plant out there and tends to them while visiting with
the rest of the garden club.
She planted many seed and seedlings and makes sure I know when they need
watering. “Mary” is now coming to Resident Council and accepted the parliamentarian
position during our recent election of officers.
Her attendance at activities is increasing every week.
Resident #2: “Kay” is a 72 year old woman who suffered brain damage at birth.
She has physical limitations that make it very hard for her to grip things and control
her arm movements.
She has challenges communicating due to her unclear speech, and has some
difficulty making herself understood.
“Kay” uses a Broda Chair, which sits low to the ground and leans back. Despite her
challenges, she loves to be in the garden.
“Kay” is our official pot filler. I put potting soil and an empty pot next to her.
I help her get a good grip on a garden trowel, and she goes to work. She digs into
that bag and hauls the soil over to the pot.
I admit that much more soil makes it onto the patio floor or “Kay’s” dress than the
pot gets, but the joy she gets out of making that mess is wonderful to watch.
She’s so proud of the garden, and tells everyone who will listen what a great
gardener she is.
Resident #3: “Bill” doesn’t like anything. Nothing makes him happy and he just doesn’t
want anyone to bother him.
He let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he was not going to participate in the
One afternoon, I saw “Bill” and his wife in the hallway.
I casually invited his wife to see our freshly planted garden. “Bill” started to protest,
but his wife just followed me out the door.
Once “Bill” was outside, he started reading the plant markers. When he got to the
first tomato plant he said to his wife “honey, do you remember that crop of tomatoes at
our first house?”
What followed was a tour of the garden, with a running commentary from “Bill” about
his past gardening experiences. “Bill” and his wife visit the garden at least twice a week
Resident #4: “Grace” is a 400 lb woman who leaves her bed only on shower days.
She has a tracheotomy and is non-verbal. I told her CNA about our garden, and she
mentioned it to “Grace”.
“Grace” was up and dressed at our next Garden Club meeting. I showed her
everything we had planted, and picked some leaves off our herbs to let her smell them.
Tears rolled down her eyes. I asked “Grace” if she was remembering a special
garden and she nodded yes.
Later, I found out through yes and no questions that she used to keep a very big
garden and loved working in it. “Grace” is planning to come to our next meeting.
The Garden Club
Our Garden Club meets 3 times a week.
We plant new things, water our raised bed and potted gardens and just enjoy each
All levels of staff are involved.
Our Executive Administrator waters now and then, dietary collects food scraps for
our worm farm, and our receptionist helps us keep an eye on things and gives us
Our Assistant Executive Director brings in new plants, teaches me how to care for
the garden, and is our biggest cheerleader.
Last Friday we reaped our first harvest.
We picked broccoli, potatoes and onions! I wish you could have seen the looks on
our resident’s faces and we picked vegetables that they had planted and tended.
Our chef made them into a delicious soup, which the garden club enjoyed together
in the activity room.
We have a lot more that will soon be ready to harvest, but I don’t believe the
vegetables are the most important thing growing on our little patio.
We are growing a sense of purpose, something to look forward too, reliving
wonderful memories and finding a sense of accomplishment.
Who knew you could find all of that in a little seed packet?
Debi Trammell is a full time Activity Director at Crestview Court, a 125 bed skilled
nursing facility located in Cedar Hill, Texas. She is responsible for activity planning and
volunteer coordination for an active group of young-minded residents.
Formerly a corporate marketing manager, Debi has been an Activity Professional in
long term care for 10 years.
She accidentally stumbled upon the activity profession and found her calling when
her best friend asked her to “fill in” while her facility searched for an Activity Director.
Debi lives in Texas with her husband, her sixteen year old son and one very mis-
behaved dog. Her grown daughter and her family (most importantly, her two
grandsons!) live nearby. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with
questions, comments or article suggestions.