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Zest for life

Nature’s tonic grows in the garden

Created date

May 21st, 2013

Bessie Rigas s children may be grown, but she still has babies that require her attention. I check on the vegetables in my garden every day, says Bessie, whose current crop includes tomatoes, eggplant, parsley, dill, and an Italian vegetable she s growing from seeds her sister in Greece sent her. For Bessie, gardening is a pastime she s enjoyed since childhood. I grew up in Nafpaktos, Greece right in the middle of the country, says Bessie. My mother grew most of our food. I loved to help her in the garden. When Bessie moved to the United States in 1961, she continued her love affair with fresh food and cooking as she and her husband opened several restaurants in New Jersey and Texas. Now that Bessie has moved to Eagle s Trace, the Erickson Living community in West Houston, she s returning to her gardening roots. The community garden offers 8- by 10-foot spaces to residents interested in flexing their green thumbs.

Nothing beats homegrown

We have 23 garden lots available, and all but one are taken, says John Bushkuhl, a fellow Eagle s Trace gardener and president of the gardening club. Some residents plant flowers in their lot; others plant vegetables. Tomatoes are hands-down the number one favorite vegetable. You just can t beat the taste of a homegrown tomato. In addition to the garden spaces, many residents transform the landscape around their patios into a garden oasis. One of the first things I planted after I moved in was a fig tree next to my patio, says Bessie. Other residents couldn t believe I was growing figs in Houston, but I get quite a crop each year. Across the patio from the fig tree, Bessie tends her rose garden comprised of bushes given to her by her daughter and granddaughter. My plants are my babies, says Bessie. I care for them, and they grow.

Gardening s great benefits

Gardeners like John and Bessie harvest more than homegrown vegetables. A recent study by researchers at Texas A&M and Texas State Universities found that older Americans who garden are more energetic, healthier, and more optimistic about the future than their non-gardening counterparts. The study, published in Hort Technology, surveyed 298 adults ages 50 and older. Twice as many gardeners (38%) described themselves as very active compared with non-gardeners (19%). Three-fourths rated their health as excellent or very good and reported eating more fruits and vegetables than the non-gardeners. That s good news, since gardening is the second most common leisure activity after walking among adults 65 and above. Gardening provides participants with opportunities to reconnect with themselves through nature and a healthy activity to enhance their quality of life, noted Aime Sommerfeld, the study s lead author. At Eagle s Trace, gardeners not only benefit from digging in the dirt, but they have the social aspect of working alongside each other. We share tools and help each other, says John, a master gardener. We enjoy getting our hands dirty together.