Grow social life by gardening

Created date

July 5th, 2010

Gardening is a gamble, says Sterns Lott, president of the Ashby Ponds Garden Club. You never know if your crop will take. It s an ongoing search for information. [caption id="attachment_12554" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Hilmer Krebs waters his plants in the gardens at Greenspring in Springfield, Va. (Photo by Jason Connors)"]. Gardening is also, according to a team of researchers led by exercise physiologist Barbara Ainsworth, Ph.D., the perfect whole-body exercise, strengthening the heart, improving circulation, and relieving stress. Perhaps that is why gardening is a popular pastime at all of Erickson s D.C. area campuses; Greenspring (in Springfield, Va.), Riderwood (in Silver Spring, Md.), and Ashby Ponds (in Ashburn, Va.) all have their own resident-run garden clubs. And each spring, more than 350 gardeners at these communities get their hands dirty seeding, weeding, and pruning, resulting in beds of fresh vegetables, summer fruits, bushes, shrubs, and blooming flowers.

New opportunities

Before moving toGreenspring, lifelong gardeners Dave and Maxine Smith had elaborate gardens at their townhouse that spanned three levels, including a Japanese garden and an English garden with rosebushes and flowering vines. [caption id="attachment_12549" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Green thumbs in their element at Ashby Ponds. While residents are responsible for tending to their gardens, the grounds department offers services like tilling. (Photo by Sterns Lott)"][/caption] I m good with the plants and flowers and Dave is great with the design part of it, says Mrs. Smith. When we moved toGreenspring, we knew we wanted to continue gardening. We like roses so much that the first year we planted two rosebushes [and lots of other flowers] on our patio, and Dave made a rock path through the garden. We both love gardening. It s good exercise and I find it relaxing. Others who aren t longtime gardeners grow their skills in the community s gardens. Before my wife and I moved toRiderwood, we had a very shaded yard, says Bob Krebs. I couldn t do much gardening. Here atRiderwood, I have the opportunity to grow a wide range of vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Even those who don t spend time in the gardens at Erickson campuses taste the fruit (and vegetables) of their neighbors labors. Professional horticulturist John Worthington has been growing fruits and vegetables since he moved toRiderwoodnine years ago. It s wonderful to be able to work with the earth, says Worthington. Over the years, he has grown strawberries, gourds, tomatoes, blueberries, and watermelons. He always makes a point of giving his harvests away. At Ashby Ponds, the garden club is even selling its produce to benefit the Benevolent Care Fund, an on-campus charity.

Teaching others

For those who have a love of gardening but choose not to exercise their green thumbs, the garden clubs sponsor a wide variety of learning opportunities. We ve had expert speakers discuss Japanese bonsai, landscape architecture, and caring for houseplants, says Krebs of theRiderwoodGarden Club. TheAshby PondsGarden Club has invited master gardeners, birders, and residents with particular gardening skills to share at its monthly meetings. The group also publishes a monthly newsletter and plans trips to local gardens such as Ida Lee Park in Leesburg, Va. AtGreenspring, the Tillagers garden club hosts a picnic at the end of every summer. All gardeners are invited and encouraged to bring guests to the event, where they share what they ve harvested.

Beautiful bounty

The green thumbs of Erickson s talented resident gardeners play an important role in the beauty, education, and tastiness of their communities. Whether it s creating a beautiful landscape, sharing a fresh batch of strawberries, or organizing a lecture on soil conditions, the garden clubs are most successful in translating their hobby into a community-wide gift. I enjoy having fresh flowers in the house throughout the summer, saysGreenspring sMarilyn Kurt. My garden club has helped me keep fresh-cut blooms in the house for three or four months out of the year. I am so thankful for that.

Gardening without the grunt work

While residents are in charge of tending to their areas of the communal garden spaces, staff takes care of some of the grunt work. AtGreenspring, there are few limitations to what a gardener can do, says John St. Louis,Greenspring sgrounds supervisor. St. Louis helps the gardeners by rototilling the garden patches and providing mulch, fertilizer, hoses, and some basic tools. Grounds staff atAshby PondsandRiderwoodoffers similar assistance. We provide a wide variety of services in support of the gardens, says Jack Vargo, Riderwood s grounds supervisor. For example, we give access to several hose bids and water connections. Ashby Ponds Community Resources Manager Joseph Barrows adds, In support of our garden club, we make sure to rototill the gardens and supply bagged materials such as soil, mulch, and compost throughout the growing season.