Growing Community with a Garden

When Recreation Director, Ruth Finch came to work at Davis Health Care Center in Wilmington, NC ( in 2004, the greenhouse on campus was being used for storage and plans were in the works for it to be torn down. But Ruth saw potential and convinced the organization to let her give one more try at putting it to the use for which it was intended.

Soon funds were being raised, help from the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension staff was put on the calendar. The deal was sealed. A garden club was formed. Residents and staff started with two vegetable beds and a plot of sunflowers outside the greenhouse. When harvest time came, the garden club hosted a party for all the residents featuring tomato sandwiches with their homegrown tomatoes. “It was a smashing success,” said Ruth. Those sandwiches stirred up interest in the garden prompting more residents to join the garden club.

The garden club meets once a week, though some residents come out to help water and such more often. The participants are as varied as the plants. “We have ladies who had rose gardens and wear their gloves because they don’t want to get heir nails messed up and then we have those who say, “If you don’t get dirty it’s not gardening,” Ruth said. Even in the winter there area few die-hards, “The Dirty Dozen” Ruth called them, who get bundled up and head out to the heated greenhouse to do what can be done.

Ruth admitted that none of the five staff members who help with the garden program are gardeners themselves. A horticultural therapist from the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension had come in and taught residents and staff about bugs, propagation, soil, and other important gardening elements, but the true success of the garden, Ruth said, is due to the efforts of the residents. “They’re the experts,” she said, “Many of them have been raising gardens all their lives and this is something they can still be successful with. You put the soil and pot in front of them and they know just what to do.” One resident is an orchid enthusiast and is teaching the club about orchid propagation.

Initial funding for the greenhouse, extended garden, and garden club came from a mixture of grants and donations, the largest coming from a resident’s family for whom the garden is named, “The Bob and Doris Burke Giggle Garden.” However, the garden program is now self-sustaining thanks to ongoing sales of plants the club has grown. Families, community members, and residents of the nearby assisted living campus also enjoy the garden program, getting their hands dirty or just visiting in the lovely setting. A monthly “Celebrity Chef” cooking demonstration, wherein a community member demonstrates a dish and residents get to taste it, often features produce and herbs grown in the garden. Certainly more than plants are grown in this garden; community, esteem, connection to food, pride, and interest – all hallmarks of home.

Reprint from Action Pact@2011

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s