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Community gardens cultivate more than cucumbers

Friendship, philanthropy, and laughter grow at Ann’s Choice

Created date

July 19th, 2016
The bay window in Ruth Kurtz’s apartment home at Ann’s Choice serves as a nursery for the tomato and pepper plants she starts from seed.

The bay window in Ruth Kurtz’s apartment home at Ann’s Choice serves as a nursery for the tomato and pepper plants she starts from seed.

Come spring at Ann’s Choice, Erickson Living’s retirement community in Bucks County, Pa., flowering trees and shrubs paint the 103-acre grounds a saucy pink. 

Throughout the growing season, prodigious campus gardens and residents’ patios and balconies add their own colorful displays, as do many of the 120, 10- by 10-foot garden spaces in Ann’s Choice’s community gardens.

The gardens let residents pursue their favorite hobby of growing flowers or vegetables. For gardeners with knee issues, 12 raised beds are available.

The Ann’s Choice grounds crew tills the garden spaces every spring. Conveniently placed garden sheds hold small tools and supplies, and a gazebo provides a pleasant place to sit and relax. 

The community’s garden club, chaired by Pam Hitt, manages the gardens. Boasting more than 70 members, the club was one of the first groups organized when Ann’s Choice opened in 2003. 

The gardening calendar

The garden club calendar offers a range of horticultural activities. It holds monthly meetings that feature guest speakers, often Master Gardeners from Montgomery County garden clubs. Presentations have ranged from butterflies to orchids. 

Although the club doesn’t schedule its own field trips, members board an Ann’s Choice bus for the community’s Trips and Travel group’s excursions to the Philadelphia Flower Show and Longwood Gardens.

An annual campus garden show has gardeners vying to see whose tomatoes, squash, perennials, and other gleanings are judged the best in their category.

There’s also an annual club picnic. 

Sharing with others

The garden club’s Sunday Night Movie presentations in the campus performing arts center benefit important campus projects. Ticket proceeds last year let the club donate $2,500 each to the student scholars and the resident care funds and $1,000 to the staff appreciation fund.

The club also donates some of its produce to a local food pantry. Ruth Kurtz, who left her garden beds behind when she moved from Elverson, Pa., five years ago, helped start the program and heads it now. 

“We grow, pick, and deliver the produce,” she says.

Ruth started 40 tomato and 25 pepper plants from seeds this spring. Nursed in her bay window, they grew into sturdy plants that now thrive in five pantry-designated garden spaces.  

The pantry gardens also produce spring peas, lettuce, cucumbers, and green beans. Zucchinis aplenty come from other gardeners.

Nurturing memories

Club member Bernice Salamon gives back in a unique way. Twenty years ago, when she combined her psychiatric social work experience with her life-long love of gardening, she found her true vocation. 

A registered horticultural therapist, she works two days a week in Philadelphia at Belmont Behavior Health Northeast. 

As a volunteer, she leads a monthly horticultural therapy group at Rose Gardens, the continuing care neighborhood on-site at Ann’s Choice. 

As participants create bouquets of real flowers to take home and brighten their windowsills, conversations about flowers trigger happy flower-related memories from years ago.

The sense of smell triggers memories, too, so the group plants mint and basil in Rose Gardens’ raised bed to cut later and make tea or salad dressing. “We never run out of things to do,” says Bernice.

Her efforts, of which the club is justly proud, illustrate how she and her neighbors carry out Erickson Living’s mission: “We share our gifts to create communities that celebrate life.”