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Never too old to start a garden

Seniors grow gardens in elevated beds

Photo by Tim Webb
Photo by Tim Webb
Photo by Tim Webb

Not every activity can make a 100-year-old woman feel like a little girl again. But when Ann Keenan got her hands in some dirt at Breckinridge Memorial Nursing Facility in Hardinsburg, her memories took her back in time.

“It was such fun getting out in the sunshine and digging in the dirt,” Keenan says. “I have gardened since I was a little girl … This was one of the best things about summer—I appreciated being able to garden again.”

A combined effort from facility staff, like Julia King, a registered nurse and minimum data set (MDS) coordinator, and the Breckinridge County Cooperative Extension Service produced a bumper tomato crop for facility residents in Hardinsburg.

A growing program

King says the residents participate in planned activities every day, and several expressed interest in gardening. So, she contacted Carol Hinton, agricultural/natural resources agent, hoping the Extension Service would provide some seeds, but the offer in return was much more. The two organizations worked to install several raised beds, made at an appropriate height to access from a wheelchair. The beds also can be moved into the shade on hot days.

The planning for the planting starts in late April or early May, and Hinton says this year they may discuss adding additional vegetables to the mix. Throughout the growing season, master gardeners check in on the beds every 10 days to two weeks.

Margaret Lyons. Photo: Tim Webb

Most days last spring and summer, King would have one to three residents who wanted to actively help grow the tomatoes—and other herbs and vegetables—but in the afternoon, nearly a dozen would gather around the beds outside and talk about gardening in their younger days.

“All the residents loved to see us coming up with our basket,” King says. “We’d wash and eat the tomatoes for morning snack.”

The group also grew cilantro and used it, the tomatoes and other fresh ingredients from the local farmers market to make pico de gallo, which some of the residents had never had before, King says.

“(The garden) brought so much joy to all of our residents and their families—to see their moms, dads and grandmas all gardening again,” King says. “It was a good boost for everybody.”

Family members say the experience made resident Helen Embry think back to gardening at home: “You could see the happiness it brought her,” one says.

And it was a satisfying endeavor. “I am proud of myself for being able to help grow the tomatoes,” says resident Margaret Lyons.

“I will never forget when we got the first ripe tomato,” Keenan says. “It was nice seeing them on display at the county fair—and we won a blue ribbon!”

The Breckinridge County Cooperative Extension Service has put around 100 raised beds into the community, Hinton says, including several at the Extension office. The raised beds can be used as educational tools for folks who want to garden, but may not have the know-how or the space for a larger garden.

There are also raised beds at the local detention center, she says, and the harvest is used for meals there, as well.

And while Hinton admits the idea of raised beds once sounded crazy, she’s now an advocate and invites others to check them out.

“No matter your background, you can always learn something,” she says. “It took several of us to open our eyes, to change our way of thinking. But once you see them, it’s that ‘Aha!’ moment. You think, ‘I can do that.”

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