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Fall Color Report


Planting Joy in Palatine

by Virginia Mullery

Tears running down into garden soil are a testament to the depths plumbed by the women of the Garden Club of Inverness with their garden therapy program. Residents of St. Joseph Home for the Elderly in Palatine, who benefit from this gardening program, respond emotionally in many ways: with joy, with nostalgia, with gratitude for the opportunity to do something many have not been able to do in years.

Early last year, a Boy Scout, Jim Stronz of Palatine, built two raised garden tables for St. Joseph as a project for his Eagle Scout badge. Garden club members, who were already working with residents on other projects, took over from there. The tables, which are wheelchair accessible, are planted in the spring, one with vegetables, the other withflowers.About 25 of the 110 garden club members participate in the therapy program, said Sally Hilgendorf of Palatine, board member and therapy coordinator. Although they started with seeds last year, this year, with a grant from the Garden Club of Illinois, they have purchased plants. Members help residents prepare the soil and do the planting. During the season, residents and volunteers in the house maintain the gardens, weeding, watering and harvesting.

Planting in Palatine Residents of St. Joseph along with garden club members, Sally Hilgendorf, second from left and Linda Dennison, third from left, plant vegetables in the planting tables created by Boy Scout, Jim Stronz.

It's a source of joy, not only for gardening participants but for other residents as well, who are brought out during the summer to enjoy the fresh air and view the vibrant colors of the gardens, according to Holly Bellino, St. Joseph activity aide. "There's a lot of emotion," she said, "doing something they have not been able to do in years. They enjoy digging in the dirt, talking and just having fun." The garden therapy is part of the arts and crafts program which attempts to keep people active, she added. St. Joseph, which is run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, has 60 residents in the nursing home and 30 more in apartments.

Planting in Palatine Pictured from left Administratior Mother Marguerite, Sister Peter Mary, David Stronz (Jim's father), and Jim Stronz, admiring the garden table Jim created for the residents of St. Joseph.

The produce—cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and herbs—goes to the home's kitchen. The flowers, including geraniums, snap dragons and marigolds are gathered all season long and grace the common rooms. "We pick flowers that are common to this area, and familiar to the residents," Hilgendorf said, "things they would have grown in their home gardens."

Garden club members also work with residents helping them to create silk floral arrangements for the doors of their rooms or for dining room tables. "They love the attention and the conversation," Hilgendorf said. "After the work is don, we serve cookies and punch." This program has been in place since 1996.

In a separate program, garden club members Continued from 6 page MULLERY also purchase poinsettias at Christmas and design fresh floral centerpieces for 20 tables for the annual Mother-Daughter tea in May. This celebration honors all women, not just mothers, according to Little Sisters of the Poor Mother Marguerite McCarthy, administrator. She said, "Garden club members are very kind and considerate and go out of their way to bring joy to the residents. They create an atmosphere that is colorful, extras that would not happen without them. Their upbeat approach to everything is wonderful as well as the way they interact with the residents."

Hilgendorf, a former teacher, said she began gardening when she retired about 10 years ago. "It gets me outside and it's good therapy." That's why she takes great satisfaction out of seeing St. Joseph residents connected to plants and flowers.

Virginia Mullery is a freelance writer living in North Chicago, IL.


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