HIGHLAND PARK – Flecks of soil fell to the ground as Sylvia Wiser continued to dig in the garden at the Parker at Stonegate assisted living community in Highland Park.
She has no need for garden trowels or even gloves when it comes to moving soil in the trug – a waist-high planter that sits in the middle of Stonegate’s sun-splashed Patio Garden.
Wiser then took some spinach plants grown from seeds and carefully placed them in the holes, positioning them in the corner of this verdant neighborhood next to some tiny tomatoes and string beans.
Nearby was an onion that, by the looks of its white bulb pushing through the soil, was ready to be harvested.
“I love to get my hands dirty,” Wiser said. “That’s the best part of gardening. You smell the soil, the sun is shining. It doesn’t matter if you are growing vegetables or flowers. It’s a great, relaxing feeling.”
The horticulture program at Parker at Stonegate is in full bloom. The residents are working together to plant seedlings, prune flowers and pass the lazy days of summer in this bucolic courtyard at Stonegate, tending to Mother Nature’s green gifts.
Horticulture therapist Lee Shahay said gardening here, as well as at Parker’s homes in Piscataway and New Brunswick, has benefits for the residents.
Reducing stress, lifting moods, rejuvenating spirits by spending time in the garden, can help seniors live healthier and happier lives, she said.
Many of Parker’s residents like Wiser have spent most of their lives transforming their backyards into rows of roses, or beds of begonias.
“What is great is that the residents can continue their passion for gardening and nature,” Shahay said. “I think that’s really one of the highlights of living at Parker.”
On a recent sunny afternoon, the courtyard at Stonegate was bursting with color, with the greens of the vegetable plants blending with the brilliance of the flowers, all lending to creating a tranquil environment for everyone to enjoy.
There were black-eyed Susans, yellow as the sun, growing on this side. On the other side, there were purple asters, red hibiscus, pink geraniums, orange coneflowers, and zinnias in practically every color of the rainbow.
Flowers grown in the garden are harvested for use in floral arranging activities. Other times, they are picked and displayed throughout the community, to the pride of the residents who participate in the many horticulture programs offered at Stonegate.
Two yellow and black Swallowtail butterflies were playing together, as the residents watched in delight. Just minutes earlier, a monarch had been visiting the butterfly bush, one of the many plants in the patio garden that attract pollinators.
In addition to gardening, the residents have an opportunity to take part in the butterfly program by raising caterpillars for Monarch and Black Swallowtail butterflies, and releasing them back into the garden.
“It is an exciting way to witness nature at its very best,” says Shahay.