MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — They're lush, beautiful and flourishing, but gardens aren't the only things thriving at Golden Livingcenter nursing home these days.
So are the Alzheimer's patients who tend them.
"It softens the effects of an institutional setting," said Laurie Lunsford, the facility's interactive arts specialist who also oversees the gardening program. "It is just a dream. It excites me so much to see them blossom."
As she spoke, Lunsford was in the bigger of the two fenced gardens, this one frequented by the mid-stage Alzheimer's and dementia patients. The other, smaller garden, also completely fenced, is for the late-stage Alzheimer's patients. Both, however, were peaceful, attractive places, verdant and colorful thanks to the profusion of plants, decorations and art the patients also help make, whether brightly colored bird houses or a wooden sign reading "Bear's Tomatoes."
Family members and Master Gardeners of Delaware County have been instrumental in providing plants, mulch, work and more for the patients, Lunsford told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1qMVDVO ).
In the larger garden, 83-year-old Sue Southworth, dressed in pink and looking resplendent in a floppy straw sunhat decorated with fake red roses, was happily hoeing a raised potato patch. This winter, she admitted, being stuck inside had affected her adversely, leading her to become what she called "down."
"Getting out here really does it," Southworth said, brightly, motioning toward her room. "I look out the window to see what needs to be done, and I'm out here."
"She'll work out here a couple hours a day," Lunsford said, noting the Alzheimer's patients have taken ownership of these gardens where cherry tomato plants line fences, pale-green cabbage plants spread their elephant-ear leaves to the sun and a volunteer sunflower already looks to be topping 10-feet-tall.
"This used to be taken care of by the grounds crew," she continued. "Now we take care of it ourselves."
That's not to say there was much of a master plan involved, though.
"We used what we had and we just plopped them where we thought they would grow," Lunsford said.
Meanwhile, the only thing that wasn't growing tall back here was the grass, thanks to resident Glen Tapley. One glance and you knew he was no stranger to work. After a word or two, you also knew he was a man of faith, quickly introducing "the Good Book" into his conversation.
"I'm 80 years old and I've always worked," Tapley said, recalling summers as a kid hoeing tobacco fields in his native Kentucky, where his father, a miner, walked him into a coal mine for the first time at age 18. Turned out it was the last time, too. After 100 yards, Tapley reversed course and walked out, heading north for factory work instead.
Now he mows the grass in the bigger garden with a simple push mower, one powered only by his muscles
"He can tell you about every plant out here," Lunsford said. "How it grows, what it needs."
From the bigger garden, which residents can visit unsupervised, to the smaller garden, which residents can't, was a quick walk. In the latter, which is attached to the late-stage Alzheimer's wing, going outside is coveted.
"I walk down that hall and they know it's time to go outside," Lunsford said with a smile, adding that volunteers willing to just sit out there with the patients are needed. "They follow me like the Pied Piper."
Diminutive at 93 years of age, Thelma Ross, the mother of jeweler Jeff Carter, was visiting the garden this morning with her daughter-in-law, Connie Carter. What did the nonagenarian think about it?
"I don't think about it, I just sit in it, if I have company," Ross said, a broom clutched in her hands, though her daughter-in-law noted she does much more than sit, or sweep.
"She came out here and helped weed and helped put the flowers in," Connie explained, adding the garden has vastly improved her mother-in-law's quality of life. "She wants to be busy. She just loves being outdoors."
Also in the garden was the aforementioned "Bear," 73-year-old Forrest Smith, a General Motors retiree with a taste for tomatoes, and penchant for watering the cherry-tomato plants his wife, Donna, provided. With a handful of the crimson spheres in hand, he popped one in his mouth to savor, offered a visitor another, and soon was sitting in a lush corner of the garden, smiling and, at one point, even laughing.
So, where does the food go? With the bounty grown of these gardens, Lunsford said, residents cook and eat some, but also give some away to staff members — a treasured gesture.
"These people love to give," she said, "and they don't have anything to give."
On the matter of giving, she also recalled something Ross told her once about the gardens, something that makes them a gift of incalculable worth.
"She said it gives her something to get up for in the morning," Lunsford said.
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com